Do You Use Google Analytics Right?

Eileen Meng Lu  |

Many web owners may determine the popularity of their websites by counting total visits or volume. Most of them get this data from Google (GOOG) Analytics, which is probably the most popular tracking tool for website owners and markets. However, are these two things the only criteria to measure the performance of your website?

If you think so, you’d better know more about Google Analytics.

"Total Visits" Doesn’t Mean Anything

High daily volume does not tell you the whole picture. But people like to think that way: "my site got 10,000 visits last month," or "yesterday, my story got 3,000 views."

But this number does not tell you anything about your visitors. Are they popping out by accidently clicking on other people’s share? Are they returning visitors or new? Are they interested in your website? Think about it like this: you might be happy if you get 2,000 likes in a Facebook post. But most of those likes count as “passive likes” and not real engagement.

There is a word,“clicktivism,” that indicates how passive activism in virtual world means nothing. What we’d more like to see is 2,000 comments, not 2,000 likes.

Similarly, for web owners, you have to know so much more behind the number. In this case, when you use Google Analytics, you’d better use strong metrics to analyze your site.

New Visits vs. Returning Visits

One important rule you need to know is, returning visitors count as valuable visits. Google Analytics calculate the percentage of new visits or returning visits. Total visits are composed of visits from new visitors and visits from returning visitors. There are many random reasons for someone to visit your website. After they click on the home page for the first time, they may never come back.

You need to see the volume of returning visits, which can be counted as your unique visits. Say you have 10,000 visits this month, with 3,000 returning visits and 7,000 visits from new visitors. The 3,000 returning visitors are more valuable. Returning visits mean users who regularly check your website, and you will expect them to continue with regular visits in the future. 

Target Audience Visits Count

The most important thing to decide before you build a website is to know who is your audience. There are all types of websites already in existence, but no matter the type the number one rule is every successful website “has a point.”

That is, you need to know who the website serves. For example, The Texas Tribune specializes in public policy, politics, and government issues. It isn't known around the world like the New York Times, but, since it has been established, it has remained popular with its higher-educated target demographic, something that's very valuable.

There are many ways to tell if you have attracted the most valuable audience. First, location of visitors is essential when a website is region-oriented. Google Analytics detects visitors’ locations from their IP addresses. For example, if most visits to Alhambra, CA’s Alhambra Source are actually from other states, or even neighboring Los Angeles, then as a website designed to serve the needs of Alhambra residents, it hasn't attracted its target audience.

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This applies even if the target demo is not location-specific. If a visitor has other information stored online, his/her age and gender can also be reviewed by using Google analytics. Demographics are only the starting point of determining if you have gotten your target audience to look at your website. Google Analytics also tells you your visitors’ interests, including language, behavior patterns, browser types,Network, devices, and more. You can compare this data and see if you have reached your target audience.

It can sound scary to some consumers, but this is only data for the owner’s tracking use. For example, it will only tell you how many people from Los Angeles see the page in a period of time you select. Or it will show the age range of readers from its statistics. 

Who Stays, Who Leaves?

Every website is designed for a reason; so you need to see if the audience has gotten what it's looking for.

For instance, while Amazon (AMZN) looks for consumers who buy something on the website, a news website expects readers to read the whole article. However, users do not simply rush into this final step of giving money to Amazon; instead, they start by searching the product they want to buy, then scroll down the search result page to find the best fits, click into the page of the specific product, add it to the cart, log into the system, go to the review order page, and, finally, make your payment. Each of these steps has a visit, from the first one (home page) to last one (payment page).

Say there are 100 visits to Amazon’s homepage, will 100 purchases be made? Obviously not. From the landing page with search engine, internal search results page, product description page, product added to cart page, account sign-in page, order review page, payment review page, to the purchase confirmation page, users who continue through each step are usually decreasing. Even if 100 people simultaneously start to search products, maybe only one person sticks to the last page and pays.

For content-oriented websites they expect readers or audience to stay longer, not only the home page, but also the actual article or a certain video clip. Similarly, thousands of people open The New York Times to browse news, but not everybody will use five minutes to read through the whole article, and the time people spends on a specific video page of YouTube is often less than the video length because some will leave early. We can tell how long visitors stay on a certain page by looking at “Average Session Duration” in Google Analytics.

Conversional Rate and Healthy Website

As stated above, either for commercial online retailers or news websites, web developers should keep an eye on the conversion rate of their visits. The shape of visits usually turns out to be a funnel, bigger from the beginning, decreasing in the middle, and the most narrow at the end. Larger conversion rate indicate a better performance of the website. Website owners certainly like to set a goal of a 100% conversion rate, but, in the real world, it’s not feasible. Usually, a gradual decrease in visitors is expected when it comes to conversional rate. You can tell how your website has achieved your goal by looking at “goal completions,” “goal conversation rate,” or “goal value” in the Google Analytics report.


(From Brian Clifton's (2012) Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics. 3rd edition.P 277)


E-metrics strategist Brian Clifton proposed five shapes of schematic funnel shapes to describe conversion. Shape A is a 100 percent conversion rate, something too hard to achieve unless you only have one page in your entire website. Shape B is the most common shape showing a sharp decrease in visitors until the payment form step. Shape C is a well-optimized conversion-funnel process with only a gradual decrease in visitors, it’s also hard to achieve because web developers tend to focus on building homepages or front end pages but spend less time crafting attractive content deeper into the site.

Shape D is an ill-defined funnel, which indicates visitors entering the funnel midway through the process. Shape E is a poorly converting funnel with serious barrier to progress.

There are many ways to measure the performance of a website, and “visits” is probably one of the most important criterion that tells whether your site is successful. Instead of summarizing users’ activity simply by calculating total volume, one should dig deeper and look at what’s behind it. A comprehensive use of Google Analytics metrics can help you understand your audience better and, accordingly, better develop your site. 


DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:


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