Easy Yet Useful Google Analytics for Beginners


Google Analytics screenshot

A skilled data analyst can pull incredible insights out of Google Analytics. They can tell you who your customers are, what interests them, and what gets them to convert…

Unfortunately, I am not a skilled data analyst.

As a right-brained kinda person, I am much more at home writing marketing copy than crunching numbers. But even I know that if you want your marketing to succeed you HAVE to measure results. That’s where Google Analytics (GA) comes in.

Google Analytics delivers ridiculous amounts of data about your website traffic. The struggle is knowing how to analyze the numbers to gain actionable information. The good news is even a novice like me can gather valuable insight from GA. You just need to know where to look and what the numbers mean. So, I’d like to share with you the basic data points I look at and what you can learn from them.

Please note: this article assumes you already have GA installed on your site and know how to access it. If not please check out How to set up Google Analytics: 3 Essential Steps for Beginners.

Measuring traffic to your website using Google Analytics

One of the first things you want to know is how much traffic are you getting to your website. To learn this navigate to the Audience section of GA (which you can find in the left-hand navigation).

Here you’ll find the audience overview which can tell you a lot about the health of your marketing campaigns.


Google Analytics for beginners: sessions, users, and pageviews

The first three numbers to look at are users, sessions, and pageviews.

  • Users tells you about* how many people have visited your website.
  • Sessions tells you about* how many visits you’ve had to your website. (Note: one user can have multiple sessions).
  • Pageviews is the total number of pages people have viewed on your website.

(*I say “about” because there are caveats wherein 1 person may show up as 2 users because they used 2 different browsers or devices or whatever, but as a beginner it’s OK to take these numbers at face value.)

If these numbers are very low—say fewer than 100 sessions, users, or pageviews per week—then you know you need to focus on building brand awareness and growing your reach.

If there is a steady increase in these numbers, you are doing a good job of marketing your website and growing your audience—keep it up!

If there is a downward trend, you might need to add fresh content to your site or make adjustments to your marketing campaigns.

You’ll notice in the graph above there is a sudden spike in sessions. This spike coincides with the start of a Facebook advertising campaign, which indicates that the campaign is working to drive traffic to the site. The tapering off of that traffic indicates the campaign may need to be refreshed or the audience targeting improved.

The next three numbers you want to look at are the pages/session, average session duration, and bounce rate. These are indicators of how engaged your audience is.

  • Pages/Session tells you on average how many pages people looked at when they visited your site.
  • Average Session Duration tells you on average how much time users spent on your site before leaving.
  • Bounce Rate tells you the percentage of people who came to your site, took one look at it, and, well, bounced. (GA measures these as a session duration of 0 seconds.)

It’s not uncommon for the pages/session to be a decimal between 1 and 2. Typically the higher the better because that means people liked what they found on your site and took a look around. If your pages/session is low you may need to improve your calls to action.

It takes a minute or two to read a webpage, so if your average session duration is under a minute, you know people aren’t hanging around long enough to engage with your content. You might need to improve your headlines, your design, or your messaging. An average session duration of 2 minutes or so is good for most websites.

If your bounce rate is high—80 or 90 percent—then you have a problem. It may be a technical problem where people aren’t able to load your site correctly. Or it may a content problem where you aren’t capturing people’s attention. Whatever it is, you need to diagnose it and make some changes. A bounce rate around 60% is generally considered good.

Notice in the image above that the pages/session and average session duration actually went down around the same time that pageviews and sessions went up. That indicates that although we’re driving more traffic to the site, the traffic isn’t engaging and we need to figure out why and fix it.


Google Analytics for beginners: new v returning visitors


The last thing to look at on this page is the New v Returning visitors.

This graph will give you an idea of how many people are coming back to your website for a second or third helping. I like to aim for 25% returning visitors. That way, I’m filling my sales funnel with lots of new visitors, but also building some loyalty among return visitors. What percentage is good for you will depend on the purpose of your site. If for example, yours is a membership site clearly you’ll want a high percentage of returning visitors.

