Views, new visitors, returning visitors – they sound similar, but these metrics are not the same. If you don’t know the difference, you can misinterpret your website data and make some ill-informed decisions.
We’ll cover everything you need to know about web analytics so that you can truly understand what is what, correctly interpret your website analytics, and make informed, data-driven decisions for your website and your business.
In this post, we’re going to cover the following. You can click any of the jump links to jump to that section:
What is web analytics?
Web analytics is the process of collecting, reporting, and analyzing data from a website. This data is used to understand and optimize the website to meet overall business goals like increasing leads and sales.
There is tons of data to be gathered to understand how people interact with your website and identify areas for improvement. You can track total traffic, bounce rate, traffic sources, new and returning visitors, time spent on site, and more.
The amount of data can be overwhelming at first. Because of this, it’s important to identify some key metrics, especially at the beginning. For example, you can initially focus on the bounce rate on some key pages on your website. If visitors are bouncing off your homepage quickly, it means they are not finding the information they are looking for quickly or easily enough. From there, you can identify possible next steps, such as: B. the redesign of your website navigation.
Let’s take a closer look at why web analytics is important below.
Meaning of web analytics
Web analytics are critical to the success of your company. This will allow you to better understand your website visitors and use those insights to improve the experience on your website. For example, if you find that the majority of the users on your website are using a mobile device, then you can focus on making your website more mobile.
Web analytics can also influence your content and SEO strategy. Looking at your most viewed posts can help you determine what types of content and topics are best for your audience. For example, if you find that how-to-order WordPress tutorials make up the bulk of your most viewed posts, you can shift and narrow your focus from definition articles to web-related tutorials to WordPress tutorials. Or, you look at your website’s traffic sources and find that organic traffic and email traffic are your top drivers and paid channels are your lowest. If so, you could be moving resources to invest more in your organic strategy than you paid for.
Now that we have an idea of what web analytics is and why it matters, let’s look at some key metrics you may be tracking to measure progress against overarching business goals like increasing website traffic, leads, and sales and ultimately to achieve it.
Examples of web analytics
- Unique page views
- New visitors
- Returning visitors
- Traffic sources
- Bounce rate
Before reading any further, it’s important to note that different analytics tools may have slightly different definitions of the following terms. It is best to consult your tool’s documentation to understand exactly how each tool is calculated.
Pageviews is the total number of times a page was viewed on your website. A page view (or page view) is counted when a page on your website is loaded by a browser. So if someone viewed a page on your website and reloaded the page in their browser, it would count as two views. If someone viewed one page, viewed a second page on your site, and then returned to the original page, it counts as three views.
Pageviews can give you an idea of how popular a page is on your website. However, it is important to look at them in the context of other metrics. A page with a high number of views for a post is not necessarily popular because a small group of visitors could be responsible for many of those views. A high number can also indicate that a page was confusing and that visitors had to revisit it multiple times.
Unique page views
Unique pageviews indicate the number of times a page was viewed by users in a single session. In other words, a unique pageview aggregates pageviews generated by the same user during a session (which we define below). If a person viewed the same page twice (or more than once) during a single session, Unique Pageviews count those pageviews only once.
Because this metric reduces cases where a user reloads or visits the same page in the same session, clear pageviews can help you understand how many visitors are viewing pages on your site and how popular each page is.
A session is a group of interactions – including not just pageviews, but also activities like CTA clicks and events – that take place on your website over a period of time.
The time frame of a session varies depending on the web analytics tool. For example, sessions in the Google Analytics and HubSpot traffic analysis tools last 30 minutes by default. A session ends and a new session begins for a user when either A) there has been 30 minutes of inactivity and the user becomes active again, B) the clock strikes midnight, or C) a user arrives via a traffic source, leaves and then comes via a other source back.
