Understanding traffic metrics in Universal Analytics
November 15, 2022
Google Analytics (GA) is the only source for a lot of the core metrics that show you which pages on your site are really performing – and failing – in terms of organic search.
In this guide we’ll be explaining traffic metrics, and how marketers can use them to optimize organic search performance.
Note: the metrics discussed here are for GA3.
Why do traffic metrics matter?
Traffic data helps you answer some of the most fundamental questions about your page performance:
- How visible is it in organic search?
- How compelling is your page when it appears on a search results page?
The data is objective but the analysis is subjective. If you’re a brand new startup, you can’t expect to pull in millions of pageviews. But you can aim for next quarter’s traffic metrics to improve on last quarter’s metrics.
Traffic metrics you can start tracking today
In Google Analytics, there are lots and lots of traffic metrics. We usually recommend focusing on these two:
- Unique pageviews
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.
Google Analytics is rich in different data categories: users, sessions, the list goes on…
But for the marketers and managers we help, the goal is simply to understand and optimize content performance. When it comes to traffic, we think that these two metrics can get you on that path.
Unique pageviews tell you the number of sessions in which your page was viewed.
This is different from the more raw metric called simply “Pageviews.”
Unique pageviews provide a more refined number than regular Pageviews. Unique pageviews remove all the instances where someone might have seen a page twice in quick succession.
What unique pageviews means for marketers
It tells you how many individual visitors have seen this page.
Example: pageviews vs. unique pageviews
A visitor is clicking around your site:
First they visit your About page.
Then they click on the Services page.
Then they click back to the About page.
This is how it will be reflected in the metrics for the About page.
- 2 pageviews
- 1 unique pageview
The first page that someone visits on your site in a given session is considered the “entrance”. The entrance metric tells you the number of times a given page was the entrance.
Entrances can come from any channel: organic search, paid search, social, direct traffic, and others.
What this metric means for marketers
When a page on your site has a relatively high entrance metric, this indicates that the title and meta description in Google are effective at drawing visitors in.
Somebody searches the term “customer experience” on Google and a blog post from your site shows up on their search results page.
They click on the link, which takes them to the blog page on your site. This counts as an entrance.
If that user clicks away from your site and returns to the same blog post later on in the same session, it will not count as an additional entrance. However, if they return to the page during another session, it will count as a new entrance.
The challenge with tracking organic search metrics
Tracking this stuff can be frustrating. Here are some specific issues to keep in mind.
Setting up Google Analytics
Even if you know exactly what you’re measuring, it’s easy to accidentally skip pages while implementing Google Analytics.
There’s no limit to the number of mistakes that can be made in GA. Your stats can be invalidated for months without you ever knowing it.
We recommend using a tool like Google Tag Manager to make sure that your entire site is covered.
Finding the data you need
Google Analytics is an amazing feat of data engineering but it has a miserable user interface. For people who are new to GA, it’s all too easy to get lost.
At Ercule, we love GA and we work with it every day. But most marketers don’t have that kind of time. That’s why standard reporting is recommended.
(It’s also why people hire us to manage that stuff.)
Staying current with the algorithms
Google is constantly introducing new metrics. Even if you ignore them, they may impact your ranking.
We’ve all stumbled upon a website that looks like it hasn’t been refreshed since the 20th century. It’s easy for any site to fall behind the times. And that’s especially true when it comes to back-end analytics.
We recommend reviewing your site several times per year to make sure every page is properly indexed. If you can, check in on Google updates. Or follow an SEO expert on social media – someone who regularly notifies the community of big updates.
How Ottimo can help
You can set reminders for yourself to learn, maintain, and update your site (and your skills) for all of the above. You can hire an agency to handle that stuff. Or you can use an app.
We’ve launched an app, Ottimo, that tracks your traffic data and flags pages for updates.
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 pagespeed score