Google Analytics is a powerful marketing tool. It’s also a powerfully confusing tool.

Installing Google Analytics is the easy part. After that, it’s a series of reports, and graphs, and data. It measures everything visitors do on your site – all of it.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the data. It can tell you the most commonly used browser from users in Norway, and they monitor resolution. I’m not sure about you, but that’s not a metric I’m interested in. To be honest, I don’t look at all the data. I have base metrics to see what’s going on and if there’s something curious I delve deeper.

The Basic Google Analytics Metrics

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t measure it. Or, what isn’t tracked can’t be improved.”

The above quote from Fauzia Burke’s new book Online Marketing for Busy Authors is true. But what should you track?

Fauzia shares her basic Google Analytics metrics in her book.

google-analytics-metricsNumber of visits

Your number of visits is the number of times someone comes to your site. If the same person comes back more than once, that’s tracked as two visits.

Unique visitors

The number of new people coming to your site. Each unique person is counted once.

Page views

Page views are the number of pages on your site that were viewed. Each link on a website takes you to a new page. An increase in page views indicates that more content is being viewed across your website. You can see where people are going on your site and how many pages they view per visit.

Bounce rate

The bounce rate is the percentage of people who see one page and then leave the site or bounce off the page. Aim for a low bounce rate (under 20 percent). Low rates mean that people are finding the content they like and that you are likely achieving reader engagement.

Average time on the site

This metric indicates how long someone stays on your site. This is a good number to track to see if it’s improving or declining. The more content you have, the longer people will stay.

Top content

Track the content that gets the most page views and highest traffic to show your best-performing pages. That will tell you what works so that you can do more of it.


It’s really important to see where your traffic is coming from. If you blog for a news site or a third-party site and they are sending no traffic to your site, then it’s probably not a mutually beneficial relationship. However, if a site is sending you lots of qualified traffic (meaning that when people come they tend to stay), then it would be valuable to increase your engagement with that referral site.

Social visits

Find out what social media sites send the most traffic to your website by going to the Traffic Sources section of Google Analytics and click “All Traffic.” You will be able to see the websites and social networks that send traffic to your site .

Fauzia also included Traffic Source Keywords in her list. They are the words people search that leads them to your site. However, new(ish) privacy policy changes in the browsers and by Google make seeing this data a rarity. They are available in cumulative via Google’s Webmaster tools, but that’s for another blog post.

These are the same basic metrics that I track and have been doing for the last three years. Remember these are the basics. There may be more metrics to track your organization’s goals. MPCFV has a new customer goal, so we use a Conversion Goals metric for new sign-ups.

How to Use These Google Analytics Metrics

Trends and Anomalies

It may take a month or two for the metrics to be useful. The main reporting analysis I do is to look at the trends. Has there been an increase in page views? Decrease in visitors? Are they coming from a different location? Is there something unusual? This helped with a recent site change with the Diocese of Olympia. We separated the site into two and had the trend data to see the impact on the external audience site.

Looking at the sources helps identify ghost spam. It’s an ongoing issue with Google Analytics and there’s nothing we can do about it, but, at least, we know it’s impacting the results.

Goal Tracking

Are you heading towards your goals or do you need to make some tweaks to your tactics? Without at least the basic Google Analytics metrics you won’t know when to make a change or to celebrate.

What’s Next?

HotJar-HeatmapsThese metrics give you the what of your website, but how the why or how. I’ve just started playing with another service called HotJar. The basic free plan gives you heat maps to see where people click on particular pages and records their behavior flow. The results can show if your visitors prefer a side menu or ad links. Or how they navigate through the shopping cart checkout.

I’m still learning and playing with HotJar but I’m already loving it and looking forward to using it on a more purposeful site than this one.

3 thoughts on “Which Google Analytics Metrics Should You Track?

  1. Thank you for this. There are SO MANY THINGS that GA tracks. Having a basic understanding of the essentials makes a huge difference.

    1. Thank you, Will. I was looking up the Google Universal Analytics privacy statement requirements and ended up discovering lots of new reports. I may change this list once I get into those further, but the list still tells a strong story for a site.

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