This means that if a user lands, leaves, and returns on your website within 30 minutes, Google Analytics and HubSpot will count them as one session, not two. If a user is inactive on your website for 30 minutes or more, but then clicks a CTA or takes some other action, do Google Analytics and HubSpot count this as two sessions, not one, even if the user never left your page? ˅.
New visitors – also known as new users, unique visitors, or new visitor sessions, depending on the web analytics tool – is the number of unique visitors to your website.
As the name suggests, a new visitor is someone who visits your website for the first time. These people are identified by a unique identifier. For example, if you use HubSpot, the HubSpot tracking code will be installed on your site. Visitors to your website are then tracked using the cookie that is stored in your browser with this tracking code.
Returning visitors (or users) is the number of visitors to your website who have previously visited. Not all web analytics tools include this metric, but some – including Google Analytics – do. You can check behavior in the audience reports of Google Analytics to determine the ratio of new to returning users on your website.
By looking at both new and returning visitor metrics, you can get an idea of how well you are retaining your visitors and how effective you are in attracting new visitors at the top of the funnel.
Traffic sources are a metric that shows where your website visitors are from. Like visitor information, this metric is usually collected through the tracking code on your website.
The number of traffic sources you can track depends on the web analytics tool. HubSpot’s traffic analysis tools track several categories, including:
- Organic search
- Organic social
- Email Marketing
- Paid search
- Paid socially
- Direct traffic
Ideally, you want to increase all traffic sources. However, your main focus should be on organic search. This is the traffic that comes from unpaid search results on search engines like Google. This is because this source has the potential to drive large amounts of traffic to your website. Often times, improving this channel also improves other channels such as referrals and social networks.
Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who leave your website after viewing a single page. You can view the bounce rate as a site-wide metric or a page-level metric. If your website has a high bounce rate, it can be helpful to identify pages with high average bounce rates.
At the page level, the average bounce rate is the percentage of sessions that started on the page and were not moved to another page on your website. A high average bounce rate can indicate, among other things, that there is a problem with the loading time of the page or that external links are not opening in a new tab or window.
For information on what steps you can take to reduce the bounce rate in WordPress or any other platform, see Reduce the bounce rate in WordPress.
Web Analytics Best Practices
Many aspects of web analytics are specific to your company: what metrics do you track, how do you generate reports, what tools do you use? However, there are some best practices that anyone can use to more consistently and effectively collect, analyze, and report website data. Let’s look at a few.
1. Select metrics that match your business goals.
If you focus on just one or two metrics, you won’t get enough insight into how visitors are interacting with your website. However, tracking every single metric may provide too much information. To make sure you are focusing on the right metrics, first write down your business goals. Think: What are the top priorities for your website? Then come up with certain strategies that you will implement to achieve these goals, such as: B. fixing broken links and images. You can now determine which metrics will help you track your progress toward your goals and ultimately your business goals.
2. Use data to drive decision making.
After you’ve collected and reported your data, figuring out whether or not you have achieved your goals is only the first step. The next – and arguably more important – step is to use this data to test, experiment, and make changes to your website. For example, let’s say you’ve identified some quality content – like your Services and Pricing page – through user testing and feedback in your web design process, but those pages aren’t getting a lot of traffic. If so, you can move these navigation links from your footer to your header or make other changes to make these pages easier to find.
3. Don’t limit yourself to the traffic.
Understanding and reporting on traffic data – including page views, top traffic sources, and most viewed pages – is important. However, this is only part of your website’s performance. High traffic doesn’t necessarily mean success. If you’re getting millions of page views but no conversions, you are likely not meeting all of your business goals.
4. Always couple data with insights.
If you state that your website received 1 million unique page views and 400,000 new visitors in a month, it doesn’t mean too much. Just giving the numbers gives an incomplete picture of your website’s performance. It is important that you couple this data with insights. If you indicate that your website received a million unique pageviews that exceeded last month’s unique pageviews and that were a percentage increase from last year, the data is much more meaningful.
