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Website traffic analytics: 5 metrics every business must measure

Website traffic analytics: 5 metrics every business must measure Blog Feature

Christine Austin

Creative Lead, 7+ Years of Web Design and Development Experience

October 22nd, 2020 min read

Marketers have a luxury when it comes to the websites we manage.

We’re blessed with a slew of data analytics for us to dig into allowing us to see, in real-time, where our traffic is coming from, what devices they’re viewing our website with, how they engage, etc. 

All this data comes with a caveat — a confusion into what is most important, and on top of that, how to best interpret it.

There's no denying that we need to be reviewing our traffic analytics for a plethora of reasons.

Tracking your traffic helps you understand how people are using your website and where opportunities exist to drive them towards converting or becoming customers.

It allows you to discover ways to improve your website's user experience or find other issues you didn’t know existed. It also lets your marketing team know what interests your users, and what patterns they follow so they can continue to cater to those further.

In order to discover all this, you need to analyze your traffic on a regular basis, but, coming up with a strategy of what to track and how often to report on it can take some trial and error.  

To help you get started, I’m going to go through the five most important metrics businesses must measure to report the success of your website’s traffic.

5 website traffic metrics every business must measure

1. Sessions

When it comes to understanding your website's traffic I’d say “sessions” is the first metric people think of. 

A session is a period a user is actively engaged within your website. It could consist of page views, events, e-commerce transactions, etc. and are traditionally considered to expire after 30 minutes of inactivity. Some analytics platforms, however, have additional parameters that, when achieved, will count as a new session. This metric also counts both new and repeat visitors.

To get an understanding of how sessions typically track, let's look at a couple of examples. 

For instance;

  • A user comes to your website from organic search
  • The user views a page but then closes the window
  • Then, the user returns within 30 minutes to view another page

This will count as one session.

Alternatively, here’s a different scenario:

  • A user visits your site from organic search
  • They read a few blog articles and click a link leading off your website
  • They revisit your website 2 hours later.

This will count as two separate sessions as more than 30 minutes have passed.

Why sessions is important

Sessions can be a valuable way to gain insight into recurring behavior, follow-up behavior, and daily or weekly peaks and valleys. It also lets you know if your marketing efforts on and off your website are encouraging users to continuously visit your website. 

For example, if you have two sessions per user a day, you know your users are finding your site worthy of returning to daily. 

If you find users on average have only two sessions a month, then you might want to figure out better ways to encourage users to return through re-engagement campaigns or additional advertising. 

Because sessions can help you understand user behavior like this, it's a worthwhile metric for your marketing team to track. It’s also even more valuable when you drill into it further to connect it to other areas of your site and additional metrics. 

For example, one area you can drill down into is session channels, which are high-level categories indicating how people found your site.

So week over week, you could track any trends in your session metrics, and drill down why they increased or decreased. Google Analytics can generate this report for you if you enter ‘Why did my sessions change’ into the search bar in the tool.

website sessions google insight

In this case, it looks like we saw a decrease in organic, direct, and social. From here you could drill into page data and see if specific pages saw a drop in page views to discover where these specific drops are occurring, and hypothesize why. 

Session trend data is also very important when it comes to understanding how and when people are using your site. Maybe you find users are visiting and interacting with your site during a very specific time of the day, week, or month.

google analytics session

In IMPACT’s case, we see decreases on the weekend, due to fewer people reading our articles on those days. 

If you are an e-commerce site, you might see an increase in traffic on the weekend, when people have more free time, and less during the week, when folks work at their 9-5.

This information can be useful when deciding when to push sales or a promotion or determining your content publishing cadence.

2. Pageviews

Pageviews, as defined by Google Analytics, “is the total number of pages viewed. Repeated views of a single page are counted.” 

Although this might sound similar to sessions, there are major differences between the two.

A session only represents a single visit to your site. Regardless if a user visits your site and views one page for one minute, or 30 pages in an hour, it will still only count as one session.

Pageviews are counted each time a page of your website is loaded by a user. In other words, a Session can include multiple pageviews. So if a user viewed 30 pages during their one-hour session, this counts as 30 pageviews and one session. 

This number gives you a great indication of how popular (or not popular) certain pages on your site are. 

For example, if a user visits your service page, leaves then visits it another 15 minutes later, that will count as two separate pageviews (but still one session for those wondering). 

