Google Analytics can provide powerful insights on your website traffic, whether you’re running GA4 or Universal Analytics. We help you cut through the noise to find the most important metrics.
Whatever type of website you have, Google Analytics metrics matter. Why? They’re the core vitals, the KPIs (key performance indicators) that monitor the success of your website.
Some common website KPIs include number of visits (for a given time period), bounce rate, dwell time, conversion actions and many more. So many more in fact, that it can be hard to cut through the noise and find the ones that matter.
Especially now that Universal Analytics is being replaced by Google Analytics 4 (available now, final cutoff is July 2023). You may even be struggling to find where they are located now.
In this article, we’ll cover the 10 metrics that matter most, and how to find them in both Universal Analytics and GA4.
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The answer here is: “it depends”. Both on the type of website you operate, and your business goals. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. It’s worth noting that there are over 100 Google Analytics metrics available – and you definitely don’t want to track them all!
So first, you must clearly define your objectives: what do you want to achieve with your website?
It’s worth remembering that there are both overall goals (macro goals) and sub-goals (micro goals) for your website. The micro-goals will often serve towards a bigger macro goal – your job is to find the right ones to help you get there.
If you run an ecommerce business then online sales are clearly the macro goal that matter most. And driving more product video views might be a micro goal that helps you get there.
Or if you run a publishing site then pageviews (and therefore ad inventory) will be the macro goal. And improving your pages/session could be a micro goal that helps you get there.
And if brand awareness is your macro goal, then visibility in search results could be the micro goal that gets you there. Which means working to improve your search rankings!
Once your website goals are clearly defined, it should become much easier to find the right KPIs for your website. Many of these can be monitored for free with Google Analytics, by integrating a small piece of code into your website. This allows site operators to explore and analyze visitor behaviour within a visually attractive, powerful browser-based dashboard.
Here’s how it looks in Universal Analytics:
… and here’s how it looks in Google Analytics 4:
Once the code snippet has been added correctly to your website, you’ll see that many Google Analytics metrics and reports have been prepared for you. Great!
Below, we provide an explanation of the 10 most important pre-defined KPIs to track on your website, across the categories Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, and Conversions. Note: these are specific sections of the Universal Analytics interface, but we’ll explain how to find them in GA4, don’t worry.
The obvious place to start is finding out how many people visited your website for a given timeframe (for example, 30 days), and how it compares to a different timeframe (for example, the same period a year ago). This will give you an idea of the overall popularity of your site, and whether it’s growing or shrinking.
Tip: User-friendly pages generate more pageviews and return visitors. If you improve the website user experience, then people are much more likely to return.
In Universal Analytics, you can check how many website visitors you had under ‘Audience’ > ‘Overview’:
In GA4, you can track them in directly on the homescreen:
But that’s not all! You also want to take note of the proportion of new vs. return visitors your website had.
If you have a sudden increase in new visitors, this could indicate successful branding campaigns. However, if new visitors consistently outweigh return visitors, then maybe you need to work on ways to make them return again in future.
You can see this information in the “New vs returning” report in the “Audience” section of Universal Analytics:
In Google Analytics 4, this information is available in the 'Retention' report.
What’s important here are not the exact numbers, but rather any trends, and how they correlate with other marketing efforts. If you’re consistently seeing a large number of returning visitors, then that suggests that your website offers compelling content and a good user experience.
The next Google Analytics metric you should track is dwell time, a.k.a. session duration. It tells you how long the average visitor stays on your website, and therefore helps you understand engagement levels.
However, it’s worth noting that some webpages and content types are a “success” if they lead to a conversion action in the shortest time possible. So while a dwell time of more than 5mins is great for long-form content and guides, the opposite might be true for the checkout page of an ecommerce site.
But… a dwell time of under 10 seconds often indicates a “bounce”, where someone left your website without clicking on anything – probably because your website didn’t meet their user intent or needs.
Session durations are broken down into cohorts in Universal Analytics:
In Google Analytics 4, session duration can be found under “Engagement”, alongside “Engaged sessions per user”:
Long session durations show that your website is interesting for visitors. If a large majority of your visitors do not stay on your website for very long, you should evaluate whether or not they can actually find what they are looking for. Which leads us on to…
This metric shows you what percentage of visitors leave your page after visiting only one page.
