Google Analytics' Audience reports is the first set of reports listed in the navigation menu. But why is it listed first? The Audience reports tells you how much traffic and the type of audience that makes up that traffic. It sets the foundation for the other reports you'll dive into next - because we all like seeing those vanity metrics first.
Basic Questions that Audience Reports Answer:
- How much website traffic do I have?
- Are they new or returning visitors?
- What types of devices do they use when visiting my website?
- What are the general demographics of my visitors?
So if you're looking for any of these answers, read on to find out how to dive deeper into the Audience reports. I'll show you how to navigate through all the reports here.
The Audience Overview is where you'll get all the vanity metrics in one view. These vanity metrics are essentially the total volume of visitors, how many times they come, and how long they stay. But why do I call them vanity metrics? Because alone, they don't mean anything. They're just big numbers that you can show off to anyone you want. But they can be used to compare to other websites for investors, or most importantly, used against your own website over time to show growth.
With all the data that Google Analytics offers, we'll use these vanity metrics as context and as the total number to compare against all the other reports. Let's go over what each Audience metric means below.
Audience Metric Definitions
The unique number of “people” that visited your website (depends on the user being on the same browser and device)
The unique number of “people” that are new to your website (can be misleading if your users like to clear their cookies)
One visit where the user continuously interacted with the website without 30 minutes of inactivity
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)
The amount of sessions where users visited one page and leaves the website without visiting more pages
Again, these are vanity metrics that can be turned into something more useful. By useful, I mean trying to turn them into ratios or percentages, so proportion will be the main focus rather than pure volume.
Example KPIs 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
Best Way to Use Audience Overview
Once you land on the Audience Overview, it's rather bland with basic vanity metrics. But my favorite way to use the report is to apply multiple segments at once, so I can see different audience totals side-by-side. Google Analytics limits you to showing 4 segments at once, but you can replace some when needed.
An example is shown below. I like to see all users compared against the Paid Traffic as well as the Mobile traffic - in one view. So I can then create my own KPIs for "Paid % of Total Traffic" and "Mobile % of Total Traffic."
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 are great numbers to help you understand how much traffic you're paying for and which device to optimize for overall. But let's say you want to dig deeper and focus on the blog experience, for instance. You can compare the Total Mobile Usage Rate of 25% to the Blog Mobile Usage Rate. Is it higher or lower to the total site percentage? If it's lower, then maybe it's time to switch up the blog layout to fit better on the mobile view to gain more visitors there.
2. Demographics & Interests
Not all reports under Google Analytics' Audience reports are helpful day-to-day. By helpful, I mean the ability to gain real, actionable insights from the data. Some reports can just be nice-to-haves like this Demographic report. You'll notice I won't even mention some reports since they are pretty self-explanatory, and are minimally helpful.
Why are Demographics and Interests Report not helpful?
Because really, the data are all estimates.
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.
But... Since Google is used by most of the Internet population, they may be a good frame of reference. Heck, Google Analytics is free anyways.
It is also important to know the data you see is also sampled. A sample, by definition, should be representative of the entire population, but may be skewed depending on the data.
Conclusion: The Demographic data should be used for directional reference only where you don't use actual numbers. For instance, my website population is made up of more men - or these people are more likely to shop. Stay basic and generic of the findings you grab from these reports.
Check here to see where Google would categorize you in Demographics.
Check out this example of my results 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 (which I don't even have an interest in). So you see, the data is not reliable. But maybe it's fun to look at sometimes if you're curious. Just don't take it as the end-all-be-all.
Out of all the user demographic reports under Audience, Geography is by far the most reliable with actual, recorded data. It doesn't capture every single user's geolocation, but the data rolls in based on activated GPS location settings on the user's device. Most of the time, users will have this turned on for their phones, especially to use their Maps app. So it's as reliable as you can get for the mobile devices.
I like to use Geo reports (sparingly) to help guide localized efforts for marketing campaigns. I'll find the places where I mostly attract visitors that don't convert and target a campaign to get them to buy.
Behavior Dimension Definitions
New vs Returning: how many new visitors are entering your website versus the frequent visitors (the regulars)
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.
Frequency & Recency: how often users reach a unique count of sessions, in relation to page views and sessions. I must say, I'm glad this report exists because I like to use "Count of Sessions" as a dimension in my segments. Otherwise, the Frequency & Recency report shows out of all your visitors, how many times do they usually come back.
Engagement: the amount of time spent by your users. This can indicate if your website as a whole continues to engage your audience over time.
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 platform experiences must be optimized to rank well on Google Search and most importantly, maintain user engagement. High bounce rates can indicate if the experience is not up to par.
Just so you know, technology dimensions are automatically tracked with the generic Google Analytics snippet. No need to get extra technical in the tagging code for this.
Best Way to Use Technology Reports
Depend on these reports when you're preparing for product updates or website migrations. Because the data automatically populates with the basic Google Analytics setup, you can create a seamless transition for the most-used platforms without a flinch.
The insights will guide you on what to prioritize for new or updating product development.
For example, Apple users under Operating Systems have the most percentage compared to the others. Let’s say 60%. Then, drill down to the Operating System versions to see what's currently being used. It'll help you strategically prioritize the Apple experience to prevent from detrimental fallouts during the update.
I don't know why this is below the granular technology reports, but consider this as the top tier platform report. Desktop, Mobile, and Tablet. Depending on your industry, either Desktop or Mobile will take the largest proportion of your Total Traffic. If you're lucky, you'll see 50-50 between the two. But be sure to check if the conversion rates are similar too.
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!
The Devices Report then gives the full breakdown of phone types. This data is more useful for mobile apps to ensure the experience works properly across all types.
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.
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 Rule of Thumb: 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, so you can see how you compare. The data can inform you of more strategies to look into or even validate you’re doing everything right versus 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?
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.