With a big Facebook ad campaign running, it’s not surprising that this graph shows a high percentage of new visitors.

How to see where your traffic is coming from in Google Analytics

Once you’ve identified how much traffic you’re getting, you’ll want to know where it’s coming from. In the left-hand navigation choose Acquisition and be sure to click “overview.”

Google Analytics for Beginners: Acquisition

Here you can see all your traffic sources in both pie chart and bar chart format.


Google Analytics for Beginners: Acquisition Channel's chart


  • Organic Search is traffic that found your site by searching Google, Yahoo, Bing or some other search engine. This gives you an indication of the health of your SEO. If you have little or no search traffic, you’ll want to work on your keyword optimization.
  • Direct traffic comes to your site by typing your web address in the browser navigation bar. If you have a lot of direct traffic it indicates you have good brand awareness and people know where to find you online. Good job!
  • Email measures how many people are coming to your site from your email marketing campaigns. If you are using email marketing, but not getting traffic, you may need to look at the content of your emails.
  • Referral traffic comes to your site by clicking on a link on another website. This often relates to your PR or influencer marketing campaigns. If you don’t have any referral traffic you may want to work on building backlinks through guest blogging, networking, or press releases.
  • Social is all the traffic you get from sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram. If you are running social media campaigns this can give you an indication of how well those social campaigns are doing. Clicking on “social” in the bar chart will take you to a break down of all the separate channels so you can see which ones are sending the most traffic.

You’ll notice in the image above that we have very healthy organic search and direct traffic, so we know we have good name recognition and people are finding us when they search for our brand/product.  The social traffic, however, is on the low side, it might be worth investing in boosted posts/tweets in order to juice that number. But on the whole, there is a healthy mix of traffic sources here.

How to see what people are looking at on your website in Google Analytics

The last thing you’re going to know is what people are actually looking at on your website. For this you’ll want to navigate to Behavior>Site Content>All Pages.


Google Analytics for beginners: how to navigate to Behavior tab

Here you’ll find the following breakdown of the content on your website.

Google Analtyics for beginners: reviewing your website content stats

The Page column shows you all the URL extensions (what comes after www.yourdomain.com/) for all the webpages people have visited on your site. They are ordered by the number of pageviews by default, so the first URL on the list is the most popular page on your website (typically your home page unless you are engaged in a marketing campaign sending traffic elsewhere).

The Pageviews column breaks down your pageviews by individual page. If there are certain pages that way outperform the rest, you may want give your audience more of that kind of content.

Personally, I don’t use the Unique Pageviews stat, you can find a definition of pageview v unique pageview here.

Average Time on Page, like Average Session Duration, will tell you how engaged people are with the content on an individual page. Look for those pages with the highest session duration to get a feel for what your audience likes to read.

Entrances shows you how many times each page has served as the landing page (or the first page people saw) for your site.  Your home page should have the highest number of entrances. Also, any product page or blog post that you are currently promoting should have a high number of entrances (if not make adjustments to your campaign). If you are not promoting a page, but it’s still getting a high number of entrances, that may indicate positive SEO.

Finally, the Bounce Rate is broken down to show which individual pages people bounced from. This is useful to see if there is a particular page that people don’t seem to be engaging with.


Google analytics for beginners: how to find behavior flow


The last thing I like to look at in Behavior is the behavior flow. It looks like this:


Google Analytics for beginners: behavior flow

What this shows you is how people navigate your site. On the left-hand side, you can set the white boxes to show different things, but I have this one set to traffic source. By flowing from left to right we can follow traffic through their interactions with your website. For example, in this image most direct traffic landed first on the home page then the majority either dropped off (left the site) or navigated to the blog.

This can give you insight into how well your sales funnel is working Are people moving from content to sales pages and converting from there? If not, where are they dropping off and how can you fix it?

That’s it

Those are my quick and dirty data points you can easily pull from Google Analytics even as a beginner. As you can see, even a few basic numbers can allow you to make data-driven decisions regarding your marketing. But if you need help, feel free to get in touch.


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