With this in mind, your pageviews can be easily inflated. 

If someone visits a page and refreshes it 20 times, that counts as 20 page views. So it's important to realize this metric is not measuring reach or unique users. 

There is also a separate metric, seen in Google Analytics, known as unique pageviews, which is the number of sessions during which the specified page was viewed at least once. This number is more forgiving when it comes to page view inflation.

Why pageviews is important

Editor’s Note: SEMRush is an affiliate of IMPACT and the links below may therein provide IMPACT with compensation for signups. This in no way affects IMPACT’s recommendation of the tool.

Despite my words of caution over this number not fully being accurate when measuring your traffic, it's certainly not one that should be ignored.

If you can figure out what pages are getting the most pageviews, you can then start to review these pages in closer detail and optimize them. 

Are these pages appropriately directing yours to other areas of your site? Do they have the best-suited calls-to-action? Do these pages have a high exit or bounce rate? Are users spending lots of time on these pages? 

Tools like HubSpot, Google Analytics, and SEMRush each allow you to drill down into these metrics.

In HubSpot's case, you can use their traffic analytics tool to view page view data side by side with other metrics like time on page and entrances which can be helpful in understanding where people are landing on your site, and where they are sticking around. 

hubspot page views

SEMRush has a tool called Top Pages Report which shows you up to the top 1000 pages, alongside metrics for “unique page views, unique visitors, entrances, traffic sources (direct, referral, social media, search engines, and paid ads)”

traffic analytics addidas semrush

Analyzing pageviews is not as critical as something like sessions. This is because, as it counts up whenever a user views a page, pageviews is an easily bloated metric. So you need to be careful not to think 100,000 pageviews = 100,000 users viewing a page.   

But, it's still important to use it in some of the ways mentioned above as a metric that can help you review the performance of particular pages of your website.

3. Users (unique users and returning users)

Users is a metric that shows how many visitors are engaging with your website or application. It’s specifically defined as the number of new and returning people who visit your site during a set period of time. 

The way this is tracked can vary from tool to tool, but typically, a cookie will be set and a unique identifier will be assigned to the user. This will help distinguish the person as a “new user.”

When the same user visits your site at a later time, they will be counted as a “returning user.”

google analytics new vs returning spreadsheet

Tools like Google Analytics will also track “unique users” and “returning users,” but it's important to note that the metric “unique users” may not entirely be accurate since users can clear their cookies, use different browsers, or block cookies. 

Any of these actions will make it so they are counted as unique users again, when in fact, that may not be true.

Why users are important

Depending on what your marketing activities are throughout the month, chances are there are things attracting more users to your site than others. 

For example, you might be running a paid campaign that brings in an increase in users, or, maybe a social post goes more viral than normal, which has people clicking through to your website. 

This information is easily attainable if you're drilling users down by source week over week, and identifying where particular increases are.

google analytics users

In this case, the increase we saw in the second week came mostly from organic traffic. You could then dive further in and see if any particular pages had an increase in users and try to understand better what might have led them to those pages. 

Looking at returning users is also a great indicator of whether or not you're enticing users to keep visiting the site; if it’s a habit for people. If you're publishing content regularly, this metric can help you discover if it's valuable enough for users to come back to read newly published pieces.

google analytics new vs returning pie chatObserving this number month over month is recommended to make sure you are continuing to attract new folks to your site to increase exposure and returning ones who may eventually do business with you down the line.

4. Average session duration

Average session duration is a metric that measures on average, how much time people are spending on your website. As we mentioned early, a session begins from the moment a user lands on your site and continues counting until the session ends (i.e. the user either leaves the site or, is inactive for 30 minutes or more).

For example, if someone starts interacting with your homepage at 8:30 in the morning, then navigates to a blog article they read for 5 minutes, and then to a landing page where it takes them 1 minute to download an offer, that session duration would be 6 minutes.

As a reminder, tools normally stop counting sessions after 30 minutes of inactivity. At this point, the session duration will be ‘0’, and their visit will be counted as a bounce.

