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Google Analytics Guide: How to Understand Reports and Explain to Your Clients

Google Analytics Guide

If you are in advertising and want to be a marketing guru for your clients, you need to have a basic understanding of Google Analytics. One way to learn it is through Google’s free online classes. It’s fairly straightforward, and you can go at your own pace. If you decide to do that, great; but in the meantime, we’ve put together a quick tutorial on four reports that all advertising professionals should be able to pull and explain to their clients, as well as some answers to questions you may get about Google Analytics.

Report #1: Audience Overview Report

The Audience Overview report gives you basic information about a website’s performance and traffic. You can navigate to this report by logging in to Google Analytics, accessible by first logging into the Google account associated with the Google Analytics account. Either the advertiser gives you access to their account email and password, or they can assign you as a “read only” admin on the account. Then you go to https://analytics.google.com. If you have access to more than one advertiser’s account, be sure to select the correct business at the top left of the page.

  1. Click on “AUDIENCE” on the left side column.
  2. Click on “OVERVIEW.”
  3. Select the date range on the top right that you want to pull data from. Make it one year to get a look at monthly traffic patterns. If you want to look at two date ranges, click the “compare to” option in the drop-down menu.
  4. Click on “MONTH” on the right side of the graph (or hourly, day, week).
  5. Click on “USERS” in the drop-down box above the graph.

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When looking at the graph line, you can hover over the blue dot for each month (week, day, hour) and a white box will appear over the blue dot showing you the exact number of users for that period.

Below the user’s graph are some key stats:

USERS are how many unique visitors came to the website over the time period you selected.  

NEW USERS are the number of visitors who came to the website for the first time.

SESSIONS are how many times the website was visited over the time period you selected, from both new and returning visitors. A session times out after 30 minutes and a new session begins. Any time a visitor lands on the website, Google Analytics attempts to assign the person a client ID, stored in a cookie on the user’s browser. If that person comes back later to the website, another session is recorded but not another user. So, users could record multiple sessions on a website if they continue to come back and browse.

NUMBER OF SESSIONS PER USER is the average number of sessions initiated by a user.

PAGEVIEWS are the total number of pages viewed on your website during the selected time period. Ideally you want multiple pageviews per session.

PAGES/SESSION is the average number of pages viewed during a session. Ideally this should be a 2 or higher for most types of businesses.

AVERAGE SESSION DURATION is the average amount of time a person is on your website; typically, the longer the session duration, the more engaged the person is.

BOUNCE RATE is how many people looked at one page and left. (For more info on determining a good bounce rate, read Do You Understand Your Google Analytics Home Page?)

% OF NEW SESSIONS is the percentage of visitors that were new versus returning visitors, expressed as a pie chart.

If you are reviewing this report with a client, you would want to see whether overall users were up during the campaign versus before the campaign, and year over year. Is there a healthy percentage of new visitors? Have pages/session gone up, indicating people are engaging in multiple pages on the website? Is average session duration up?  

Let’s look at a real-life example. This is for an advertiser who was running a campaign October 14-January 13. We pulled the Audience Overview Report and set the date frame to do a comparison to that same time period in the previous year:

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Users are up 39%, New users and sessions are up as well. Great, that indicates more people are coming to the website. But are they engaging in the way we want? Not really—number of sessions per user is down, as are pages per session and average session duration. All those point to people not finding what they are looking for and leaving the website too soon. Bounce rate is up, meaning more people are looking at one page of the website only, and then leaving (“bouncing”). For a retail client, this is not what you want to see.  

Your recommendations to the advertiser might be to look at their website’s click-through landing page and home page to make sure that the information customers are most likely to be looking for is there and easy to find. You should also check the website’s loading speed; long load times can lead to people quitting a website in frustration. (A Google Analytics load time report can be found under the heading on the left column, then selecting BEHAVIOR>SITE SPEED>OVERVIEW.)

Report #2: Landing Pages Report

This report gives you information about a specific webpage’s traffic. You can use this report to show how traffic has (hopefully) increased to the click-through landing page (where visitors land if they are arriving from clicking on an ad, and which may or may not be the homepage, depending on the campaign).  To navigate to this report:

  1. Click on “BEHAVIOR” on the left side column.
  2. Click on “SITE CONTENT.” 
  3. Click on “LANDING PAGES.”

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Set the date time period on the top right of the page to do a comparison to that same time period for the previous year.

When you look at what is listed on the report under the “Landing Page” column, you will see a forward slash “/” in the first heading. That always represents the homepage of a website. Then you should look for the URL (webpage address) of the click-through landing page you are using for the campaign. The URLs will not show the entire URL, just the part that comes after the .com in the address.

