Google Analytics: How to Best Use Audience Reports

Useful for contextual comparisons and benchmarks

Audience reports in Google Analytics present scorecards of raw totals (vanity metrics) to measure your website and app activity. These totals can be used as benchmarks to compare segments of your traffic.

Audience Metric Definitions

Users

The unique number of “people” that visited your website (dependent on the user being on the same browser and having the same tracking cookie)

New Users

The unique number of “people” that are new to your website (altered if users remove their tracking cookies)

Sessions

One visit where the user continuously interacted with the website without 30-minute inactivity

Page Views

Every new page load including page refreshes

Average Session Duration

Average time spent during a session without 30-minutes of inactivity (continues to count extra time even after the last page load until the 30-minute timeout period)

Bounce Rate

The amount of sessions where users visited the page and leaves the page with no interactions

These Audience metrics are useful to trend over time or used as denominators for rates you’re most interested in. Example rates most commonly used:

  • Conversion Rate: Orders / Users
  • Engagement Rate: Pages / Sessions
  • Clickthrough Rate: Clicks / Page Views
  • New User Rate: New Users / Total Users
  • Mobile Usage Rate: Mobile Users / Total Users

Feel free to save and share to others who would find this Google Analytics sketchnote helpful too!

Google Analytics Metrics Sketchnote


As shown below with example segments, you can see different breakouts of the Audience data at once and perform your own calculations.

Example above shows the mobile and paid segments applied to the Audience Overview report. You can use the mobile total traffic (4,253) and divide it by the total users (17,134) to get the Mobile Usage Rate (25%). Same goes for paid traffic (48) to get the percentage of paid traffic over total users (0.3%).

These percentages are used as total benchmarks for future data or other historical data sets you choose. For instance, you see a 50% mobile usage rate for all blog posts. Ideally, most blog posts individually should see 50% mobile usage rates. Otherwise, it’s time to optimize that mobile experience to at least see 50% usage rate equally.

google analytics audience metrics segments

Demographics & Interests

Not all reports under Google Analytics' Audience reports are helpful day-to-day. They can just be nice-to-haves.

Why are demographics and interests not helpful?

Google Analytics bases demographic and interests behavior off of total Google Activity and user-provided information on personal Google accounts. If users like to browse incognito or prefer not to include all personal information, Google will compare user activity to others they do have information on - to identify you.

You can assume there is a good frame of reference since not everyone is private. It is important to know the data you see is also sampled. A sample should be representative of the entire population, but may be skewed depending on the attribute. The Demographic data should be used for directional reference only.

Check here to see where Google would categorize you in Demographics.


From the example above, my results were very broad and incorrect especially the gender assumption. Interests are also broad and mostly inaccurate for more specific categories ie Jazz & Motorcycles. Gender and age are the top two filters marketers normally depend on for targeting. However, this data is not reliable, so you’ll need to learn about your audience through behavioral activity on your website instead.


Geo

Geography is the most useful out of the user descriptive reports as locations can be tracked through an activated GPS. The data is actual recorded data rather than predictive assumptions. Google Analytics’ Geo reports can guide localized efforts for marketing campaigns. Insights derived from geolocation data can also be used in audience targeting for Google Ads and other PPC platforms.


Behavior

“New vs Returning” report gauges how many new visitors are entering your website versus the frequent visitors.

Remember the user definition, new visitors are defined by having a new tracking cookie on a single browser. If a user uses multiple devices, browsers, or even deletes their cookies, they're counted as a new user. Also, if they use incognito tabs, that's considered as a new user.

The “New vs Returning” report guides new customer prospecting and shows the success of marketing campaigns. Like the example, use a segment for New Visitors to see how much your marketing efforts are bringing in new traffic.

“Frequency & Recency” show how often users reach a unique count of sessions, in relation to page views. Count of Sessions can be used as a segment condition to understand when users complete desired actions at which visit. Otherwise, Frequency and Recency reveals how frequent users continue to come back over time.

