Website Analytics 101: The Beginner's Guide
By Anthony · 9 min read · May 25, 2021
Website analytics is how you can measure important traffic stats such as unique visitors, top pages, countries, and referrers. You may have also heard about bounce rate, conversion rate and page load time. But what do these metrics mean and what is a good reference point?
We’ve put together a quickstart guide to help you get started and get the most out of your analytics tools - we hope it’s helpful to you!
Why use website analytics
Let’s say you want to make your website faster, or write more relevant content for your visitors. How do you know if you’re actually improving things if you can’t compare these metrics over time?
You need a way to track the metrics that you care about in order to improve them. Website analytics is how you can measure your web traffic and performance over time.
You may be interested in a few important metrics about your website. These may include the total count of unique visitors, popular pages, top countries, referring websites, or the conversion rate (eg. what percentage of visitors sign up for a newsletter).
With the help of these metrics you can optimize your website by understanding which pages are most relevant, and which content are your visitors most interested in.
There’s also metrics such as the page load time, which helps you track the real site speed your visitors are experiencing. A fast website is good for SEO too. When search engines crawl your website, they use your page load time among other technical factors as a signal for their ranking algorithm.
Website analytics is how you can measure and track these metrics over time. They help content creation, fixing slow pages, and understanding overall traffic trends.
How do web analytics work
Generally, website analytics work in three steps:
- You add a tracking snippet on your website.
- The snippet collects data on every page view.
- The analytics software summarizes the data in a dashboard.
In short, you add a small snippet of code to your website, which is run on the visitor's browser after every page view. This piece of code collects data about the pageview, and then sends it to servers of the analytics provider of your choice. These servers process and store this data for later analysis on your dashboards.
The specific data points collected depend on the analytics provider you’re using. Most of them give you a list of what data is collected and explain how sessions are counted. There’s additional factors to consider, such as whether IPs are anonymized by default, or if cookies are used. These are important factors to consider depending on which privacy regulations apply to you.
Which analytics should you use
Tip: Panelbear is free for small websites. It's a great way to try out the metrics explained in this article, while keeping your site fast and privacy-friendly.
As a website owner you have hundreds of options when it comes to analytics software. As usual, there's no perfect choice and it all comes down to tradeoffs. What works best for you depends on your goals:
- Do you just want to track simple metrics on your website?
- Are you running marketing campaigns and need to automate the tracking process?
- Do you want simplified privacy compliance?
These are a few of the factors to consider when picking an analytics tool, and it can easily become overwhelming to pick one, as no tool is going perfect for all use cases. What’s great for big enterprises might be too complicated for small teams.
We recommend starting with the simplest possible tool that gets the job done. Most of the time you don't need the majority of features that a product offers. By reducing the number of things you need to learn, you can focus on what actually matters for your project and simply your tooling.
For example, Google Analytics is a big, complex piece of software. It has many useful features that marketing teams rely on every day. But it requires in-depth knowledge, and configuration to make the most out of it.
On the other hand there's Panelbear, a simple analytics tool that's fast, easy to use and privacy-friendly. It favors convention over configuration to pick sane defaults for you. That way you can start measuring your metrics in minutes, instead of fighting your tools.
Another thing to consider is that some analytics tools may store the IP addresses of your website visitors by default. This can cause problems with privacy regulations, which may require you to anonymize the IP address on every visit. Panelbear does this automatically for you, saving you time, and facilitating compliance.
Full disclosure: we're the makers of Panelbear and we might be biased. That's why we recommend you try it out and decide for yourself what's best for your needs. That said, we're sure you'll love it! You’ll be joining thousands of websites from around the world that have recently made the switch.
Essential website metrics
Most analytics software gives you plenty of metrics to understand your website's traffic. However, if you're mainly interested in overall traffic trends you may only need a handful of them.
We have compiled a list of metrics we consider most essential to understand your website's traffic.
The total number of unique visitors who visited your website within a given time period. Sometimes it's also called unique sessions depending on how your analytics count unique visits.
The number of pages visited does not affect this metric, as it refers to the total number of unique visitors, across all your pages.
Total page views
The total number of pages visited on your website, including repeat visits from a single visitor. For example if a visitor reloads a page, a second page view will be counted.
A list of the most popular pages on your website. You can measure which pages are most popular by count of unique visitors, or total page views.
The most popular countries from which your website is being visited. Usually measured by count of unique visitors, but you can also measure your top countries by total page views.
For example, this metric can be useful to understand if your content should be localized for a more personalised experience, or to ensure that your web servers are located as close as possible to your visitors and reduce the page load time.
A list of top referring pages to your website. This helps you understand how you are acquiring visitors to your website.
For example, most websites have a combination of traffic coming from search engines, social media sites, popular blogs, newsletters and so on.
The bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who only view one page before navigating away from your website. A “bounce” is a visit with only one page view.
A lower bounce rate is better, since it means your visitors are finding the content relevant and not leaving without interacting on your site.
