Starter Web Analytics Metrics to Know

It can get pretty overwhelming stepping foot into the world of web analytics. Those who've been in the industry long enough can often forget how nonsensical they sound like to newcomers so you'll have to forgive them (and us here at To learn web analytics and to get a sense of how it can benefit you, it's probably a good idea to first understand the common terminology thrown around. In this article, we'll be introducing basic web analytics metrics together with some bonus tidbits on how you can make use of these metrics to drive insights.

Unique Visitors Think of unique visitors as the inferred count of people who have visited your site. The keyword here is inferred as its accuracy to real life numbers of individuals (you and I) who have frequented a site depends on how you've configured your analytics tool. Most out of the box configurations of tools like Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics identify a unique visitor through a cookie. This cookie, unlike its edible version, serves an entirely different purpose. In general, cookies are used to store little pieces of data on your browser which includes a way of identifying that you're the same person who visited this site 10 days ago.

What happens if you were to browse from your laptop and your phone? The number of unique visitors reported is two even though it's just you. Same goes if you were to clear your browser cookies or visit a site in incognito mode. More advanced analytics configurations would pass in a user ID to more accurately identify visitors after they've authenticated on the site. This option may not be available or suitable to everyone as it's highly dependent on the type of site you run.

Bonus: Consider creating complementary metrics that make use of unique visitors such as returning visitors and single visit visitors. Comparing these two metrics may yield some interesting surprises.

Visits/Sessions Each unique visitor embarks on a trip when they visit a site. This trip is called a visit/session depending on which tool you use.

In real life, an actual trip may involve just one stop or multiple stops. You could be just making a short trip to the local cafe down the road or you could be embarking on the next big adventure crossing the Rockies. Similarly, a visit can consist of just one tracked activity for the entirety of the visit or it could consist of many activities like multiple page views and conversion events. A visit could be short or it could be long. It all depends on what a visitor does in that visit.

A visit would end after a duration of no activity being recorded ie. timing out. The actual timing differs depending on analytics tool or configuration although the typical time-out duration is 30 minutes of inactivity. For example, if I were to visit this page in the morning, go out for the whole day and browse this page and the other pages on this site, I would have two visits associated to my visitor profile.

Bonus: Try performing recency and frequency analysis on your site visits. This can help you answer questions like "Do people who convert visit the site multiple times or just once?" and "How long do people wait before returning to my site?".

Page Views Page views are the number of times a particular page was viewed or loaded. If you haven't noticed a trend already, we've been exploring concepts of measurement with unique visitors being the highest aggregation of activity, with visits being tied back to visitors and page views being tied to a particular visitor's visit.

We'll be using this example below to illustrate how these three interlink.

Bob visits the landing page on Canada Day. Bob then proceeds to reading two blog articles on the site and leaves the site.

In our web analytics tool, Bob is considered as 1 unique visitor, having 1 visit and 3 page views.

What happens if Bob decides to come back the next day despite nursing a terrible hangover from the previous nights' celebration? Bob in his hangover state decides to reread that one article on Google Analytics alternatives which he had bookmarked in his previous visit to the site. Bob just wants to make sure that he's made an informed choice in picking his analytics tool.

Now, Bob will be counted as 1 unique visitor, with 1 visit and 1 page view. In fact, if Bob doesn't do anything else on the site, he'll be counted as a bounce! (read more to find out what a bounce is). If we were to report on a timeframe that includes both days, our data will show that we have 1 unique visitor, 2 visits, and 4 page views.

****Bonus: The page view per visit metric can be a good measure to determine the popularity of your site's content or indicative of a pain point for your users. A higher ratio indicates that more pages are being viewed in a single visit.

Bounce Rate Some traditional marketers absolutely love/hate the bounce rate metric. The bounce rate is determined by the behavior during a visit. The one liner to describe it is it's the percentage of single page visits on the site. A bounce on the other hand is a visit which only had one page view.

If Bob had only visited our homepage and did nothing else, Bob will be counted as a bounce and our site would have a 100% bounce rate. On the surface, this looks really bad and someone could get in hot water for this seemingly bad performance. However, I'd caution anyone who uses this metric to do so with the knowledge that bounce rates are different depending on the site and its structure. A site made up entirely of just one page would have a 100% bounce rate even if every single visitor to your site reads the page content all the way to the end. A high bounce rate may not necessarily be a bad thing as long as it aligns with the goals of your site and how it impacts your businesses bottomline.

Bonus: Use bounce rates together with your traffic sources report to determine which traffic sources truly enjoy your content. If your goal is to keep users on your site, you now know which traffic source to focus on.

And there you have it. The beginner's introduction to web analytics metrics. As a recap, we've covered what unique visitors are, how it relates to the concept of a visit/session and what a page view is. You also now know that high bounce rates aren't necessarily bad, they aren't necessarily good either. Congratulations, you're now one step closer to understanding your data better and using it a responsible way.

If you need help with any of the webanalytics platforms you are using or with understanding your analytics data, write us a line at: