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Monday, Mar. 28, 2011 at 8:29 am

Google Analytics Basics: The Visitors Report

By Whitney Wilding
March 28th, 2011

To get real value out of your analytics, it’s important to understand what your analytics have the potential to tell you. And before that full potential can be realized, it is often necessary to start with the very basics. Remember that analytics are just numbers that represent events on your website. Knowing what those events signal about potential problems on your site, and where to go from there, is up to you.

Unless of course, you hire a company like us to help you make your website better. Services like our OnTarget subscriptions take the guess work out of your data for you. Regardless of whether or not you hire someone to help you interpret your analytics, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a firm understanding of what each reported metric represents in terms of your website or business. Of course, many of our readers are already proficient in analytics definitions, but for those of you still new to analytics, this post provides a list of definitions here for the “Visitor” section of reporting, and explores what each metric might be trying to tell you.

Visitors Overview

The Visitors Overview Report provides you with some general information about the visitors that come to your site, such as how many there are and how they interact with the site. You can access the view by clicking on the “Visitors” selection in the Dashboard menu of your Google Analytics account. Below is a sample screenshot of how the “Visitors Overview” screen looks. The “Visitors Overview” features metrics for site visits, absolute unique visitors, pageviews, average pageviews, time on site, bounce rate, and new visits. Let’s go through each metric to break down what it means and what the data could possibly be telling you.

Visits

What it Means: Provides you with the total number of visits to your site for a given period. The time frame is shown in the upper right-hand side of the active window and can be changed by clicking on the arrow to the right of the current dates, and selecting new start and end dates from the calendar.
What it Tells You: This provides you with a general overview of how well your site is being promoted. This can be affected by changes in your marketing efforts such as PPC, SEO and offline marketing.

Absolute Unique Visitors

What it Means: Absolute unique visitors accounts for the number of distinct people who come to your website during a particular time period by counting each visit only once within a selected date range. It recognizes the uniqueness of a visitor by using cookies. Since this number is calculated using cookies, you should be aware that this number could be affected by users deleting their cookies anytime within the date range selected. Also note: do not confuse this metric for unique visits, as the two items use cookies to tabulate data in slightly different ways, and thus will result in slightly different numbers for the same time period. For more information about how to differentiate between “absolute unique visitors” and “unique visits” read this post by our friends at Lunametrics.
What it Tells You: This can help you to get a more accurate representation of how many individuals visit the site, how often they are coming back and what pages they view on the site.

Pageviews

What it Means: Total number of pages viewed on your site, as triggered by the Analytics tracking code. This takes into account when a visitor refreshes the page or navigates away from a page and returns to it within the same session – each of these will be counted as a separate pageview.
What it Tells You: This number doesn’t necessarily help to give you an understanding of your site’s performance, but can be a measure of traffic load information for server purposes.

Average Pageviews

What it Means: Represents the average of number of pages viewed per visit on your site during the time period. It’s determined by dividing the total number of page views within a time frame by the total number of visits for that same time frame.
What it Tells You: This number can give you some indication of how qualified your site traffic is or how effective your site content is. If you have a high number of average pageviews, then this can be an indication that visitors are interacting with your site. This can be the result of targeted traffic landing on your site, having effective content on the site, or a combination of both. However, if the average pageviews are low, the reverse is true. In that case you will want to review your traffic sources and if the content on your site is meeting prospects’ expectations.

Time on Site

What it Means: Measures the average amount of time spent on your site per visit.
What it Tells You: If there is a high time on site then this may be telling you that prospects are engaged with the site content. This can be used as a measure of visit quality for your potential prospects. Similarly, a low number here tells you the same thing as a low number for average pageviews: take action by reviewing your traffic sources and site content for scent and relevance. Note: high time on site could also reveal potential usability issues on your site. If people can’t easily accomplish their task(s), time on site will be high. You want time on site to be “in the middle;” too low is a problem and too high is also potentially a problem.

Bounce Rate

What it Means: Often confused with exit rates, the bounce rate actually measures the percentage of visitors that leave your site from the first page they land on (i.e. their entrance page, or landing page).
What it Tells You: If you have a high bounce rate, this could likely be an indication that the content on a landing page is not relevant for your visitors or that there is a loss of scent from the ad copy to the landing page. Analytics Evangelist and author Avinash Kaushik jokes that bounce rate means “I came, I puked, I left.”

New Visits

What it Means: New visits shows the percentage of visits (sessions) to the site that have landed on the site for the first time (vs. repeat/return visits) during the same period.
What it Tells You: This metric tells you about your success/failure in bringing new prospects to your site (via your marketing efforts) with the hopes of converting them. In order to grow your online business, you’ll need to acquire traffic that is “new,” but remember that cookie deletion impacts this number, so use it as a proxy, not an exact number. Also keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with “Return Visitors,” as they often convert better, buy more, etc.