A higher bounce rate may indicate that your content is not what they were looking for, or in some cases that the page visited was enough to find what they were looking for.
Average visit duration
The average visit duration tells you how much time on average a visitor spends on your website before leaving. It is often only counted for visits with more than one page view to adjust for the bounce rate.
Page load time
The page load time is the time it takes for your website to load from the visitor's point of view.
This metric can vary greatly by geographic location, the connection speed of your visitor, and how heavy some pages on your website are in comparison to others.
Some analytics tools let you break down and filter this metric by country, or specific pages to get a better view of your site speed.
For more information on this metric check out page load time explained.
The conversion rate tells you what percentage of visitors performed a specific action on your website, in comparison to the total number of visitors.
For example, if you filter for visits matching the page
/signup, and you have a conversion rate of 2%, it means 2% of all visitors went to the signup page during their visit.
You can also measure the conversion rate of non-pageview actions with custom events. That means you can trigger events such as
UpgradeComplete and measure the conversion rate for these events too.
What is a good bounce rate
Generally, a lower bounce rate is better since it means visitors engage with the content on your website. However, to answer what a good bounce rate is greatly depends on the type of content and intended audience.
As a rule of thumb, a bounce rate between 40% and 60% is considered acceptable for most pages. Anything above 90% might indicate something might be wrong, because most visits are bouncing, or maybe they're just interested in the first page shown to them.
A high bounce rate can also happen when you're looking at the metrics for a viral blog post. Since most visits come to your website to view a single page, it can skew your metrics for a while.
What is a good conversion rate
What is a good conversion rate depends highly on what you're measuring. That is because conversion rate measures the percentage of visitors that performed a particular action or fulfilled a specific criteria on your website.
Are you measuring the conversion rate of an e-commerce checkout screen? Or perhaps the share of visitors who sign up for a newsletter on a landing page? These can have very different conversion rates, but it's nonetheless useful to track this metric for important actions.
As a rule of thumb, a conversion rate above 10% is considered great in most situations, while 2-3% is considered average.
Let’s use a concrete example: In the case of a newsletter signup, a conversion rate of 10% would mean that 1 in 10 people shown the website end up signing up for the newsletter. For example with 1,000 page views, a sign up conversion rate of 10% would end up getting you 100 signups - not bad at all!
What is a good page load time
When a visitor opens your website it’s important that it loads as fast as possible. Studies have shown that a fast site speed usually leads to better conversion rates, and an overall better experience for your visitors. For example:
- Pinterest improved page performance by 40%, and saw a 15% increase in SEO traffic and sign ups.
- Amazon found that every 100 ms of latency cost them 1% in profit.
- Studies have shown that increased video streaming delays results in a more stressful experience for your visitors.
There is no clear cut answer for what makes a fast website, but as a rule of thumb you should strive for page load time of two seconds or less.
However, for some websites this may not be practical, especially if you run a content heavy website, and do not have the budget to optimize it from the start. That’s why in many cases 4-6 seconds is alright.
Something important to note, is that especially at the scale these companies operate, every percentage point matters. A 100 ms improvement in Amazon.com could mean millions of dollars in reduced infrastructure costs, and increased sales due to a better experience for their visitors.
As an added plus, a faster website may boost your SEO score too. Search engines use this and other signals for scoring the user experience on your website, and may rank you higher than equivalent, but slower websites.
That’s why it’s important to watch out for slow website pages, and continuously monitor this metric over time. Don’t wait for your visitors to tell you that your website is slow, or worse, not loading at all. It might be a good idea to set up some monitoring and get automatically notified when things go south.
How to track conversion rate
Are you interested in measuring the conversion rate of visitors landing on a specific page? Maybe what you want is to count specific actions on your website (such as
NewsletterSignup). How you track conversation rate depends on what your specific goals are.
Tracking custom events is useful for measuring the conversion rate of actions on your website. For example signups, downloads, clicks on call-to-action banners are some of the things you can track with custom events.
Some analytics software also lets you track the conversion rate of specific pages, including being able to compare metrics over time. For example, you can compare the conversion rate of your sign page for visitors from Google Search vs those coming from a newsletter.
Start using privacy-first analytics for free
Panelbear gives you real-time insights into your website's traffic, without tracking cookies or tracking personal data. It’s a simple and fast alternative to popular analytics tools such as Google Analytics, and Matomo.
No need to spend weeks trying to figure out how to configure your website analytics for privacy. Panelbear respects your visitor's privacy out of the box. It is cookie-free, and anonymizes personal data such as IP addresses - zero configuration required. This gives you simplified privacy compliance.
We’re in the business of privacy-friendly analytics, and are 100% customer funded. However, to make it as easy as possible to try it out, Panelbear offers free analytics for small websites. That means if your website has less than 5,000 page views per month, you can add analytics to your personal blog, or hobby site for free - no strings attached.