A website’s average session duration is calculated by dividing the total duration of all sessions by the number of sessions on a site. That equation looks like this:

total session duration / total sessions = average session duration

Why average session duration is important

Average session duration is a metric that helps you further understand how users might be engaging with your website

Take your top five pages with the highest page views and reviewing how long people are spending on average with these pages might insight a few different questions to ask yourself:

  • If users are spending on average only 20 seconds on the page, and the bounce rate is very high, could users not be finding what they want? Is the page ranking for the wrong keyword?
  • If the average session duration on an article is over five minutes does that mean users are sticking around to read it? Could this be a good page to optimize to drive people to convert to something?
  • Are people spending a lot of time on a short landing page with high traffic and low conversion rate? Could this mean something is broken and users are struggling to convert?

Using the example below, the highlighted article has a lower session duration and higher bounce rate than some of the others in the list, this is an example of a page that might want a little optimization.

hubspot session duration

With Google also ranking your site mobile-first, it's also beneficial to check how average session duration differs between devices. 

While increasing session duration on mobile is sure to have a positive impact on your SERP ranking, this data can also help you reveal some of the issues mentioned on the early bullets that might only be plaguing a mobile user.

My biggest suggestion though is to not get too caught up trying to optimize every page you have. IMPACT has over 10k pages, so giving love to each one individually isn't feasible. 

Instead, target highly trafficked pages, landing pages that have high conversion goals, or high priority pages (home page, services pages, etc). These will be the places most worth your time that should yield the best outcomes for your website. 

5. Pages per session

Pages per session is the average number of pages viewed during a single session. With this metric, like others, repeated views of a single page are counted.

If someone visits your website, and during their session, views your homepage, a blog article on marketing campaigns, a landing page, then returns to the marketing campaign article, then leaves the site, they would have viewed four pages during that session. 

Like average session duration, this metric also provides insight into how users are engaging through your website, but also how they navigate through it as well. 

Traditionally, the higher pages per session number, the more content you users are digesting and supposedly, the more engaged they are. 

If the number is lower, maybe people are using your website to get an answer to a question or to quickly research information, only to leave without further action. 

Looking at how many pages your visitors make it to can help you understand user behaviors and be a jumping-off point for further investigation. 

Why pages per session is important

Pages per session shows you how inclined users are to keep navigating through your site. This might mean you’ve created an experience for them that makes doing that easy, valuable, and desirable. 

For example, a publisher site may have related articles that appear throughout or at the bottom of an article as seen in the Harvard Business Review example below.

harvard business review related mid-page article

These related pieces may pique the interest of users, meaning they’ll click through and continue circulating on the site, which in turn, helps increase your pages per session.

In combination with pages per session, you should also look at page depth, “which is the average number of pages visited by users during a session.” In other words, it’s a measure of how deeply someone dives into your site. 

This metric will tell you where you are seeing the most drop off with your users or losing user engagement. 

In Google Analytics, this number can be found by going to audience > behavior > engagement, then clicking the ‘page depth’ tab under the word ‘Distribution’ on that page. 

page depth

Although you may need to find ways to improve this number, the one thing you should avoid doing is gaming this metric by breaking up articles into multiple smaller ones that people are forced to go page to page to fully read. 

This may increase page views and pages per session, you’ll likely hurt your page rankings as Google wants to create longer, detailed pages that are more likely to answer a user's query. 

If you have less content on the page that's less valuable alone, you won’t be able to rank well against your competitors. 

Instead, put tactics in place that will guide users to new pages based on their interest, or desired next step. You’ll end up making your users happier in the long run, gaining their trust, and eventually, their business. 

Make this a monthly metric you check on. It can take some time to see changes in it sometimes, so don’t be nervous if you don’t see immediate results after a few days. 

Next step: create a reporting strategy

As marketers, traffic analytics like these are numbers that we have to constantly be monitoring and reflecting on. It's one thing to acknowledge that a number is what it is, but it's another to become someone who is not afraid to dig in and understand why a number is what it is. 

These numbers can also help paint a much more valuable picture of the ROI of your website and its content. 

Taking these numbers and making them part of a reporting strategy will allow you to truly measure the success of your content and marketing strategies.

This will not only give you insight into what is and isn't working but will also show your c-level directors how what you're working on can directly be attributed to revenue.

I suggest checking out this piece on creating a reporting strategy and so you can start to crank our weekly and monthly reports to celebrate your wins, and discuss your losses. 

With this piece, you’ll now be harnessing your marketing data in a much more strategic and valuable way for you and your company.

 

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