Each of these metrics just skims the top layer of all the site performance data available to you through your Google Analytics account, but is useful for highlighting some of your core problems and determining where it is prudent for you to dig deeper. For instance, a low time on site in combination with a high average page views may indicate that visitors are bouncing around your site a lot and aren’t successfully finding the information they seek. You can start to triage that problem by looking into your site navigation. But that certainly shouldn’t be the end of your efforts. If you struggle to know where to go from there, or even where to start, or simply can’t make sense of the numbers at all, it may be time to call in an expert. You can always ask us how our service can help.

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Comments (48)

  1. Google Analytics is a powerful tool. I would like to add some more in relation with bounce rate. In some cases, when it comes to corporate website, people tend to leave the page if they do not like the look and fell of the website. In these cases content is not that important.

  2. very nice post but my question i have 500 visitors/day when i saw analytics on google

    and 800 visitors when i see another analytics why ?????

  3. Each time I read one of these “basics” or beginners guides I learn something new, when oh when will I be able to consider myself an advanced analytics user! Thanks for the useful info, much appreciated as always.

  4. It is a good tool but i don’t like that piece of code you need to insert in site pages because i really thinhk it make the load of the page more to be less quick. Also there are others powerful tools to track visitors

  5. Yes Google Analytics is a very powerful tool indeed! I love this tool and I personally use it on everyone of my sites. My favorite feature of it is the Average time on page statistic it tracks. So you can tell if the traffic you are getting is sticking around or just more of a miss click.

    The new visits part is also VERY cool :)

  6. I used to focus only on the number of visits, only now from reading this did I realize how important bounce rate is. Good comment as well @ Classified Script.

  7. Analytics is an awesome tool. I have one question though. How often does analytics update its referring sites. I do not see that updated often inspite of having a lot of referring sites.

  8. @Catalin – have no fear: all of our clients use it, and none of them has experienced a delay in page load times as a result of the tagging!

  9. Google Analytics is a very powerful tool indeed! I love this tool and I personally use it on everyone of my sites. I used to focus only on the number of visits, only now from reading this did I realize how important bounce rate is.

  10. I have honestly learned alot by reading this post as i wasnt fully able to understand what to look out for and how to improve it.

  11. Im wondering why different analytics deliver different results. I agree Google analytics is very good and powerful, but it gives me different stats from that on Quantserve as well as blogger’s basic traffic stats. I guess you can keep relative stats and not worry about comparing different analytics to each other

  12. I normally use Google Analytics just to check the increase of the visitors on my site. I really didn’t under stand the Bounce Rate and all that other stuff. Thanks for breaking it down to newbies like me. :)

  13. @TradeTechSports – we trust Google Analtyics data with our clients. If your numbers are dramatically different, it is a good idea to make sure the tags are set up properly for all of your data sources.

  14. well nice tips for newbie like me……i would like to know what bounce rate is considered as gud? i mean high bounce rate can also mean that webmaster has placed many ads and users are clicking them so in this case bounce rate can benefit the webamster as it is converting into bucks :-)

  15. “very nice post but my question i have 500 visitors/day when i saw analytics on google and 800 visitors when i see another analytics why ?????”
    Why variation occurs in the staticts provided in different analytics? Thanks in advance!

  16. O the dreaded Time On Site metric. Your users either love your page, are baffled by your navigation, or took a trip to the kitchen to get a snack and forgot to close out the window…Awesome. At least you know that high time on page is one of those three.

  17. GA was one of the first comprehensive free tools. One amendment – which I am sure the author knows about – is that Absolute Unique Visitors is also affected by whether users have static or dynamic IP addresses.

    Low bounce rates can be a real issue, but in the early days, getting any traffic can boost google ranking. Speaking of which, if you use GA will Google reduce your rank if you get low traffic? I mean, you are basically giving it a complete case to penalize you if GA shows your results are just lightning visits from blog posts.

    GA is a real rabbits whole. Beautiful to mine, but very complex if you are after definitive ‘reasons’ your site is not converting.

  18. Google analytics is great tool for get complete detail on website traffic and all things you want to know about website. We can check lots of things on Google Analytics and then we can improve our blog or website visitors

  19. Google analytics is an incredibly powerful tool (especially when combined with others). The problem with it comes when you use it to over analyze. The figures it shows aren’t to be taken as solid fact (despite them being so) because they are constant variables which can (and will) swing either way.

  20. I like the information analytics gives me about the different countries visitors come from

  21. GA is a very helpful tool but seems to be a very conservative estimate of site traffic. We find that our server side analytics often disagree with GA. In general, GA only reflects about 43% of our actual traffic. Some say GA removes all of the bots from our stats. However, we have found other analytical tools tend to lean towards the accuracy of server side analytics.

  22. Google Analyics is a hugely powerful tool. Really the only thing it doesn’t do is display data in realtime. But most sites don’t have that need.

