Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
The Audience section of the Google Analytics dashboard contains metrics that can help you track website traffic, see the number of pages viewed, and estimate audience interest in your content.
While Acquisition metrics reveal how users got to your site, and Behavior metrics tell you what pages they visited while there, Audience metrics comprise the heart of the Google Analytics platform and are the first items you see once logged in.
There are seven primary audience metrics to which you should pay attention: Sessions, Users, Pageviews, Pages/Session, Average Session Duration, Bounce Rate, and % New Sessions.
You can access each metric by clicking the drop-down menu in the Audience “Overview” tab.
Sessions, formerly referred to as “Visits,” reveals the number of interactions a user has while actively engaged with your site. All usage data — pageviews, events, ecommerce, and more — is associated with a session.
Google Analytics records sessions based on two factors: time and “campaigns,” which consist of different traffic sources, such as search engines, referring sites, or other tracked URLs.
A visitor can leave your site, return, and still be in the same session. However, if a user is inactive on your site for 30 minutes or more, then returns, Google Analytics records that as a new session — something it calls “time-based expiration.”
Time-based expiration also occurs when the clock strikes midnight in the time zone configured in your settings. As an example, if someone visits your site at 11:59 p.m. and continues browsing past 12:00 a.m., Google Analytics considers that two separate sessions.
Campaign-based expirations occur when a user enters your site via one source — a search engine, for example — then leaves and returns via another source. Each time a user’s campaign source changes, Google Analytics opens a new session.
Direct traffic — which results from someone typing in your URL or clicks to your site from a bookmark — does not cause a change in session or campaign-based session expiration.
The User metric shows the total number of users (visitors) who have registered at least one session in a given period. It tells you how many users came to your site — regardless of whether or not they visited multiple times — and includes both new and returning visitors.
Google Analytics calculates a user in two ways. The first is based solely on the number of sessions in the given date range and the time of each session, as described above. The second, on the cookies Google Analytics adds to the visitor’s browser.
Both calculation methods can produce inaccurate results. For example, the first can be incorrect if the user was active on the site before and after midnight. The second, if a user clears the cookies in his browser.
A “pageview” is a view of a page on your site by a visitor, which Google Analytics tracks. The Pageview metric shows how often visitors access your web content.
A high number of pageviews could be due to the value and quality of your site content. It could also be that visitors are unable to find what they’re searching for or are reloading pages that don’t render correctly. Refer to the other metrics to determine the exact cause.
A high number of pageviews could be due to the value and quality of your site content. It could also be that visitors are unable to find what they’re searching for or are reloading pages that don’t render correctly.
This metric calculates the average number of pages viewed during a session. It counts multiple views of a single page.
Pages/Session can help determine how well the visitor flows through your content, from one page to another. The closer your Pages/Session is to the number one, the less likely visitors are proceeding along the path to conversion. Ideally, your Pages/Session would be close to the number of pages required to complete a conversion.
5. Average Session Duration
This metric records the average length of a session in hours, minutes, and seconds.
The more relevant your site is to the visitor, the longer the average session duration will be since a visitor will spend more time accessing information that interests him.
If the Pages/Session metric is low and Average Session Duration is high, it could mean that there’s either too much information on one page, resulting in more time spent there, or that the information is confusing, resulting in a longer duration.
6. Bounce Rate
The “bounce rate” is the percentage of single-page visits. By that I mean a visitor lands on a page and then leaves the site, rather than exploring further. Blogs commonly see high bounce rates, since visitors tend to read a single post and then move on.
7. % New Sessions
The % New Sessions metric shows a ratio of first-time visits to returning visits. This metric is not only important in tracking the number of new visitors coming to your site, but also the extent to which you are encouraging them to return.
Often, the percentage of new visitors is a reflection of how well your advertising and marketing draws in new potential customers. If the number is unusually high, it could be because you’re just starting Google Analytics tracking, or it’s a new site, so all the users are considered “new.”