Explaining The Basic Metrics In Google Analytics

For many of us marketeers Google Analytics seems to be a very knowledgeable and rich tool, but as many of us didn’t receive any special training or explanation, it still remains as one big black box. This article will explain the basic metrics in Google Analytics. It will help you understand how data is analyzed and processed as well as how you can use it in your everyday reporting.

The first thing to understand is that Google Analytics (GA) is able to capture data not only from a website or mobile device, but virtually any digital device. Hence, if you host a e-learning course online or a mobile app, if set up correctly, it will collect data for you.

When setting up your first GA account, it’s important to distinguish between Account, Property and View.

When logging in to your Admin tab, you will probably get a window like this – displaying your major Account, a Property (website property) and a View (any particular view of the website including filters that you’ve applied). This means your website and/or a mobile app is an independent property belonging to one account.

You can have a multiple accounts, e.g. when you host a number of different websites containing different domain names. A website which has different content than the other website but still maintaining the same domain (e.g. an online store, a translation or a mobile version) will be displayed under “Property” type. Here, each of the properties will get their own Google ID number (the UA code). You can create up to 25 different views of the page by filtering out or including various information, e.g. if your page is visited in 3 different countries, you might want to apply a “master” filter as country. It might be also useful to filter by device, to get a segmented overview of your traffic. Remember, it’s important to keep one view unfiltered as this allows you to capture all data from your website. Applying filters results in some data being lost and it’s impossible to store it back. More on applying filters and how to do it is mentioned in this article.

Now it’s time to take a look at your basic GA dashboard. I am showing the All Traffic reporting screenshot and I will explain the basic terms that appear in there. More articles on different reporting overviews will follow:


This is the basic metric that you can get from GA – sessions or visits describe an activity that a user performs on your website or any digital device. According to GA, it is counted as a single session, when a user performs an activity until he remains non-active for another 30 minutes. GA enables you to change this default setting (30 minutes time) here: Admin>Property>Session Settings.


Visit socialmediatipz.com and browse through categories to find an article about social media images. Find the information you need and download the cheatsheet. Tweet the article to Twitter. Here, you performed a number of page views – you entered the homepage, browsed through the categories and read the blog post. You also clicked on a download link and later, clicked on Twitter share button. All this counts to X amount of pageviews within ONE session. Every time you perform an activity, GA adds another 30 minutes from the time of that interaction.

Example 2:

Visit socialmediatipz.com by clicking on a link to the blog post that you’ve found on LinkedIn. Read the blog post for another 45 minutes. Here, you’ve landed on one page and stayed there reading the blog post. If you’ve spent more than 30 minutes reading it, without no further interaction (you didn’t click any other link) GA will count it as one session.

After you’re finished, you click on a “suggested” article and start finding information there. Due to the session timeout length which appeared after being non-active for 30 minutes, your new activity will be counted as a second (new) session. In total, GA will register your activity as two sessions.

You come back to socialmediatipz.com in the evening after receiving a newsletter with “This Week in Social” news. You entered the website from your mobile device. Due to visiting the website from a new device, GA will track it as a third but also first time view session.

Example 3:

Visit socialmediatipz.com by clicking on the link in the newsletter. Read the blog post for 10 minutes and then leave. You’ve just forgotten to note something down, so you type in socialmediatipz in the browser to come back to the website. Notice two mediums you’ve used to enter the website – first, newsletter and second, direct entry. Because of this change, GA will register your two entries as TWO sessions even though it’s within the 30 minutes time period.

Why are we dealing with sessions here? And are those the same as clicks? The answer is no. GA tries to capture as much data as possible, meaning some of the sessions can sometimes be irrelevant to the website. For example, to compare it with Google Adwords which filters out invalid clicks, GA includes them to show a complete set of traffic data. A very simple illustration is when a user clicks on a link multiple times (from the same source) he is still recorded as a single session, whilst performing a number of clicks.

Hence, what we see here is that a particular website generated 42 sessions within a particular time range, of which “Social” channel brought the most amount of sessions. GA also brings this amount in % of the entire traffic.

New Sessions

How does GA track “new sessions”? Remember, they’re recorded as “first time visits”, hence even when entering the website after 30 minutes or even a month, your session will be added to “returning” and not “new sessions”. In principle, GA never assigns new sessions to returning visitors. It’s visible in this view here:

The returning visitor receives 28 sessions, none of which are new. New visitor has entered the website 14 times, hence 14 new sessions. Going back to the channel overview, Social brought most returning visits to the page, whilst Organic and Direct brought only new sessions. This can mean that the effectiveness of other marketing channels (also including social) is working – the awareness increases and in result – the organic and direct channels. Users are searching for the website or typing in the website URL directly.

New Users

What is a new user according to GA? It is a first time user within A GIVEN TIME PERIOD. This has to do with which time range we choose to display our data.


