How to read the Audience Overview report in Google Analytics

If you have Google Analytics installed on your website (which you should!), the first thing you’ll see when you login is the Audience Overview report. If you’re mystified by all the numbers and graphs, here’s a primer on how to read and interpret them. 

First of all, make sure you are looking at the right time period. In the top right corner, you can change the date range. Looking back over the last 30 days is a good starting point, and then you can expand the date range to see how the numbers have changed over time. 

The “Visits” graph

The graph with the squiggly line shows the number of website visits per day. You can change the settings to show hourly/weekly/monthly visits instead, but daily visits is good for most purposes.

The website visits in this report include every visit, including your own. This can skew the figures if you often go to your website to make updates or just to admire it. (If this is you, you might want to change the settings to exclude your own IP address from the reports.)

It can be useful to visualize the impact of marketing activities using this graph. E.g. if you ran an advertising campaign or sent out a newsletter, you would expect to see a spike in visits around that time. (By clicking on the little arrow in the centre right below your graph, you can add annotations to help you remember the reasons for traffic spikes later on).

The dropdowns above your graph allow you to change the data displayed in the graph, and to compare 2 different statistics, e.g. visit versus pageviews.

Interpreting the numbers

Below your graph you’ll find some numbers. Here’s what they mean.

Visits: the total number of times your website has been visited

Unique visits: the number of people who have visited your website (excludes duplicate visits from the same person using the same device)

Pageviews: the total number of times a page on your website has been viewed

Pages/visit: the average number of pages a person looked at on their visit to your website

Avg. visit duration: the average length of time people spend on your website. If this is very short (e.g. under 1 minute), your website might not be engaging people enough.

Bounce rate: the percentage of visitors who leave your website after seeing only one page. A high bounce rate (e.g. above 40%) can either indicate design / usability issues with your website, or people might have found everything they needed on that one page and therefore had no need to visit other pages.

% new visits: the percentage of website visitors who haven’t been to your website before. Depending on your business, it is important to have a balance of return visitors and new visitors to grow your website traffic. If you have a blog or online shop, the number of return visits is likely to be higher than if you have a simple brochure website.

Is that good or bad?

While it’s great to have numbers to look at, sometimes it’s hard to know whether this is a good or a bad result.

There are no hard and fast rules as every business is different. It is important to look at whether your statistics have improved over time. Expand the date range and do some comparisons.

  • Has the number of monthly unique visitors increased over the last 6 or 12 months?
  • Are you happy with the average visit duration? Has it increased or decreased?
  • If your bounce rate is high, do you know the reason? If usability issues are the reason, fix them and see if it improves your bounce rate. 
  • Are all your website visitors new with very few return visits? If return visitors are important to you, work on engagement strategies to keep people coming back

Google Analytics is a powerful tool with many in-depth reports, but you need to use common sense and knowledge about your audience to interpret them for your particular situation. Try not to get too hung up on every detail, but use the reports to identify trends and issues that need to be addressed on your website.