Averages Lie: How to find the truth buried in your website analytics

There are lots of posts out there that attempt to make your web traffic easy to understand but the truth of the matter is that analytics are complicated. Analytic reports are flooded with jargon, there are hundreds of reports to choose from, the platforms are always updating and worst of all, there are multiple ways to interpret any single metric.

Ex: A high bounce rate could mean that the page took to long to load, the user didn’t like the look of the site or it could be a positive metric and mean that the user found exactly what they were looking for and didn’t need to engage further with the site.

One major reason for this difficulty is that all of these metrics are measuring results and not intent. We don’t know why someone left your site after 30 seconds or why they chose to click on a certain button rather than another. We can only make educated guesses. We can mitigate some of this difficulty by always examining more than one metric for any given problem.

Ex: If the Bounce Rate is high but the time on page is 3 minutes, they are clearly engaging deeply with the content on the page but there is no call-to-action or reason to engage further.

The bigger difficulty in understanding analytics, however, is that they are all averages of many different people. There is a saying that if you design something for everyone, you are designing it for nobody. The truth that this saying reflects is that nobody is actually average. An ‘average' is like Frankenstein’s monster in that it is a compilation of many different people.

Ex: If one person stays on your site for a minute and another stays on the site for 0 seconds, the average session duration is 30 seconds even though nobody actually stayed on the site for 30 seconds. 

Understanding this and keeping an open mind are absolutely critical to understanding your website analytics. Misunderstanding your analytics could actually be more detrimental than not using your analytics at all if it leads you down a road to putting all your money into ineffectual strategies. But there is one highly underutilized technique that will help you mitigate these difficulties.

Audience Segments

Segmenting your audience is a crucial first step to understanding your traffic and is extremely easy to do. By segmenting your traffic, you are able to obtain averages that are more representative of actual people. Rather than averaging everybody, you can average only the people that behave the same, meaning your averages are closer to representing real human behavior. 

Ex: Create a segment of people who come from Google, stay on your site for 3+ minutes and make a purchase of your top product.

You can segment by hundreds of different metrics and this method could be an entire blog post on its own. It is easy to find step-by-step instructions so I won’t go into that here, but I will make a few recommendations:

  1. Create a “High Value Traffic” segment that includes anybody who visits high value pages such as a purchase or contact page, anybody who views a high number of pages, anybody that stays on your site for a very long time and anybody who engages deeply with your site. This segment gives you a quick overview of the health of your site.
  2. Create a segment just for people who have purchased from you and use that on your acquisition reports to measure your conversion rates rather than just total number of sessions.
  3. Create segments for your top acquisition channels (i.e. Google, Facebook, Direct, etc.) and use those filters when looking at Behavior and Audience reports, so you can see the differences in quality of traffic from each source.

If you only create these few segments, you will be light years ahead of most small and medium sized businesses. This is one of the most simple and effective things you can do to gain insights into your audience, but most people aren’t utilizing segments. And if you aren’t utilizing them, you could be leading your entire online business strategy astray. 

Take a half hour to research segments in Google Analytics and you will see it pay off in massive ways immediately...even if you only have a small amount of traffic. So don’t make another marketing strategy decision until you’ve taken the time to better understand who you are marketing to. 

And as always, reach out to us @ThinPigMedia if you need help with any of this.