In the report above, we have kept the date comparison so we can see how the campaign compares to the same time period the previous year. We are landing people on the /events/weddings/ page of the client’s website. You can see traffic is up 83% over the previous year. New sessions and new users are up also, which is a great sign. Bounce rate is up slightly but not a lot. Pages/session and average session duration are slightly down but not by a worrisome amount. It could be that people are finding what they are looking for on that landing page. The next thing to do is ask whether the client is seeing conversions from that page. If so, then all is good; if not, then they might need to tweak their content or the lead form on that page.

Report #3: Benchmarking Report

You can use this report to show how an advertiser’s traffic compares to other’s in the same type of business, and where that traffic to the advertiser’s website is coming from—the “channels” of origin (i.e., search engines, typing in the website address specifically, coming from another website, etc.).

The Benchmarking Reports use anonymous data from other websites. (This is not available for health-care-related websites due to privacy guidelines.) These reports allow you to see how your marketing is performing against the aggregated data of other similar websites. The percentages show advertisers how their website is trending above or below the averages in receiving visitors from certain channels. The channels that Google Analytics reports by default are:

Organic Search – a visitor who came to your website from a search engine.

Display – a visitor who comes to your website from clicking on a display ad.

Other – a visitor for whom Google Analytics can’t determine where they came from before landing on the website.

Direct – a visitor that typed in your website’s URL into his browser. (Mobile app traffic can be lumped in here as well.)

Social – a visitor that came from a social platform (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, etc.) to your website.

Referral – a visitor that came to your website from another website.

Email – a visitor that came to your website from clicking a link in an email.

Paid Search – a visitor that came to your website from clicking on a paid search engine ad (i.e. Google Pay Per Click ads).

The use of colors helps you to identify over-performing or under-performing channels versus the benchmark. Green means the website is doing better than average and red indicates potential areas of improvements. The stronger the color, the wider the difference compared to the benchmark.

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To navigate to this report:

  1. Click on “AUDIENCE” on the left side column.
  2. Click on “BENCHMARKING.” 
  3. Click on “CHANNELS.”
  4. Select the type of business this is by clicking the drop-down menu next to “INDUSTRY VERTICAL.”
  5. Select the state where this business is located.
  6. Select the average daily sessions that this website receives (remember you can get that info by going to the AUDIENCE OVERVIEW report and selecting to view a time period by day).

For this report you typically would set the date range to show a year’s worth of data (no need to set the comparison dates).

How should you use this Benchmarking Report? By pulling this report beforea campaign, you can show a potential advertiser why he or she needs to do an ad campaign with you. In the report above, we can see that this business is well below the average for their industry in attracting people to their website, in most of the channel categories. They are relying almost exclusively on Organic Search traffic. You also can use this report aftera campaign has run to show an advertiser increases in their benchmark status.

Report #4: Channels Report

This is similar to a Benchmarking Report, but shows you the different traffic channels (how traffic to the website is being acquired); and you can compare the dates of the campaign to a previous time period.

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To navigate to this report:

  1. Click on “ACQUISITION” on the left side column.
  2. Click on “ALL TRAFFIC.”
  3. Click on “CHANNELS.”

Set the date time period on the top right of the page to do a comparison to that same time period the previous year.

Look to see if traffic is up or down from each of the major channels (Organic, Referral, Social). If you have been running an ad campaign for the client, you should see increases in at least one of these channels, depending on the type of ad campaign. For example, if you are running a digital display campaign, you would hope to see an increase in Referral traffic (people who come to the website from another website, i.e., clicking on an ad), and possibly Organic Search, too, from the increased branding and awareness your ad campaign is building. If you were running a Facebook campaign, you should see an increase under Social. This report is a great way to demonstrate that you are delivering return on investment for an advertiser.

Just follow the steps outlined above and those four reports will give you a wealth of data and insight into a website’s performance and how an advertising campaign is impacting it and make you look like the Marketing Guru you are!

See also: Why Doesn’t My Monthly Digital Ad Campaign Report Match My Google Analytics Report?


Leslye Schumacher is a founding partner with Vici Media, Inc., a full-service digital advertising technology company. Leslye’s background in media spans 25 years and includes working for both large and mid-size television, radio and newspaper companies. She is Google Analytics Advanced Certified, a Certified Radio Marketing Consultant and a Certified Sales Talent Analyst, having assessed over 10,000 media salespeople and managers. 

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