Visit socialmediatipz.com on August 20. Return to the website on August 22 by clicking on a Facebook link. I would like to get a GA report on visits between 21 – 25 August. Here, because of choosing this date range, you are not included in the “New Users” column. You’re a returning visitor. However, changing the date range to August 15- 20, makes you a new user. What happens when I change the date range to August 20 – 23? You’re counted double – both as a new user and a returning visitor.

Is a New User and New Visitor the same? Yes. You can see it again in the snippet here:

New visitor number is 14, just like New users. In essence, a user is the same as a visitor. The question is – if the user has already entered the website before or if he is a first time visitor.

So is a new user counted as one session? Yes. Let’s say a first time user entered the website again after 45 minutes. A second session begins (from the same user) however because he’s now entering again, he is counted as a returning visitor. Hence, a new visitor can only perform one session within a given time period.

This data gives me a better overview of how my channels are performing – Social still brings most traffic, however the amount of new users visiting the website is smaller than that of the returning visitors. Referral and Organic sources brought most of new users, responsible for 100% of new sessions.

Bounce Rate

It’s a very important metric of the quality of your traffic. The more sessions, the better, however if you’re only brining traffic that doesn’t interact with your content and hence, bounces, then you’re doing something wrong.

Bounce rate is defined as a % rate of single-page visits – that means someone has entered your website and didn’t perform any activity. In practice this means – someone has entered your website and then left. The higher the bounce rate, the more single-interaction users you have in comparison to all your traffic – not good. The lower the bounce rate – the fewer people are remaining passive on your website – good.

If a user lands on a specific page and then leaves immediately without viewing any other content, this is counted as one interaction and hence – bounce.

What can cause a high bounce rate? Poor user experience, navigation issues, page not being optimized for devices, not delivering the promise or worse – page not working. Our ads (or any other marketing activities) might also redirect to wrong pages and that is a marketeer’s nightmare!

However, in some cases high bounce rates are desirable. Think about it – I value users that land on my blog post and read the content. I don’t expect a lot of interaction from the users – they scroll down and when they’re finished – they would probably leave the page. What can also happen is that they click on an external link that I’ve included in the article and hence they leave the page. In this case the bounce rate is very high! Should I be worried? Sure, it would be fantastic if you could leave a comment or click through to another article or a tab on the menu. However, I look at two other metrics – Average Session Duration and Pages/Session. If both of them are very low, that means users are leaving quickly or perhaps a spam traffic is attracted to my website.

Is bounce rate only relevant to new users? No. GA gives you an overview of bounce rates to both new and returning visitors – those can vary very much! Basing on this data it helps you understand if New Visitors are exiting quickly or perhaps they’re not invited to stay longer.


This is a view of a particular page on your website. Every view, whether a reload or a returning visit – is counted separately. Hence, within a single session, there can be a lot of pageviews.


This is a manually set up activity, e.g. when someone watches a video on our website, the event will be registered.


This is the proportion of pageviews performed within a single session. The longer the session, the more page views are recorded, which is supporting the 30 minutes rule. Is this a good thing? In principle, the longer the user stays on our website, the better. However, this can also mean that users are struggling finding the information that they’re looking for. It’s important to understand at the nature of your website – is this an online store with 10 or 10,000 products? Do you include filters or a search bar? Is this an event page with easy to find information links? Or is this a simple blog, just like mine with not a very complicated site structure?

Average Session Duration

This is an average time of a session – NOT a page view. Again, you need to be critical here – do you expect people to stay long on your page when redirecting them to a specific landing page? What is the expected behaviour flow?

When looking at my channels, I already see a problem – all my new visitors are probably spam. Why? Their bounce rate is 100% and their pages/session are 1.00 with an average time of 00:00.


Goal completions and goal conversion rate is NOT about the e-commerce conversions. Here is where we need to set up our own goals – it can range from a checkout to a completed newsletter form. How to set up GA conversion goals is described in this article.

E-commerce conversions don’t appear on our GA by default. You need to set up E-commerce tracking in the Admin page. A complete guide is described here. You can enable GA to display both goal conversions and e-commerce conversions. It gives a good indication of users that are highly engaged with your website.

How does GA know which channel closed the deal? It’s a long discussion between first- and last-click attribution models in GA. At the moment GA is looking at the last click – meaning all the value is assigned to the last marketing activity.

However, if you establish Google Goals, GA provides you with a Multi-Channel Funnel Report, where a complete path is displayed describing each of the marketing channels that contributed to the Goal completion. Remember, this doesn’t automatically show the path leading to a checkout, only if you set up your Goal as a checkout itself:

Those were the main metrics used by Google Analytics. It’s very important to understand what they measure and how they are defined by GA in order to make informed decisions. Remember, it’s crucial to be critical with the data – thus understanding the nature of your website and your audience in order to properly interpret the data.

Have you found this post helpful? What are you struggling most with when it comes to working with Google Analytics? Share your thoughts in the comments below!