  23. @TradeTechSport I have the same probleme and no matter what i have try, nothing worked

  24. @FinallyFast – HA HA! Great points. I might add to your second option “are baffled by your navigation (and either a methodical or humanistic persona willing to do some digging”

  25. looking into it a bit, some say GA only analyzes “human” traffic, but some people report differences up to 60% between GA and other software…Im just wondering where the difference actually comes from.

  26. Thank you for sharing with us. I’ve using the Google Analytics for some times but your explanation about each of part of the report gives me a clearer information about it.

  27. Google analytics does not take into account bot traffic from pinging services. There are some shortfalls with it, but it is accurate to judge actual “real” visits.

  28. I was using gostats to check my blogs statistics before. Coz I didn’t know about Analytics. Now, I just found out Analytics is more accurate but It is so complicated to use for me. The interface makes me crazy coz i don’t know how to use it. Thanks for this tip. This could help me.

  29. there are other free analytic software packages, makes you wonder besides branding why we all go for GA. Except for the expectation that they know what they are doing and will innovate. I do wonder about this blogs people’s posts about missing visitor numbers

  30. I’ve been using Google Analytics for many years. Aside from Gostats, what other analytic software is or are available out there and if there is a plugin for WordPress. I really want to know

  31. I am using Google Analytic from sometime.Somebody told me that I can check invalid click activity (for Adsense program) with analytic.Can anybody please tell me how can I detect invalid clicks.

  32. Using mainly Googel Analytics and as you show to know what the main terms mean is key in understanding what’s happening. Also came across a tool called “GetClicky” do you know that?

  33. I hope that the GA task force does not hunt me down for doing this … and I dont pledge allegiance to any other analytics program besides GA … But … I have heard that some radicals use piwik open source analytics. NOW if you want convincing, read their forums and get the users full story. Its free, seems to work well and lots of people are happy. Perhaps if you have success, share it back to this forum… best of luck! A loyal Google user …

  34. What is a good analytics program to view your visitor’s age and gender? As far as I know, Analytics doesn’t offer that.

  35. I like the information analytics gives me about the different countries visitors come from

  36. I love Google Analytics, but it seems like it has way worse numbers compared to the AWStats in my Cpanel of my host. How do I know which one is more accurate?

  37. I normally use Google Analytics just to check the increase of the visitors on my site. I really didn’t under stand the Bounce Rate and all that other stuff. Thanks for breaking it down to newbies like me

  38. Sometimes it does seem like analytics are just numbers. I can’t explain it, but I feel as if analytics haven’t been perfected yet. Other than the basic daily visits, the rest seems like a big waste of time. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  39. Google Analytics is a great way to see how people are finding you, and if your SEO is working. Great post!!

  40. One important value from Google Analytic is we can know which post/page that has highest click rate.

  41. @Thomas Retterbush – analytics are only data…. basic daily visits or otherwise. The difference is, you know and understand what daily visits means with respect to the health of your site. I would encourage you to keep at it: read whatever you can about other analytics, watch videos, study materials provided by whatever analytics app you use, and dig around your own data to see what is there and figure out what it represents. Eventually, you will start to see trends, and figure out what kinds of questions your analytics holds the answers to.

  42. @Deepanshu – even in the example you cite, you’re not converting those clicks into bucks if there’s a high bounce rate (unless you are being paid for the clicks alone). High bounce rate means there is a lack of continuity or scent between the ads and landing pages. Improve that, and the bounce rate should go up.

  43. I think there is a lot of key data captured by Google Analytics that the average marketer or website manager overlooks because there are so many numbers and ways to slice and dice the data. Very useful tool though.

  44. This is a great overview but I still need to figure out the details. For instance, how long is too long for visitors to stay and how long isn’t long enough.

    I’m getting better traffic to my site all the time but conversions are non-existent.

    I have so much to figure out and I appreciate the info.

  45. I love Google Analytics, but it seems like it has way worse numbers compared to the AWStats in my Cpanel of my host. How do I know which one is more accurate?

  46. one thing I have realized lately is the issue people have with market research, when you dont have access to raw data. GA can show many great stats such as visitors from a city, the bounce rate etc, but you cant find out for a specific visitor (IP address or at least city) the specific path they took to get to you, their keyword or even their bounce rate. It is all aggregated infromation that you can not weaver together because you dont have access to the raw data. Yes this is done for privacy, but it makes drawing any hard and real conclusions very difficult.

  47. @Trent I was wondering about demographics too. I created an article using alexa demographic data for six of the top sites in the gluten-free industry. Other sites besides alexa also give demographic info, but the issue is that it is not raw data, so you just have to accept each stat separately (cant correlate). And only info for the really big sites are available. Though if your competitor is big, it gives you a window into who is using their sites that GA doesnt.

  48. I like the information analytics gives me about the different countries visitors come from. Thanks alot

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