Jan 5, 2023

Understanding engagement metrics in Universal Analytics

Previously, we explained basic traffic metrics in Google Analytics: what they mean for marketers, and how they can be used to improve organic search performance.

In this post we’ll take the same approach to engagement metrics.

Note: the metrics discussed here are for GA3. We’ll be posting a similar guide on GA4 metrics soon.

Why do engagement metrics matter?

Engagement metrics show you what people are doing on a page once they arrive, and the choices they make next.

By collecting data on how people interact with a page, you can also make some informed conclusion about what they think of your page:

  • Does the page satisfy their search intent?
  • Does it compel the reader to explore the rest of your site?

Engagement metrics you can start tracking today

If you’re just getting started with Google Analytics, and looking to optimize your website as soon as possible, we recommend focusing on these two metrics:

  • Exit rate
  • Bounce rate

Why we recommend these traffic metrics

We recommend these metrics to marketers because they are…

  • Accessible. You can find these numbers in Google Analytics even if you’re not an expert.
  • Actionable. The data points you toward clear analysis and ways to improve.
  • Commonly accepted. These are categories that senior business folks can comprehend, appreciate, and work with.

Of course, there are plenty of other engagement data categories: page value, average time on page, the list goes on… And we do track those for our clients.

But if you’re doing this all on your own, you don’t have all day to spend pulling data. So we think that these three metrics can get you on that path to what’s most important: classifying and improving all of the content on your site.

What is Exit rate?

Google registers an “exit” whenever the page was the last page in a session. That is: it’s the last page on which Google noticed any activity from a user. So it infers that the person ‘exited’ – they either clicked over to an entirely different site or closed their web browser altogether.

Exit rate is calculated by [number of exits] divided by [number of pageviews].

What this metric means for marketers

A high exit rate indicates that visitors often don’t know what to do next – or don’t want to take the next actions you’ve suggested.

This often because the internal linking on the page needs work. Or your calls to action are not as clear and compelling as they could be.

However, some pages will always have a high exit rate. A purchase confirmation page, for example, is a natural place to have a high exit rate because it’s the end of a conversion. So context is important here. (But you could also try to get the visitor to do more after their purchase.)


A visitor clicks around from the “About” page to the “Product” page and then they don’t look at any more pages during this session.

The exit will be attributed to that “Product” page. This might mean that you need to add links directing readers to the “Demo” or “Purchase” pages.

Bounce rate

Google registers a “bounce” any time that a page is the first and last that someone visits on your site.

In other words: these visitors clicked on to this page from Google and then left your site altogether, “bouncing” back to whichever page brought them to your site.

What this metric means for marketers

A higher number indicates that this page wasn’t what a visitor was looking for. Potential reasons:

  • Content didn’t match the visitor’s search intent
  • Writing wasn’t great
  • UX was frustrating or confusing

Alternatively, a visitor might ‘bounce’ because the page didn’t direct them toward other pages on your site. There were no internal links or calls to action (which can also increase the exit rate).


The title of your blog post is “How to change privacy settings on your web browser.” But the content itself is more of a general, “best practices” page.

A visitor clicks on your page looking for clear directions on how to change their settings. They don’t get it on this page, and don’t see any links to pages on your site that satisfy their need. (The vast majority of those visitors won’t even look for links – they’ll just click back to Google.)

So they “bounce” back to their Google search and try other links on the search results page.

Bounce rate vs. Exit rate

A ‘bounced’ page is the first page they clicked on your site. Usually, this means they clicked to it from Google search results.

An “exit,” however, is counted regardless of the previous page. A visitor might have previously been on Google or on a page within your site.

In other words: a “bounce” is always an “exit”. But an “exit” is not always a “bounce.”

The challenge with tracking engagement metrics

Tracking this stuff can be frustrating. Here are some specific issues to keep in mind.

The Google Analytics interface

If you’ve ever logged in to Google Analytics, you know that the interface can be overwhelming. Bewildering. Terrifying.

If you’re trying to really understand it, be patient with yourself. It’s going to take some time. You could also lean on the help of experts, or apps that simplify the interface.

(Yes, we have both to offer: the expert help, and the app.)


Google and other search engines are constantly updating new algorithms (the recent being GA4), as the new metrics being introduced can impact your ranking without even realizing.

That’s why you need to constantly update your site and ensure your page is indexed.


As analysis is an important part to improve the performance of your site. Knowing how the data affects your site’s ranking is necessary.

You need to constantly learn and adapt new practices and ensure that you understand the data well, which can be hard to do in GA.

How Ottimo can help

To make the navigation, analysis, and updates easier for marketers who are going it alone, we’ve launched an app called Ottimo. Ottimo helps marketers strategize and optimize content based on simple, clear analytics and recommendations.

It simplifies the analytics part, and you can easily track and measure different metrics without learning anything new.

Some of the features of Ottimo include:

  • Compatible with GA4 properties
  • Get performance and keyword metrics with Google Search Console
  • Easily copy and paste page data
  • Provides mobile and desktop page speed score

We’re *actually* here to help

We’re marketers who love spreadsheets, algorithms, code, and data. And we love helping other marketers with interesting challenges. Tackling the hard stuff together is what we like to do.

We don’t just show you the way—we’re in this with you too.

Background image of a red ball in a hole.