How do you know if your website is getting the results you want?

Sure, you know that you’ve got great content. You also know you’ve done everything you can think of to promote your content and optimize your site for high rankings in search — but how do you really know that what you are doing is working?

This is where tracking your data and metrics become important — and Google Analytics is there to help. Google Analytics is a free service that provides you with a tracking code that you can paste onto your site’s pages. Google uses the code to track visitors to your site and gleans the following sort of information as it does:

  • How many people are visiting your website?
  • Where do these people live?
  • Are they using a desktop or a mobile device?
  • What sites are they using to find your website?
  • Which marketing tactics are getting the most attention?
  • Which of my pages do people like the most?
  • How many of my visitors become customers?

These are just a tiny fraction of the questions Google Analytics can answer for you. You can use the data to further enhance your site and tweak your search engine optimization efforts for better results in the future.

What are the absolute top metrics you need to watch? And what do you do with them once you start watching?

When you log back into Google Analytics after setting up your tracking code, you’ll receive an Audience Overview Report. While there’s a ton of information there, here are the main metrics you should focus on when you start:

1. The Number Of Visitors

Your website doesn’t do you any good if you aren’t seeing any traffic, so this is the first thing you should track.

What to Watch: You should quickly start to recognize what a “normal” amount of traffic is for your site over the course of a week or two. Then you can pay particular attention to big spikes or drops in traffic.

What to Do: Those big changes in website traffic are important metrics that tell you something is working (or something is wrong). If you see a big spike, can you relate that to something you posted? A PR opportunity you had? A new PPC campaign you started? Are you offering a sale? Ask yourself, “What is causing the increased attention on this brand and how can it be recreated?”

2. How Your Visitors Find You

Are your visitors coming directly from a Google search? Is a social media campaign sending them along? Google Analytics divides traffic sources into four categories:

  • Direct traffic, or people who type your site’s name into a browser. (Dark social also often appears as “direct” as well.)
  • Search traffic, or people who find your site through keyword searches
  • Referral traffic, or people who find you through Facebook, Twitter, news articles, and so on
  • Campaign traffic, or people who find you through your paid advertising campaigns

What to Watch: You can spot trends that can help you figure out which marketing activities, promotions, and social campaigns are resonating with your customers — and which are falling flat.

What to Do: Adjust your marketing efforts around both what is most productive for your company and where you want to improve. For example, if most of your visitors are coming from Facebook referrals, you know you need to focus your resources there. However, you also know that you need to change up your advertising campaigns on other channels if they don’t seem to be producing results.

3. The Average Time Visitors Spend On Your Page

Getting visitors to your site is only part of the battle. You also have to keep them there long enough to get their attention and attract their interest.

What to Watch: Look at your bounce rate, which is the number of visitors who only go to one page on your site before they exit again. You also need to look at the amount of time visitors spend on any given page in order to see what interests them. What has your visitor’s attention — your blog, your product demonstration videos, or something else?

What to Do: Are visitors spending long enough on your pages to be taking in the information or do they skim and leave? What do you need to adjust? For example, if your demonstration videos are 5 minutes long but visitors are staying an average of 3 minutes, can you shorten your videos to make them more user-friendly?

Ultimately, Google Analytics has much more to offer than just these few things. However, everyone has to start somewhere. If you’re just getting your feet wet and trying to learn how to make use of the metrics that matter to your business, this is where to start.