Google Analytics measures performance indicators used to monitor, analyze and optimize user behaviors on websites. Google Analytics is free and so when combined with other free tools like Google Search Console measures can really provide actionable insights into website performance.
But how Google Analytics affects website ranking and whether it is a ranking signal is a debate that has been going on. Before we move to find an answer to this question, we need to properly situate the place of GA as a key measurement tool for webmasters.
So we begin with a list of most critical and important Google Analytics metrics you will need to track, that are impactful and give an insight into your website performance.
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Key GA Metrics You Need to Track
- Sessions and Users: These metrics tell you how your website traffic develops?
- New and Returning Visitors: What percentage of your users are new and how often do users return to the website?
- Bounce Rate: These metrics will guide you in understanding if your visitors’ requirements are being met, whether they leave immediately they visit and do not migrate to any other page.
- Goal Conversion Rate: Are visitors acting in the way that are expected and performing the desired target actions?
- Time on Page: How much time do visitors spend on a page?
- Average Page Load Time: How well performing is the page speed.
- Bounce Rate by Browser: Could some browsers be performing better or are there issues with certain browsers?
- Organic vs Paid Sessions: How much traffic is being generated from paid advertising and organic traffic?
- Average Session Duration: This measures the duration of a session and will tell you about the quality of the generated traffic.
- Top 5 Search Queries: What are the most common search queries?
- Users by Gender: What is the gender and age distribution of visitors. It should guide your advertising and promotional decisions as well as what kind of content you need to build for your targets.
- Pages per Session: How many pages are being visited on average?
- Best Pages by Gender: What content has the most page views?
- Top 10 Landing Pages: Which landing pages are most relevant?
Number of Sessions & Users
Basically, data on the number of sessions and users measure the traffic to a website. In Google Analytics (GA), each visitor is initially referred to as a user, whereby a distinction is made between new users and returning visitors. In addition, each user who visits the website also generates a session.
As the number of users increase, so will the sessions and generally the increase in users and sessions tell Google that the website is getting really popular. A single user can open several sessions, whereby the tracking of a session is terminated after 30 minutes of inactivity on the one hand and at midnight on the other. Therefore, the number of users can never be greater than the number of sessions.
Let it be also understood that the mere increase in sessions and users Monitoring the quantitative development of website traffic is the cornerstone of website performance and an important component for further analysis.
New and Returning Users
These metrics will guide you on how often visitors are returning to your website. It has a relationship with website quality. Google reasons that if your website meets the expectations of visitors and offers quality content, people will return to visit the site.
The distinction between new and returning visitors is very helpful, as these two user groups often differ greatly in their website behavior, which can then be viewed separately. A returning visitor is showing greater interest in your content and has an interest in the website offering or brand and can be better guided to the desired target actions.
Understanding and analyzing the behavior of new and returning visitors can give you an insight into how well your contents are performing. It guides you in areas of content improvement. When you have a huge traffic coming in and there is no corresponding or at least, an appreciable number of returning visitors, it demands that you look further at your content quality and call to action.
If your returning visitors are not impressive, then you need to develop some re-marketing strategies to change the trend.
Bounce rate metrics will guide you how well visitors’ requirements are being met? When visitors click and visit other pages on your website outside the landing page, it suggests some growing interest in the website content and Google is interested in that. Bounce rates describe the percentage of sessions in which a single page on the website (the “landing page”) was visited. When a visitor lands on your page, maybe the click was from a search result, if the visitor does not visit any other page before leaving, it is counted as a bounce.
Usually, the bounce rate is a good indicator of whether the visitor finds the desired content on the website and whether the respective demand has been satisfied. If this is not the case, the visitor often leaves the website without further interaction and that counts as a “bounce”.
Not all visits to a landing page which does not result in further clicks will be counted as a bounce. For example, when there is an event that takes you to a page, at the end of the event, you will likely leave the website without visiting any other page. That is not counted as a bounce.
A low bounce rate usually correlates with a higher average session duration and a higher number of pages viewed per session and signals high quality. A high bounce rate is not very good for a website.
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Goal Conversion Rate
The Goal Conversion Rate measures how visitors perform desired target actions. This could be clicking a read more, get started or buy now button amongst others. Fundamentally, it is a test for how much the presentation and content spurs visitors to action. It tells of the quality of your online marketing and content building.
Conversion in online marketing, conversion does not necessarily mean a completed sale, a conversion is the execution of a desired target action by a website visitor. For example, an online purchase, a newsletter subscription or a contact registration.
Google Analytics allows you to create a maximum of 20 conversion goals, or target actions, which are tracked from the time they are created. You can also attribute a monetary value to these conversions. Detailed conversion tracking is the basis for in-depth analyses and sustainable optimization of website performance. Conversion rate optimization (CRO) represents the efforts you put in to boost the conversion on your website conversion rate.
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Average Time on Page
This is a key and very important indicator on how much interest your website content can capture. How much time visitors spend on a page can tell you how useful the content is and how much quality improvement that is required to improve.
This is a page tracking Google Analytics metric. It measures the performance of individual pages of a website. The time on page measures the average time spent by visitors on an individual page or URL. Like the bounce rate, it is a good indicator of the quality of the traffic on a page and reflects how well the visitor’s needs are met. Data from this metric helps you to quickly identify the most interesting content on your website.
Page Load Time by Country
This particular metric measures and helps the understanding of the page speed. It spells out how relevant the page load can actually be. If page load is good in countries that website content is not designed to target and bad in territories where content is targeting, yet giving an impressive average, that is not likely to bring about good conversion and so will need to be improved.
