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Google Analytics 101

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What does all that Google Analytics jargon mean, anyway?

Recently, LunaMetrics teamed up with Sarah Kaczmarek from the U.S. Government Accountability Office for the GovLoop webinar, "What do citizens want on your sites?" After the training was over, we had many questions that we answered individually. However, a number of people asked questions about terminology and the meaning of some of the Google Analytics (GA) metrics and dimensions, and we've handled a few of them here.

Unique visitors v. Visits: What's the difference?

A unique visitor is a person (or a computer/IP address) who visits your website at least once during a designated time
period. A visit is an interaction by an individual viewing one or more page on your website.

Let’s say your friend Joe is worried about getting the flu, so he visits HHS.gov. Joe would be a unique visitor to the site, and would have generated one visit. If later that month Joe thinks he got food poisoning and visits HHS.gov again, he would still be seen as the same unique visitor, but he would generate a second visit to the site.

The idea is that the unique visitor metric makes a stab at counting individuals, whereas the visit metric does not -- you see a new visit every time someone comes to your site, no matter how often they return.

Which is a better metric?

If you are keeping up with the digital strategy milestones, we’d recommend you monitor both metrics, along with others listed under the 10 recommended performance metrics. Both metrics provide high-level information on the breadth of traffic to your site. It’s helpful to keep a few things in mind when thinking about unique visitors, though, as unique visitors
does not translate exactly into unique people. If a person comes back to your site on a different device or browser, GA sees him or her as a new visit AND a new unique visitor. So if our friend Joe visited HHS.gov the first time on his home computer and the second time on his iPad, GA would count Joe as two unique visitors. Moreover, every time anyone is at the local library and visits the HHS site on the identical library computer using Internet Explorer, GA sees that as the same unique person (assuming the library hasn’t cleared the browser’s cookies)!

Bounce Rate: What is it?

If someone visits a digital property and leaves without looking at a second page or an event, they bounce. (Newer sites that have rich media often allow the visitor to do a lot on the page without going to a new page, which GA considers to be events.) Bounces can signal that the visitors think they are in the wrong place, or that they are disinterested – but they can also many that visitors are finding all they need on that page and have had a successful visit.

Bounce rate for a landing page (the page at which a user enters the site) is calculated as bounces from that page divided by the number of visits that began there. And a high bounce rate for an entire digital property, like your web site, is calculated by dividing total bounces from the site by total entries to the site. You can use bounce rate to understand how well your site (or a specific landing page) greets and engages a citizen.

In general, good bounce rates are under 30% or so. Bad bounce rates are over 50% or so. If you’re bounce rates are over 70%, it may be time to take a serious look at what you’re serving up on that page. Remember that some bounce is inevitable, especially if you have a page that citizens are checking on a regular basis for a specific purpose and then leaving. Very tiny bounce rates (under 5%) usually signal technical problems, as do bounce rates pushing 100%.

As with all web metrics, context is important. Comparing bounce rates with time on page can help you understand more about the experience your users are having. Average visit duration and pages per visit are other useful metrics that should play a central role in your analysis.

The important thing is not to let all the jargon and numbers scare you away! It’s your site. Time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty in the data! In the end, that’s the best way to help your agency make responsible, user-focused decisions about the service you’re providing to citizens online.

Did you miss the live training? No worries- you can watch the full archived version here.

This post was originally written by:

Sarah Kaczmarek, Analyst, Government Accountability Office

Robbin Steif, LunaMetrics