The Language of Your Website

Written by
Alexander Sproul
| September 1st, 2020

The Language of Your Website

The world of website traffic comes with a lot of terms. If you’re not a web developer yourself, a website traffic report might leave you scratching your head. Between the acronyms, measurements, and different breakdowns of your audience, there can be a lot of information to digest. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful guide to go through the common terms you’ll see when learning about your website’s performance.

Your Website Traffic Report at a Glance

In a website traffic report, the terms you’ll see boil down to two things: dimensions and metrics. A dimension is the way an audience is broken down. In marketing, audiences can be categorized in different ways to help you focus on the groups that will benefit your business the most. On the other hand, a metric is simply what is being measured. The number of clicks, searches, and users are all examples of metrics. 

Bar chart displaying number of views of a fictional webpage broken down by age. In this chart, age is a dimension and pageviews is a metric.

Most (if not all) of the tables, charts, and graphs you’ll see in a website traffic report show metrics broken down by dimensions. For example, the table above shows pageviews (a metric) broken down by age (a dimension). Every metric tells you something different about how your business is performing. Therefore, it’s important to know how to interpret the different numbers you’ll see.

Measuring Your Website's Success

Sometimes, interpreting a metric is easy. For instance, an increase in profit almost certainly means your business is growing. On the other hand, many metrics fall into a grey area. At first glance, more clicks to your website seems like a good thing. However, if the visitors to your site aren’t adding value to your business, you might want to refocus your attention on a smaller, more valuable audience. Below are some of the metrics you’re likely to see when learning about your site’s traffic.

Hits, Pageviews, Sessions, and Users

A common way of measuring traffic to a website is to measure hits, pageviews, sessions, and users. A hit on a website is any request for a file on a web server. Webpages, PDF documents, and images are just some examples of file requests that become hits. Therefore, viewing a page on a website can generate multiple hits. Similarly, a pageview is generated every time a specific page on a website is loaded. Even if multiple files are requested from a server when the page loads, only a single pageview is counted.

Sessions are used to measure groupings of pageviews and hits within a time window. Usually, a session expires after 30 minutes of inactivity on your website. A user is anyone who generates a session on your website. Most analytics tools can categorize users into new users and returning users. This is done using your browser cookies. If a browser cookie shows that your website has been viewed within that browser before, the user will be categorized a returning user. In contrast, if a browser cookie does not show that your website has been viewed before, the user is categorized as new.

It’s important to keep in mind that the number of users on your site is only an estimate of the number of people. The same person viewing your website across multiple browsers and devices will be counted as a new user each time.

How People Use Your Site

There are many ways to measure what people do on your website. For example, events are any interactions that a user has with content on your website. Events can be clicks, scrolls, loading a specific page, playing a video, and more. Similarly, goals or conversions on your website are events that provide value to your business. For example, landing on a “Thank You” page after making a purchase is a common website goal. Likewise, a goal conversion rate is the ratio of completed goals to the total number of sessions on your website. If your website has 500 sessions and 250 goal completions, your goal conversion rate would be 50%.

It’s important to know which pages are driving traffic through your website – and which ones are not. Entrances on a page is the number of times the given page was viewed first by a visitor.  On the other hand, exits on a page is the number of times a given page was viewed before the user leaves the site. Knowing where users are entering and exiting your site can help you make decisions about your website’s navigation

When it comes to website traffic, not all pages are created equal. Bounces occur when a user visits a single page on your site and then leaves. Similarly, a bounce rate is the ratio of bounces to the total number of visits to your website. It’s important to take bounce rates with a grain of salt. Although a page with a high bounce rate may be problematic, it’s also possible that user has found what they were looking for. For example, many users enter a site to visit a “Contact Us” page. Often, the visitor views the page to get information like a phone number and then exits the site. Although this is counted as a bounce, it still added value to your business.

Getting to Know Your Audience

Breaking down your website’s traffic into groups can reveal important patterns about the kinds of traffic that are most valuable to you. Google Analytics can reveal the interests, locations, and much more information about your users that can be incredibly powerful when making decisions.

The Journey to Your Site

Categorizing your users by how they arrive to your website can help reveal where your efforts are best spent when promoting your business. In web analytics, a channel is how a visitor came to your site. Some of the most common sources that you’ll come across are as follows:

  • Organic:
    Organic traffic means a user arrived at your site from an unpaid search result. Increases in organic traffic is a great indication that your website is performing well in search results.
  • Pay Per Click (PPC):
    PPC traffic is when users arrive to your site from a paid advertisement. A related metric to be aware of is click-through rate (CTR) which is the ratio of visits to your site by clicking an advertisement to the number of times the advertisement was displayed in search results.
  • Referral:
    Referral traffic occurs when a user arrived at your site from a link on another website. High amounts of referral traffic can be a good indication of your website’s online reputation.
  • Email:
    Email traffic is when users arrive at your site from a link in an email. This can be a helpful grouping when measuring the success of an emailed newsletter.
  • Social:
    Social traffic comes from users arriving at your site from a link on social media. Looking at social traffic can give you an indication of how successful your social media is at directing users to your website.
  • Direct:
    Direct traffic comes from users that type your website’s URL in their browser. Direct traffic tells you about the people who know about your business before arriving to your website.
  • Local:
    Local traffic is a custom channel that Aptitude Digital uses to captures traffic from business listings such as Google My Business. It is not a default channel in Google Analytics. We include this channel in our reporting so that our clients know the value of their business listings.

Learning Who Your Audience Is

Finally, it’s important to know how to break down your audience based on information about them and their interests. The most common way to break down audiences are through demographics. Demographics are different ways of categorizing people based on statistics about them. The most common demographics are age, gender, and location.

Using artificial intelligence, Google also allows you to learn about your audience based on their interests. Affinity categories are groupings of users based on their long-term interests. For example, the “sports enthusiast” affinity category is a group of users who love sports. Similarly, in-market segments are groups of people who are looking for a specific type of product or service. For example, “autos and vehicles” represents people who are looking to purchase a vehicle or something related. In-market segments and affinity categories provide great insights into how you promote your business.

When exploring demographics, it’s important to remember that Google protects the privacy of its users. For this reason, demographics reported by Google are always based on a sample of the data from the population you are looking at. For example, if 100 users view your website, the demographic sample might be based on information of 50 of those users. Furthermore, some users choose not to share or even use a false location. For this reason, decisions made based on user demographics should always be made with caution. 

Want to Learn More?

If you want to learn more about how Google Analytics works, Google offers free online courses about Google Analytics. Their courses are offered for all stages of experience with Analytics and provides helpful walkthroughs of how their tools are used. Alternatively, specific questions can be answered at Google’s Help Center

Finally, our marketing team at Aptitude Digital is always happy to answer any questions you might have about the way your website is tracking information. Get in touch with us and a representative will be happy to help.