Don’t get it wrong, the average page load time or page speed is undoubtedly a key success factor for your website performance, and in many various aspects. 1) Users: long loading times are no longer tolerated by most visitors in the digital age and lead to an increase in the bounce rate. 2) Search engines: loading times are a relevant ranking factor for organic search. 3) Paid advertising: the loading time for Google Ads, for example, indirectly influences the quality factor via the landing page experience and thus the click prices. 4) Mobile first: especially for the constantly increasing number of mobile accesses, short loading times are critical for success 5) Data volume: measures to optimize loading times (minimization of images, CSS, JS, HTML, etc.) inevitably lead to lower data traffic.
Bounce Rate by Browser
The reports on this metric will tell you if you are having issues with certain browsers.
Browser compatibility issues became a central issue for websites. The reason being that browser related issues do cause some problems with website display. Some of these problems occur after browser updates. As a rule, you should be able to identify problems by an increased bounce rate. In addition, you can also analyze the time on page and the corresponding conversion rates. If they show consistent decline and not improving, you need to check if there are browser related issues.
Organic vs Paid Sessions
It is fundamentally important that you get good organic traffic coming to your website. To guarantee a steady flow of traffic to your website, you need to perform well for organic search. This metric measures your share of organic traffic.
The volume of organic traffic coming to your website when compared to the paid traffic will tell you how ell your SEO is performing. It is important to compare the number of clicks in the Google Search Console (organic traffic) and in Google Ads (paid traffic) with the tracked number of sessions in Google Analytics.
Average Session Duration
The Average Session Duration measures the quality of the generated traffic. The length of sessions can give you an insight on how well our content delivers, providing the answers visitors seek and therefore keeping them longer on your website.
In Google Analytics, the average session duration and the bounce rate can be used to compare the quality of the generated traffic. The lower the bounce rate and the higher the average session duration, the higher the quality of the traffic and the conversion probability.
The average session duration and bounce rate are the standard metrics that you can use in GA to evaluate the quality of traffic. The comparison of the individual conversion goals also offers you even more detailed analysis options.
Top 5 Search Queries
Organic search traffic is always correlating with how much your content ranks for the search queries. When you understand the most common search queries, you can better craft your content to match those targets and boost your ranking as well as the organic traffic to your site.
A comparison of the most frequent organic and paid search queries or keywords, which ultimately result in clicks, can also lead to valuable insights: Do you receive the majority of clicks for dubious or irrelevant search queries? How many overlaps are there? Are different search intents covered?
To get a detailed overview, compare and analyze the most common organic and paid searches in detail. You must link your GA account to Google Ads and the Google Search Console in order to obtain the search queries directly in Google Analytics.
Users by Gender
What is the gender and age distribution?
Google Analytics provides a variety of demographic characteristics of website visitors: for example, age, gender, and general interests. This data is particularly important for marketing in tailoring content to specific target groups. However, the availability of demographic data in your GA account is not set by default, therefore, you need to enable the reports on demographic characteristics and interests.
With the help of the demographic data of website visitors, you can, on the one hand, ensure that you reach the predefined target group and, on the other, identify new (converting) target groups.
Average Pages per Session
This metric will give you insights into how many pages are being visited on average? As a rule, the average number of pages per session can be used to evaluate the quality of the traffic received, just as the bounce rate and the average session duration.
Best Pages by Gender
This indicator tells you what content has the most page views, the general gender distribution of website visitors and also gives you the opportunity to view the most frequently viewed pages of both genders. Such an overview helps you to identify gender-specific differences on the one hand and to take this into account when addressing and planning future content.
Top 10 Landing Pages
The top ten landing pages actually tell you which landing pages are most relevant and most visited. This is particularly relevant for building in your call to action and conversion signals, dealing with high bounce rates and low session duration.
In practice, it is often the case that more than 90 percent of traffic is generated on a maximum of 10 percent of all landing pages, especially in the case of organic visits. Accordingly, “problems” or optimizations for these pages also have the highest influence or potential on the development of the generated overall traffic and should be monitored in detail.
Monitor the quantitative (sessions and users) and qualitative (bounce rate, retention time and conversions) performance of your most important landing pages in detail, as they have the greatest leverage on achieving your marketing goals.
Does Google Analytics Affect Rankings
The assertion that GA data was being used for ranking had come from Google’s official statements.
Google Analytics Terms of Service terms and conditions of service state that Google “can” use the data collected from Google Analytics.
Then, its technical accounts manager, Jordan O’Connor said on Twitter:
I think the core argument was people used to think google search console data and google analytics were separate entities and google didn’t rank based on analytics data.
Now they are combined (even on the api side). Analytics data can help with search rankings.
— Jordan O’Connor (@jdnoc) July 28, 2020
On the other hand, John Müller, Google’s Webmaster Analyst, stepped in to explain the Google Analytic Theory. He said:
We don’t use Google Analytics in Search, and Google Analytics & Search Console track data quite differently. SC tracks what’s shown in Search, GA tracks what happens when a user goes to a site. There’s overlap, but it’s not exact.
— John (@JohnMu) July 28, 2020
It is a well known and established fact that Google uses page speed, expertise, trustworthiness and authority as ranking signals. These are all factors that are measured in Google Analytics. So, although there are no hard facts supporting Google’s use of its analytic data for ranking purposes, GA measures can predict how Google sees your website on its user behavior signals which are ranking signals. In other words, you should be guided by GA indicators and also act on them.
GA is relevant, no doubt, if it were not so, Google wouldn’t invest in its improvement and sustainability. It must be relevant to its purpose and that is the reason Google still keeps it and invests in its improvement.
Final words: Google does not use it’s analytic data for ranking, however insights from Google analytics can be helpful to webmasters in assessing the performance of websites. We however strongly recommend that you should install GA on your website to track performance and you should take GA reports very seriously