Take these Google Analytics Metrics with a Pinch of Salt…

Written by Jo Seward: Digital marketing manager.
· 4 minute read

Having Google Analytics (GA) installed on your site is pretty essential these days if you want some idea about how your site is performing, and the channels that are worth investing in. However, some of the data being displayed can be misinterpreted and cause unnecessary concern. Don’t panic, here’s some of the most confusing metrics explained to put your mind at ease.

Average Time on Page: 0 Seconds? Is my page that bad?

Logging into Google Analytics to see a big fat ‘00:00:00’ under ‘Avg. Time on Page’ for a blog post or landing page you so painstakingly created can be disheartening to say the least. But try not to panic – this is a misunderstood metric that’s caught us all out at some point.

Google Analytics can only calculate the time spent on a page if the visitor goes on to visit a subsequent page. If someone lands on your page and doesn’t go on to browse the rest of your site, the time spent will be logged as 0 seconds. Whether the visitor spent 5 seconds on your page or 5 minutes, if they then clicked off the site, Analytics can’t calculate this metric. It’s annoying, but one to take with a pinch of salt if you’re trying to gauge the success of your page.

Someone could land on your blog post and be highly engaged with the content, but you’ll never know should they leave the site straight after reading. This can be typical of a blog post – they simply came to your site to read the post and then left. Try adding more calls to action, related posts, internal links into your posts to get the visitor to stay on your site. Not only will this help with conversions, it will probably give you more accurate ‘time on page’ data!

But don’t worry – especially if your page is designed to give the visitor everything they need there and then.

*Average session duration can be misleading for the same reason. A session is group of hits for 1 recorded visitor. Eg. someone may visit 6 pages on your site and then leave – this is counted as 1 session, and every session has an exit page. As above, GA can’t calculate the duration of this final page hit, which will slightly skew the overall session duration.

100% Bounce Rate? Argh!

A ‘bounce’ is when a visitor only looks at one page. They leave on the page they landed on.

Again, consider the nature and purpose of the page that you’re analysing. 100% bounce rate doesn’t necessarily mean that the visitor didn’t read and engage with your page, it just means that they didn’t have a need to browse further. This could be a great thing – your page did the trick, the visitor left fulfilled. It can of course mean the opposite – your page wasn’t relevant, it didn’t grab the user straight away and they left.

Don’t automatically assume that 100% bounce rate is a bad thing. It’s all about the desired goal of your page.

There are different ways to determine page engagement (so you don’t have to rely too much on average time on page and bounce rates) – have a look at heat mapping and visitor recording software that lets you physically watch how visitors are interacting with your page, and the areas that are most engaged.

Channel X just never converts – help!

If you’re looking at the channels report in GA and find that, for example, social media has resulted in 0 conversions over the past 6 months then don’t worry just yet..

By default, GA works on a ‘last non-direct click’ attribution model. This means that a conversion will be 100% attributed to the last channel that the visitor came to the site from, ignoring direct traffic. It’s basically assuming direct visitors were previously ‘won’ via a different channel, which makes sense.

This does however mean that any other channel that drove the visitor to the site prior to the time they converted is not given any credit.

A typical situation would be someone seeing one of your posts on social media and clicking through to visit the site. Now say they leave, and come back the next day by Googling your brand name and this time, they convert. Google Analytics will attribute this conversion to organic and ignore any influence social media initially had.

You therefore need to delve a bit deeper into GA and have a look at the different attribution models that are available. If you change your model to ‘first interaction’, then social media would ‘win’ this conversion. Change it to ‘linear’, and both social media and organic will get 50% of the credit.

It’s up to you to determine how you attribute your conversions. But don’t have a quick check of your channels report and automatically assume that poor old social media is useless for your brand. Without it, you may well not be getting any traffic in the first place.

Find out more about Google’s different attribution models here.

No returning visitors? Really?

The New vs. Returning visitor report can also display inaccurate data at times and there’s nothing we can do about this one unfortunately  – GA relies heavily on ‘cookies’ to provide accurate data on repeat visitors.

If someone visits your site, deletes their browsing history, then visit your site again a few days later, they would incorrectly be classed as a ‘new’ visitor in GA. If they don’t, cookies are stored for a number of days so that when the same person visits the site again from the same device, they will be logged as a returning visitor.

Different devices can also cause GA to display misleading data. If someone visits the site from their desktop, then a few hours later visits from their mobile, the second time round they will be falsely classed as a new visitor.

Like we said, there’s nothing that can really be done about this – we can’t control the different ways people browse, but if you’re seeing an unusually low amount of returning visitors, consider these points and take it with a pinch of salt.

Hopefully we’ve cleared up a few things here that might have been causing you to worry about your site’s performance. GA is an extremely powerful tool that you should use to your advantage, but it can’t always be 100% accurate. There’s a few factors out of its control that could skew your data. As long as you’re aware of these, analytics can really help you to grow your business.

If you’d like more information on how the digital marketing team here at Run2 can turn your analytics data into actionable insights, give us a call or fill out our online enquiry form – we’d be happy to help!