5. See your data in context.
As you collect and analyze data, think about it in context. What variables or major forces could affect the numbers? For example, seasonality, algorithm updates, and bots can have a huge impact on your traffic and other metrics. For example, suppose that some pages on your website have seen significant traffic spikes. These posts haven’t been updated recently so you can see where this traffic is coming from. If the traffic was mainly coming from a country that normally doesn’t have a lot of traffic, like Ukraine, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey or Russia, it was likely bot traffic. When you look at your data in context, you can better understand, analyze, provide insights, and make informed decisions about your data.
6. Share feedback with stakeholders and ask for feedback.
You want to make information available to stakeholders in a consistent and understandable way. You also want to ask these stakeholders for information and ideas. They can provide valuable feedback on how they use the data, what else they want to see or understand about their users or website, and how they think they can improve the user experience or any other issues that the data reveals.
Web analytics tools
Measuring business success requires more than a metric – and more than a tool. Let’s look at three web analytics tools that you can use together.
HubSpot Marketing Analytics & Dashboard Software
With HubSpot’s free marketing analytics and dashboard software, you can measure the performance of all of your marketing assets – from website and landing pages, to emails, blog posts, social media accounts, calls-to-action, and more – in one place. You can track the entire customer lifecycle, measure traffic in total or by page, and add multiple reports to your dashboard so you can keep track of your most important metrics in one easily accessible place.
HubSpot’s free tool is ideal for anyone looking for built-in analytics, reports, and dashboards to make smarter, data-driven decisions.
Google Analytics is used by over 28 million websites and is one of the most popular web analytics tools. With this tool, you can track pageviews, unique pageviews, bounce rate, traffic channels, user retention, average session duration, sessions by country, sessions by device and more. You can also generate reports on your target audience, acquisition channels, website performance and conversions in Google Analytics.
Some platforms understand the value, flexibility, and popularity of Google Analytics and offer unique integrations with this tool. For example, Analytics Amplifier is a HubSpot app that enables users to match HubSpot customer behavior – including “Hot Leads” and “Deal Amount” – with Google Analytics data in real time.
The sheer amount of metrics, reports, and integrations that can be tracked or created using Google Analytics can be overwhelming. Users with no SEO or technical expertise, such as content creators, may find it difficult and prefer an alternative.
Used by over 300,000 users, Crazy Egg is a unique web analytics tool that provides heat maps, scroll maps, and other visual reports to show you exactly how your visitors are interacting with your website. Thanks to Crazy Egg’s tracking code, you can use heat maps to see in real time what visitors are hovering over and which are clicking.
Crazy Egg also offers comprehensive A / B testing that allows you to test various content variables such as color, copy, and placement of content to see how this affects user experience and conversions. This makes Crazy Egg an ideal alternative or addition to Google Analytics for users who are interested in conversion optimization.
Web Analytics API
A web analytics API is a specific type of application programming interface (API) that can be used to automate reporting, manage data processing, and provide deeper insight into your data.
For example, Google Analytics offers several APIs that you can use to automate complex reporting and configuration tasks. One such API is the Google Analytics Reports API. This API allows you to create custom dashboards to view your Google Analytics data, automate complex reporting tasks to save time (such as getting data in two date ranges with a single request) and your GA data in others Integrate business applications.
Another popular example is Chartbeat’s real-time API. This API consists of data that is updated every three seconds so you can see in real time how your visitors are interacting with your content. You can use this data to improve audience engagement, make editorial decisions, and increase readership. This is why Chartbeat is used by major news organizations like the New York Times and the Washington Post.
To understand what APIs are and how they work in general, check out the ultimate guide on how to access and use APIs.
Use web analytics to improve your website
Whether you are a small business, an ecommerce website, or a business, web analytics can help you and your business grow. By collecting, reporting, and analyzing data about your website, you can improve the user experience on your website and achieve larger business goals like increasing online sales.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July 2014 and has been updated for completeness.