“Engagement” is the count of time spent normally experienced by users, which indicate if your content continues to engage your audience over time. Page Depth is another dimension to see how much further users navigate into your website.

Technology

Technology reports give detail to multiplatform usage and performance, which can inform web developers on what to technology to optimize. These reports list out the most popular web browsers, operating systems, and more in-depth breakouts (screen resolution, screen colors, flash version, etc). The two most useful, especially to websites that are non-responsive, are the web browsers and operating systems.

All experiences must be optimized to rank well on Google Search and most importantly, maintain user engagement. Bounce rates can indicate if the experience is not up to par.

Technology dimensions are automatically tracked with the generic Google Analytics snippet. No need to get too technical in the code for this!

Recommended for product updates or website migrations: Because this information comes out-of-the-box for Google Analytics, you can dig into the most popular technology dimensions. The insights guide you on what to prioritize product development for any website migration and update.

For example, Apple users under Operating Systems have the most percentage compared to the others. Let’s say 60%. You’ll need to make sure there is a seamless experience for Apple operating systems to prevent from fallouts during the update.

How do we evaluate user behavior related to Apple Users?

Create a segment on the Conditions of Operating System = iOS. Apply the segment to the following reports:

  1. Behavior’s Site Content > All Pages: Make sure the top 10 pages’ percentages are similar to the period before the migration (with the consideration of other variables that could be affecting the numbers at the same time)
  2. Conversions’ Goals > Funnel Visualization: If you have funnel goals created, make sure the percentages align to the period beforehand.


Mobile

Overview categorizes traffic by type of platform: Desktop, Mobile, and Tablet. Depends on your industry, Desktop or Mobile will have the largest proportion of overall traffic. It’d be ideal to have 50-50, but that’s usually not the case. Tablet typically shares the lower end, but don’t disregard it as an experience. There could still be valuable conversions you’re missing out on!

These mobile dimensions allow for deeper dives when platform experiences vary from one another. Not everybody has a responsive site, so it is helpful to segment each platform to optimize each.

Devices gives the full breakdown of phone types, more useful for mobile apps to ensure the experience works properly.


Benchmarking

Benchmarking reports aggregate industry-wide web properties that are tagged with Google Analytics and have also opted into the "Benchmarking" program (limited by privacy issues).

Google Analytics covers up to 1,600 industry verticals within the Channels report to choose from. You can select which country, region, and average visitor count. This way, you can directionally see how the market is trending with the same factors as your website.

Yes!

Where else are you going to get industry benchmarks for free? The color coordination directs the visuals to point out strengths and weaknesses more easily.

Take a look at the Benchmarking example below.

The applied filters are Autos & Vehicles with an average of 5K-10K daily sessions.


How would we interpret this Benchmarking report?  

Social channel increases over the past week in web activity about 68%.

Recommended Analysis: Anything above a 30% increase or decrease is something abnormal. Something to check out!

There are a couple of possibilities to 68% increase for the Social channel, but some explanations could be...

     1. Trending social topic about a popular auto event

     2. Holiday sales events promoted through social

     3. New car releases

It could literally be anything, but Social did pushed an increase in activity for the auto industry within this data set. Do you fit in this category? Are you seeing a similar spike? Do you see possible causes on Social Media that could explain this traffic? These are all questions you should ask yourself when playing with this report. It'll help you to focus while digging for more.

Benchmarking reports show what's happening at the market-level to give you context. The data can inform you of more strategies to look into or even validate you’re doing everything right in comparison to the rest of the industry.

Go ahead to apply the same logic to your industry and see what you find. You might be surprised on how you compare. Are you a disruptor in the industry and not seeing the same trends? Why or why not?


Summary

Audience reports provide data to help you understand your user demographic, behavior, mobile usage, and industry. All Audience dimensions can be useful in segments to apply to other reports ie Pages, Events, or Goals to see what type of users perform desired actions. Google Analytics presents directional data on your audience to help lead targeting or personalization strategies.

Read the next guide for Google Analytics Acquisition reports here.