The first step to understanding Google Analytics lies in knowing what to look for. Though I'm sure many of you know the basic user interface, here are five things you may not have known about Google Analytics.
1. The true definition of a visit.
Seems simple enough, right? A visit is the distinct number of times
someone interacts with your site. However, there's actually one more
part to this
definition. If the person is inactive for more than 30 minutes, that
visit is over. For example, say you go to lunch and leave
www.hotdogs.com open and
you're gone for 30 minutes, your visit is over. If you come back and
click on another page, that becomes a whole new visit.
"Think of this like the number of times people enter the front door of a
store," said Jonathan Weber from Luna Metrics, a training presenter.
They can come
in and realize they forgot their purse, and then go out and get it. Hey,
that second time entering the store is a new visit.
2. A unique visitor may not be what you think.
Unique visitors are all about cookies. These visitors really aren't
about the number of people visiting the site, but the number of unique
recognized. Many don't clear their cookies for two years or so,
therefore, these users are only counted once over a specified time
period, even if they
visit your site multiple times.
"Unique visitors are only as accurate as the cookies," Weber said.
What this means is that if a person views a site from the office, then
the same site from home or even via Internet Explorer and then Chrome,
3. Tracking traffic is not always straightforward.
Many companies and organizations have newsletters that are sent via
email. But it's hard to measure the success of these campaigns depending
on where the
email ends up.
For example, if a user clicks on the newsletter URL through Outlook,
that will count as direct traffic. Yet, if the email goes to a person's
it will be counted as referral traffic. How do you to get around this?
There's a nifty tool called Google Analytics URL Builder, which will generate a trackable
Just follow the three steps below. Shorten your link as needed in
bit.ly, and email away. If there were a newsletter called Hotdog Weekly,
I would enter
the URL in step one and then have a consistent source and medium for
every issue, for example, source=newsletter and medium= email. It's all
so e-mail and email will create different URLs and not bring all of the data to one place in your analytics.
4. Comparing relative success is relatively easy.
Google Analytics enables you to compare metrics for traffic sources,
pages, etc., against the site's average. In the screen grab below, it
shows how this
feature gives you the ability to see how visits from different traffic
media compare with pages/visit.
The line down the center represents the average, and in general those
pages in the green are performing well and those in red are doing
poorly. Don't fret.
This can help you tell your story and figure out how to improve content
on your site and where to put your focus.
This screenshot shows that although referral traffic sent more than
2,705 visits in the last month, visitors aren't going much further than
where the URL
they clicked sent them. Though organic search sends more than 65
percent, visitors are viewing more pages upon visiting.
5. Social media is measurable
Google Analytics recently added a feature under the traffic sources tab
that breaks down social visits from social networks. Instead of digging
referral traffic, you can now see all social engagement in one section.
There's even a nice line graph comparison of all visits and visits via
One other cool feature with the social traffic sources is those sources
that are social data hub partners (e.g. reddit, Google+, and Diigo), you
on a tab called "Activity Stream" and see all conversations including
links to your site in a specified time period. I recommend that you
explore this new
Jackie Roy is a digital content associate at TMG Custom Media. A version of this article first appeared on