A Google Analytics report is made up of dimensions and metrics. Dimensions are attributes, or categories, of data. Metrics are quantitative measurements related to one or more dimensions.
Tracking metrics and dimensions in Google Analytics is one of the most reliable ways to assess your website’s performance as it relates to your marketing goals. For your digital marketing efforts to succeed, you need to keep a pulse on visitor activity.
If you understand valid dimension-metric combinations and what they tell you about your marketing campaigns, you can take your brand to new heights.
Understanding metrics, dimensions and secondary dimensions
Simply put, a metric is a measurement.
Perhaps the most common metric in a GA report is the “users” metric, which is a count of the number of people who visit your site.
A dimension is an attribute that describes some data.
For example, the “city” attribute tells you from which city a user accesses your website.
A secondary dimension is another label applied to some data to make the insight more granular.
So, if you’re already looking at how many users visit your website from Chicago, you could add the secondary dimension of “browser” to break down how many visitors from Chicago access your website using Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge or any other browser.
Alone, a single metric or a standalone dimension can’t tell you much about what’s happening on your website. But when combined, metrics and attributes tell a rich story about trends that matter to your business. Finding the right dimension-metric combinations is a matter of following best practices and reviewing your own marketing objectives.
Metrics: Filtered and unfiltered
A quick look at your GA dashboard will show you that metrics can exist as a single, unfiltered number or as a measurement qualified by a dimension.
Tip: Keep in mind that everything you see in a GA report is also constrained by time. By default, GA will show you metrics from the previous 7 days.
Unfiltered, metrics are nice round numbers. For example, you might see that in the past week you had 1,000 new users. When qualified by a dimension, metrics may look messier. For instance, the combination of sessions per user is usually a decimal — e.g. 2.3 sessions per user.
Unfiltered metrics can give you high-level details that allow you to take a quick pulse check of your website. It’s easy to glance at the Google Analytics dashboard and see that the number of returning visitors is higher or lower than the previous week. However, to answer deeper questions such as why that figure has changed will require you to add one or more dimensions. The next section will provide you with a starter pack of the most important site measurements.
The 7 most important metrics and dimensions in Google Analytics
Tracking these metrics will provide you with a better understanding of how visitors arrive at your site, what they do when they get there and why they leave.
This metric shows the number of unique people who visited your site in a given time frame. By default, GA shows the total number of unique visitors as well as a breakdown of new and returning users. Increasing the percentage of returning users is a key goal for businesses looking to increase their conversion rate.
A session is a group of interactions a user makes on your website within a given time frame. For example, if a user visits your site and spends 2 minutes reading an article or landing page, leaves and then returns and downloads an eBook, it would count as 2 sessions. If a user opens a page and leaves it open without taking an action, the session will timeout after a session duration of 30 minutes.
3. Average pages per session
GA calculates this figure by dividing the total number of pageviews by the total number of sessions. So, if your website received 500 sessions and 1000 pageviews, your average number of pages per session would be 2. This number can help you understand how users are engaging with your content. A high number of pages per session could indicate that users are enjoying a broad selection of content, or it could mean users aren’t finding what they’re looking for — the average-time-on-page metric will help you understand which it is.
4. Bounce rate
Users “bounce” when they arrive on your site and then leave without taking any other action that triggers another GA request. So, if a user clicks on to your page and hits the back button one second later, that’s considered a bounce. It’s also considered a bounce if a user opens your website, reads an article for 10 minutes and leaves. Blog articles typically have a high bounce rate, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This metric can help you understand user behavior. Pages with a high bounce rate usually need more content or an attractive call to action (CTA) to encourage users to explore more of what you have to offer.
5. Average time on page
A high average time on page indicates that users are engaging with your content. While you can look at the average time spent on your entire website, it’s also helpful to view this metric as it relates to individual pages. As you adjust your content marketing strategy, this key performance indicator (KPI) can help you understand which pages need more work.
6. Sessions by channel
This measurement shows you the number of sessions that come from various acquisition channels. For example, you may want to track how many sessions come from your social media pages versus a paid channel such as Google Ads. Content marketers track this metric to monitor growth of organic traffic.
7. Goal completion
GA enables you to create customized goals based on your marketing objectives. For example, you could create an event goal to track the number of times users play a video on your website. Event tracking is important for keeping a pulse on visitor actions that are valuable to your campaigns. In that case, the goal completion metric would show you the number of times the video was played during a given time period. GA can also assign a dollar value to your goals — we’ve got a quick guide that will help you understand goals and conversion timing.
Why you need to set up custom Google Analytics reports and goals
You have unique marketing goals, so you should customize your reports to reflect the measurements that drive the most value for your business. Building a Google Analytics report that is customized to your marketing strategy is as simple as selecting a standard metric and then drilling down with primary and secondary dimensions.
Content marketers use custom reports to monitor campaigns and make improvements based on their findings. For example, a global organization might wish to create custom reports for each country it operates in.
GA also enables sales funnel visualization through the users flow report. This shows you where users enter your site and what actions they take before leaving. Combined with a custom report, the user flow enables you to fine-tune your content to encourage movement that leads to more conversions and aligns your marketing campaigns with your sales goals.
If you want to share your reports with a non-marketing audience — like the C-suite, for example — consider connecting your Google Analytics account to Google Data Studio. This tool pulls your analytics data into visually appealing, branded reports that you can share as an interactive web page or as a static PDF document.
Adding custom metrics and dimensions
In addition to metrics and dimensions built into GA, you can add your own. You can use custom dimensions and metrics to monitor data that GA doesn’t track automatically. This is handy when you want to combine your analytics information with data from your customer relationship management (CRM) solution.
For example, say your website has 3 membership tiers: bronze, silver and gold. You could import CRM data to track the number of sessions per gold-level member. This level of data can supercharge your digital marketing strategy by enabling continuous improvement based on your analytic data.
Note: You may need to work with a developer to connect your CRM to GA. Check out Google’s resource center to learn more.
Optimize your website with insights from Google Analytics
Ready to take your analytics to the next level? Learning how to prove the ROI of your content marketing can help you steer your business in the right direction. Get your free copy of our eBook “Google Analytics Goals: Your Ticket to Going Platinum” to get started.