Google Analytics is a fantastic free tool used by millions of website owners and marketers to track the traffic visiting their website.
From our experience of teaching people how to use the platform, the same comments are heard time and time again... "there's so much information; it's overwhelming", "I don't know what I should be looking at or reporting on", "I don't understand how to use this data to make informed marketing decisions". Sound familiar?
Whilst the metrics you need to focus on will depend on what your overall marketing goals are, there are some metrics that Analytics provides us that we needn't get too hung up about. In this article, we'll take a look at bounce rate as an example.
Bounce rate may well be an indicator of engagement and relevancy, but is the bounce rate figure we see in our analytics reports something to be concerned about?
Firstly, a bounce is simply when someone visits a single page of your website before leaving. This could indicate that the content isn't what the user was looking for, in which case it's a negative experience. It could also be that the user has found exactly what they were looking for (e.g. your phone number) and doesn't need any more information, which would be a positive experience. So just looking at the bounce rate won't give us the full picture.
It also doesn't take into account the length of time someone spends on the page before leaving, so a bounce is recorded whether they spend 3 seconds or 30 minutes on a page. Analytics can only detect how long someone has been on a page if they request another page on the site. That way they can calculate the time difference between requesting the first page and requesting the second. If there's no second page, there's nothing to measure, so all bounces will record in Analytics as being on the site for 0 seconds.
So your bounce rate may look high, but in fact people could be staying for a good 10 or 15 minutes, engaging with your content and gathering the information they need.
There's also the problem of Google Analytics starting a new session for users that stay longer than 30 minutes. This means that if someone views several pages of you site but then doesn't request a new page for 30 minutes or more (ever heard of "page parking"?), Google will assume a new session and if that session only contains one page, it'll show up as a bounce, even though the same user has viewed several pages and never actually left your site.
Bounce rates vary across websites, but we usually find a good average is around 50%. Comparison sites tend to have a lot lower bounce rates as people naturally need to visit more than one page to use the site.
Sites with active blogs usually see a higher bounce rate, especially when the traffic comes from social media. This is down to people clicking though with the sole purpose of reading that one article and then leaving without exploring the site any further.
You can reduce bounce rate on sites like this by showing "related articles/posts", adding internal links to other resources within the article and providing a clear call-to-action to prompt users to take action, whether that's an email signup process or a "visit our online store" button.
Bounce rate is, indeed, a metric that gives us some indication as to how relevant and engaging your site is, however, the tracking capabilities of Google Analytics mean it can never give us the full picture and shouldn't be used as a metric to make any significant financial decision on. And it shouldn't be used as a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) for your digital marketing campaigns. The best metrics are always ones you can put a value on, such as enquiries, sales and signups.