It’s calculated by dividing the number of single-page sessions by the number of total sessions. For example, (5 single-page sessions) / (100 sessions) = 5% bounce rate.
So what causes a high bounce rate? It can be a combination of things, including confusing design, poor usability, unsatisfying content or slow performance (speed), among other factors.
Or it can also indicate that a visitor had their search intent served so effectively that they didn’t need to take any further action after reading your webpage. Confusing, right?!
Just remember though that a high bounce rate across your entire website is probably cause for concern – you want people to engage with your site, and explore it fully. Read this article for some tips about how to reduce your bounce rate.
In Universal Analytics, you can check your bounce rate under ‘Behaviour’ > ‘Site Content’ > ‘All Pages’.
It is not currently available in Google Analytics 4, possibly because of the vagaries mentioned above.
OK now let’s take a look at something different – traffic acquisition. Do you know where your site visitors come from? How is this changing over time?
No matter what type of website you have, organic search traffic is almost certainly an important channel for you. These are often your most engaged visitors, and are the fruit of your SEO efforts.
In Universal Analytics, you can find them under ‘Acquisition’ > ‘Overview’:
In Google Analytics 4, you can find them under 'Acquisition' > 'Acquisition overview'.
Are you running specific campaigns, that you’re tracking via UTM tags? Maybe you want to track the performance of specific newsletter of ads? Then good news!
This is an absolute snap in Universal Analytics: simply head to ‘Acquisition’ > ‘Campaigns’, and you’ll see something like the following:
If you’re running Google Analytics 4 then it’s a little less obvious, but still possible. Simply head to ‘Acquisition’ > ‘User acquisition’, and build a filter that includes the campaign you want:
Tip: Google Analytics assigns the conversions to the last campaign an individual had contact with. This is known as ‘last-touch attribution’.
This Google Analytics metric will disappear with Universal Analytics, but many site owners still find it useful, which is why we’ve included it here.
Average page speed is a self-explanatory KPI that helps you understand loading times across your website. Of course, other tools have come along since Universal Analytics to help you measure it in more detail at scale, like Google Lighthouse, and of course the “Load Times” report in Ryte Web Performance.
In Universal Analytics, average page speed is found in the overview under ‘Behavior’ > ‘Site Speed’:
Tip: By now it’s well understood that web users hate to wait. A loading time of above three seconds can have a severe impact on bounce rates (and not in a good way). Read our guide to optimizing pagespeed for more info on why this matters, and what to do about it.
This one’s a bit more granular, but it can really help you understand how each page performs in terms of dwell time (see point #3 above).
And thankfully, this Google Analytics metric made the jump to GA4. Hooray!
In Universal Analytics, head to ‘Behavior’ > ‘Site Content’ > “All Pages”:
On Google Analytics 4, you should head to 'Engagement' > 'Pages and screens', where you can find the column 'Average engagement time':
Are you running AdSense campaigns? Then good news! You can directly monitor their performance directly in Google Analytics.
If you’re running Universal Analytics, then head to ‘Behavior’ > ‘AdSense’, where you’ll be asked to link your accounts as follows:
If you’re using Google Analytics 4, then head to the ‘Monetization’ tab.
Finally, we reach perhaps the most important Google Analytics metric of them all: conversions.
As we discussed at the beginning, your website needs to have defined both a macro goal and the various micro goals that help along the way.
Conversions will help you track them all. Examples might include: purchasing a product, or subscribing to a newsletter, or filling out a contact form.
Of course, you’ll need to define these specific actions first. You can do so in ‘Admin’ > ‘Goals’.
To track them in Universal Analytics, head to ‘Conversions’, where you can track the specific goals that matter to you:
In GA4, go to 'Engagement' > 'Conversions'.
You now know how Google Analytics can help to assess the performance of your website, but be careful! Never rely on just one metric.
Just because the sales of your online shop are increasing, that does not necessarily mean that you are making more profit. Maybe the number of returns has also increased, maybe even more than the sales. This would result in less profit, and you may have missed it by being focussed on sales alone.
You should define the appropriate macro and micro objectives of your website and from this, you can derive which parameters and KPIs you need to monitor to improve the performance of your website.
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Published on 08/04/2022 by Editorial Team.
The editorial team's mission: to help brands and agencies improve their website user experience. Ryte's content specialists regularly produce guides, explainers and other resources on a variety of topics, from SEO to accessibility, compliance and more.
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