I think we can all agree that it’s critical to have a website in this digital age, whether you’re a real estate developer, a city official, a small business, or otherwise — websites live to promote services, support your brand, and increase the success of your business. But websites are complex, and sometimes it’s hard to know how well they are actually working for you. Should you be looking at the number of visitors? Should you consider your Google search ranking? Or is it about how many sales or leads your website delivered? In our 15 years of website development experience, we’ve learned a thing or two.
Regardless of what industry you work in, below you’ll find the top website metrics that every organization should monitor, what these metrics mean for your organization, and how GA4 will report them after the July 2023 transition. But first, why is tracking website metrics important anyway?
Why is website tracking important?
Think about how your website is managed — How is new content decided or prioritized? How do you assess the impact of your emails or blog posts? How do you know which content is the most relevant to your target audience? By having website tracking in place, you’ll have more data to help your team refine the web content that has the highest impact on your business. It also allows your organization to have benchmarks behind decision making and to identify gaps that digital marketing efforts could fill in.
What should I be tracking?
Website metrics can be general across all websites (ex. Pageviews) or very detailed to your specific business goals (ex. Undergraduate Applications). The following represent a baseline for assessing your website’s performance in both Universal Analytics and GA4, two commonly used web services for tracking website metrics and analytics.
Tracking the number of website sessions can help your team evaluate whether your SEO strategy and marketing efforts are working. One should expect an increase in sessions after a marketing campaign is implemented, as well as a consistent stream of sessions through organic, direct, referral, and social channels. This metric can also help identify trends in your website traffic (i.e. web visits peak in the summer and decrease around holidays).
In Universal Analytics, a session is defined as a group of website interactions that are recorded for a user within a 30 minute time period. These interactions send data to the analytics platform, and are better known as hits. Examples of hits include page views, link clicks, page scrolls, etc. With the transition to GA4, hits will be tracked as events, and therefore sessions will represent the number of events recorded for a user within a 30 minute time period. This means that instead of having pageview hits and e-commerce hits listed separately from event hits, all interactions are going to be considered events.
GA4 has made another notable change to how sessions are tracked (as if this information weren’t a lot already!). With the transition, new sessions from referral, search engine, or campaign-tagged URL traffic will not start a new session when a new campaign source is clicked. This means that if Jane Doe visits our website from Referrer #1, this will be considered a session. If within 30 minutes Jane Doe visits our website from Referrer #2, GA4 will not consider this a new session.
Bounce rate can be used to assess how users are engaging with a page once they visit. In Universal Analytics, this metric represents the “percentage of single-page sessions in which there was no interaction with the page”. This means that if your website has 100 visitors and 50 of them leave without visiting more pages or clicking on any content, the bounce rate of your website is likely 50%. Therefore, the higher the bounce rate, the less interaction that users had with your page and content. Keep in mind, a high bounce rate is not always a bad sign. For landing pages from campaigns, bounce rate can range from 70% to 90%. Depending on the content of your page, a user might also not need to take action! This is more common for blog content in which visitors quickly obtain what they seek, and then leave a website without any interaction.
In GA4, bounce rate will be replaced by engagement rate. This represents sessions that lasted more than 10 seconds, had an event, or had more than 2 pageviews. The most important thing to note is that Engagement Rate is the opposite of Bounce Rate, and therefore a 43% Bounce Rate in Universal Analytics will represent a 57% engagement rate in GA4. However, due to the 10 second measurement, GA4 might report higher engagement rates for your website overall.
Pages Per Session
Pages per session represent the average number of pages a visitor views in a single session. This is helpful in gauging how relevant your content is to your website visitors. In GA4, pages per session will be replaced with views per user. This tracks not only how many pages are seen per session, but also how many app visits there are per session for a more holistic measurement across devices.
A high number of pages per session (or views per session) means that there is enough content and a good user experience on your page to entice visitors to explore more content on your website. Therefore, with any marketing effort that is not using a single-scroll landing page, users would ideally be navigating to more than one page per session. If this is not the case, more internal links could be implemented in the page content or the menu engagement could be explored more deeply. This metric, paired with engagement rate, can also help you identify whether the right target audience is reaching your website.
Average Session Duration
Session duration in Universal Analytics and in GA4 represent similar data points. The main difference is that in Universal Analytics the time elapsed is measured between the first and last hit, whereas GA4 measures the time elapsed between the first and last event. In GA4, this is called Average Engagement Time.
Overall, this metric can help you identify issues with user experience on your website as well as any targeting issues. A healthy session duration would be anything between 2-3 minutes, but can vary depending on your page content. If you find that there is a lower average session duration for your website, take a look at your pages with the highest session durations to analyze the differences.
As with any new business endeavor, it is important that website tracking also starts with organizational goals in mind. Is your website meant to drive applications or sales? Is it meant to promote your brand and expertise? Is it meant to gather subscribers?
For each of your organization’s goals, there should be event tracking in place. This means that if your website is intended for lead capture and brand awareness, top events tracked could include form fills, PDF downloads, phone clicks, etc. This can be done through event tracking scripts on your website code or through Google Tag Manager.
With the transition to GA4, event tracking is simplified with the introduction of enhanced measurement events. These are events that can be tracked through the GA4 platform, when enabled, without the need for code changes or Google Tag Manager. The current list of GA4 events that could be automatically tracked when enabled are the following:
Scrolls: This is tracked when a visitor reaches the bottom of a page and is reported as a percentage scrolled.
Outbound Clicks: This is tracked anytime a user clicks a URL that is not in your domain. If you have cross-domain tracking enabled, a click to another one of your organization’s domains will not be included.
Site Search: This is tracked when a user makes a search on your website and is reported as the search term used.
Video Engagement: This is tracked when JS API embedded videos are used on your website and a video is started. Reporting for this event consists of the percentage of the video watched as well as the video title and URL.
File Downloads: This is tracked when a user clicks on a file and is reported as the file name, file extension, etc.
Okay *takes deep breath*, that was a lot of serious talk, but all important! As we said before, websites are critical in this digital age, so making sure your website is working best for you, is key. It’s also important to use your resources, if you don’t know where to start and are looking for a helping hand, just ask! We have the experience and the passion for website metrics, design, and maintenance and are happy to help you take control of your website and get it working for you, not against you.
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