Google Analytics and the Stats that Matter

Google Analytics and the Stats that Matter
Posted on 07/23/2018
CivicLive Blog - Google Analytics and the Stats that Matter

For local governments, websites play a key role in engaging with citizens, businesses and visitors. They’re the go-to source for information from updates on road closures to the best parks, restaurants and hotels your municipality has to offer. Sustaining a usable, up-to-date website involves understanding how your users interact with your website. This is where Google Analytics comes into play.


Using Google Analytics to understand how your audiences use your website will help you create better content, develop a stronger architecture and an all-around more usable site. But, there are many different statistics to view on Google Analytics, and each offers unique information that can be useful. However, there are a few analytics in particular, that will help you build a usable, citizen-focused website. Below we look at five of the most important stats for local government.



Bounce Rate

The bounce rate is the number of unique visitors who view a single page on a website and leave after viewing this page. The bounce rate is arguably the most important metric to track on your website because it acts as a strong indicator regarding the usefulness of your content, and the ease, or usability of your website.


Generally, a website’s homepage will be both its most visited page and the page with the highest bounce rate. If you investigate past your homepage, you will undoubtedly discover other pages with high bounce rates. When you discover these pages, you’ll want to figure out why visitors are leaving a page at a high rate. A “Contact Us” page may have a higher bounce rate, but that’s most likely because when users reach the page they find the information they need quickly. Slow page load times, unclear calls-to-action, and too much content are all common causes of high bounce rates. Following-up on your page bounce rates helps you develop the best website architecture as well as clear and concise content.



Landing Pages Report

Landing pages report lets you know which pages your audience enter your website through and what they’re looking at. This metric helps you understand where your audience lands when they first enter your website — with your homepage most likely at the top of this metric. You will find other pages users are clicking through, whether through a Google search or by clicking a link. First, check the page bounce rate — is it high? If so, why? Are there strong calls-to-action (CTAs)? Is the content clear and concise? A good bounce rate is one that falls between 26% - 40%, while anything between 41% - 56% is considered average. If the page you’re evaluating has a good bounce rate, you want to ensure the page is easy to find. Is it nestled deep within your website, requiring multiple click-throughs? Is it easy to search for on your homepage?


Knowing which pages your site users are visiting the most and why helps you understand user needs and develop a more usable website.



Sessions

Originally known as visits, sessions is the metric that tells you what a user does, or rather, how they interact, when visiting your website. Google Analytics determines a session by calculating the time a user spends on your website alongside the route (search engines, site referrals, tracked URLs) that brought the user to the page.


A unique aspect to how sessions work is that a user can leave your website and return, and still be tracked for their initial session. A new session only begins when the user has been inactive for more than 30 minutes.


Viewing your website sessions report allows you to monitor website activity and discover how your community members engage with your website. When you know how users are using your website, you’ll find it easier to communicate with them. Why? Because you’ll better understand their needs based on their own actions. If more and more residents are coming to your website to download paperwork for renewing a license, or searching for information on how to pay a bill or a ticket, you discover what information is important to them. Moreover, you learn how easily (or not) they’re finding and accessing that information on your website.



Average Session Duration

Linked to the session metric, average session duration tells you how much time a user is spending on your website. The longer a session, the more likely it is that a visitor is finding your website valuable, i.e. the user is finding the information they need and it is bringing them value. However, if you have a low session rate, an average lower than two to three minutes, but a long average session duration, this is a sign users are finding it difficult to consume your content because it’s not clear or there’s too much information to take in. Be mindful of how these two metrics connect and what they mean for accessibility and clear communication.



Users

This metric lets you know the total number of active users visiting your website. View this metric as a period of time (users for the past month, week or day). Users encompasses everyone (new and returning users) who have visited your website over a specified period, regardless of how many pages they viewed. Like a session, Google Analytics calculates users based on the number of sessions in a given date range as well as the duration of each session.


It’s important to know how many users are visiting your website so that you can see which campaigns and new initiatives are having an effect, which CTAs work and whether your residents view your website as a reliable resource for information or not.



Bonus Metric: Mobile Performance Report

More people now use their phones to access the internet than their desktops. Having a mobile-friendly website (i.e. a website equipped with a responsive design) improves your rankings in Google. And, because Google knows the importance of a mobile-friendly design, they have created a report within Google Analytics to help you determine mobile performance. This report tells you how well your website is designed for mobile use, and even better, where you can make improvements. In the digital age, mobile is king. Making your website as mobile-friendly as possible has a major, positive impact on your website's overall usability.



Conclusion

There are many more metrics you can view and use in Google Analytics. The above list is by no means all there is to the service. You can use Google Analytics to run reports, determine where your site users are located and even find out if online campaigns are working by bringing more traffic to your website. Whether you choose to use Google Analytics for in-depth research or simply to gain a better understanding of how your site users interact with your website, it’s important to check the above metrics. Understanding how users use your site helps you improve your website by refining the user experience, and enables you to meet your citizens’ needs.

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