Google Analytics gives you the tools to analyze whether your website is meeting your needs by analyzing its traffic. By tracking certain metrics, you can discover whether your target market is finding your site, how they’re finding it, and if they’re taking the actions you want them to take while on your site. This allows you to increase engagement and enhance your marketing tactics.

Depending on your needs, you can use Google Analytics for free or pay for a premium version, which is designed with larger businesses in mind and offers 24/7 live technical support, among other things. But the free service is still robust, so paying for the premium service isn’t always necessary.

If you’re just starting out, we’ve listed seven basic Google Analytics metrics that will help you analyze your website traffic and know what is or isn’t working.

1) Sessions

Sessions are groups of interactions that take place during a given time frame. Google explains that sessions act “as the container for the actions a user takes on your site.” Such actions include things like pageviews and social interactions. Generally, sessions end automatically after 30 minutes of inactivity or at the end of the day (midnight), but these time frames can be adjusted. This means that if someone finds your site, decides to do something else and comes back to your site within 30 minutes, this will still count as one session. If the user returns to your site after 30 minutes, a new session will have begun.

2) % New Sessions

The percent of new sessions is the ratio of first-time visits to return visits on your website. Ideally, you want to have a mix of unique and returning visitors: you always want new people to find you, but it’s good to keep people coming back. Don’t worry if the % new sessions number is high at first—when you first sign up for Google Analytics, all sessions will look like new sessions.

3) Average Session Duration

The name of this metric is as straightforward as it gets and refers to the average length of time your users spend on your website. The more engaged users are, the more time they’ll spend on your site. If this number is high, this indicates that your content is relevant to their interests and needs. However, if you’re finding that the average session duration is quite low, try streamlining your site to ensure that you are providing all of the most relevant information. Include hyperlinks to different pages within your site because by doing so, they’ll be more likely to click through to another page and stay on your site—thus increasing the numbers for this metric.

4) Bounce Rate

Your bounce rate is the percentage of people who leave your site after viewing only one page. A 50% bounce rate is generally seen as the threshold for a good rating—this means that users are engaged with your site. But if it’s higher than 50%, this might indicate an issue with viewer engagement and you’ll need to make some changes to your site. It could be that users haven’t found the information they were looking for, or they found your site too difficult to navigate.

5) User Demographics

If your business appeals to a certain demographic but that demographic isn’t finding you online, you need to know.

User demographics tells you who is viewing your site so you can tell if you’re actually reaching your target audience. With Google Analytics, you can collect information in five different areas:

  • Age,
  • Gender,
  • Affinity categories (which identifies users in terms of lifestyle; for example, Technophiles, Sports Fans, and Cooking Enthusiasts),
  • In-Market Segments (which identifies users’ product-purchase interests)
  • Other Categories (more specific information pertaining to the Affinity categories). If, after analyzing your data, you find that you aren’t reaching your target demographic, it may be time to rethink your website, or rethink your marketing.

6) Traffic Sources

It’s always good to know where your website traffic is coming from, whether it’s from another website or social media. Google Analytics allows you to assess your direct traffic (users who end up at your site by typing in your URL in a browser), organic traffic (users who find your site through a search engine), referral traffic (users who have clicked through a link that leads to your site) and social traffic (users who have found your site through social media). By analyzing your different traffic sources, you can judge what marketing efforts are working or not, and make adjustments where necessary.

7) Exit Pages

As the name implies, it refers to the pages of your site from which users leave your site entirely. The factors for this are varied, but can be narrowed down to things such as usability issues or a lack of clear calls-to-action. If users are not finding good enough reasons to stay on your site, you need to find creative ways to keep their attention. Try changing the content on a page that is constantly appearing as a popular exit page, or make use of a call-to-action in the form of a pop-up dialog box.

Now that you know the basic metrics you need to follow you can sign up for Google Analytics and start monitoring your website traffic. You don’t have to spend a ton of time on it, but knowing these metrics will tell you where your online presence could be strengthened. Set up a schedule to check Google Analytics regularly. That way, if they’re trending down, you can take action quickly.

Check back throughout the month of October for more in-depth guides to Google Analytics.

Ashley Peterson is certified in Google Analytics, as well as a Volume Nine SEO contributor to the Connectivity blog.