Measuring a website’s success with Google Analytics from year-to-year or from quarter-to-quarter is easy when you have access to the e-commerce statistics from period-to-period. But where do you start measuring success when you don’t have access to the e-commerce statistics from the past few years? This type of situation is common when setting up analytics for a website that has never done an in-depth implementation of Google Analytics before. How can you get a feel for how a website has improved without seeing how much money the site has made from one time period to the next?
Sessions per year
On the most basic level, you want your site to have growth in all aspects. If your site isn’t growing, that means you’re losing market share and hits to other sites who may occupy the same space as you. One of the most basic ways to measure growth is number of sessions per year. Below is an example of one client whose site we have managed for a few years.
They have an average growth of 8.1% sessions per year and are on track to do the same this year. Even without viewing their e-commerce statistics, the site’s reach and number of sessions have successfully grown, indicating that the site is successfully reaching a larger and larger audience per year.
The best way to view these stats in Google Analytics is by using the comparison date tool from year to year sessions. To do this, click the “Audience” section on the left side of the Reporting screen, and click “Overview.”
Once here, click on the dates in the top right corner, and select the ranges you’d like to compare from year to year. Once you’ve selected your range, be sure to click the “Compare to:” box below your current date range, and select “Previous Year” as your option for stat comparison. You will see the relevant information displayed on the screen.
However, sessions per year are a very basic stat to use when tracking how successful a site is. Given the advanced feature set of Google Analytics, we can do a deeper dive into the data to figure out other metrics that might be useful to track in lieu of e-commerce data. One of my favorites is the organic sessions statistic, which indicates how many visits to your site were from an organic search on a search engine.
Organic searches are a great indication of how successfully the content on your website is performing, as well as the quality of the website itself. Organic search visitors come from inputting relevant search terms into Google, and clicking on your site in the actual search listings (not ads). Google’s ranking methods for websites are shrouded in a veil of secrecy, but what they do tell us is that websites are graded on the quality of the site (Is it easily navigable? Does it have content relevant for the search the user input?), the quality of the content, and the number of backlinks to the website from other high-quality websites. Although overall sessions can be useful for figuring out how an overall marketing campaign is going, weighing the number of organic search visitors to previous years can indicate that your website is getting more exposure on the internet, and higher rankings on Google.
Below is an example of one of our client’s organic search sessions from one year to the next (after we had launched their new site):
For the same period over the past year, the site has averaged just over 75% more organic search clicks over last year. We believe that having a higher quality site (which meets the earlier listed goals about how search engines ranks your site on valuable keywords) definitely helps in this regard, and especially high-quality content help these numbers increase even more.
To see how to get these numbers in Google Analytics, make sure you are using the date comparison range as we discussed earlier, and click on the “Acquisition” link on the left side of the Reporting screen, and then click on “Keywords” and “Organic” underneath that.
That’s all you need to do! If you have your date range set correctly, Google Analytics should already be showing you an in-depth comparison between your organic clicks from your current date range to the previous year.
This approach does have a word of caution attached: there are some considerations that could make these numbers significantly different from year to year with little to no change to the website. If there was a large offline marketing campaign that never gave out the specific URL for the site, you could see a large driver of traffic to search engines simply to find the website URL. Unfortunately, the statistics on Google Analytics are not of much help here, considering they have decreased the amount of keywords shown through Google Analytics, thus making researching this particular statistic almost impossible from year to year. Most of your organic keywords will now be seen as (not provided), making deriving any sort of useful information about the keywords used to find your site online difficult.
One final metric that Bluetube loves to track is the number of new mobile sessions from year-to-year. With the world growing more and more mobile every year, Bluetube helps design sites with mobile first in mind. We want to make sure that a redesigned website attracts a larger mobile user base, and is easy for the user to find what they want (which we will discuss as a part of a larger mobile blog post on Google Analytics). One of the best ways to see this difference is by tracking the number of mobile/tablet visitors and seeing how the average time on page has performed for the site. The average time on page helps by getting a quick overview of how intuitive your mobile site design is. Mobile users have little patience for poorly designed sites, and are quick to leave at the first sign of navigational difficulty.
For this site, you can see that the number of mobile and tablet pageviews has gone up over 90% over the same period of time, and the average time on page up almost 45 seconds longer.
To find these statistics on Google Analytics, go to the “Reporting” section of your Google Analytics, and select the Behavior menu item on the left side, then click on “Site Content” and “All Pages” beneath that.
On the screen that appears to the right, click on the “+ Add Segment” box up top.
On the list that appears, scroll down to the segment that says “Mobile and Tablet Traffic” and click the checkmark next to it, then click apply to apply the changes to your current report.
Note that “Mobile and Tablet Traffic” should be the only segment shown at the top of the screen. If you still see the “All Sessions” segment, make sure you remove it by clicking the down arrow on the “All Sessions” segment, and then hitting “Remove”.
These are a couple really easy metrics to begin analyzing your site from year to year or period to period, even if you don’t have access to crucial e-commerce statistics from years past. In future blog posts, we will go over some more in-depth Google Analytics mobile segments, setting up funnel visualizations for e-commerce purchases, and how to approach cart abandonment issues using information gleaned from Google Analytics.