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Busting Google Analytics engagement myths

In this guest post, Lana Gibson from Lanalytics busts some of the most common myths surrounding analytics while also clarifying how data can help to define success for your website. 

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In the digital analytics world ‘engagement’ is a term that gets bandied around a lot. There’s a common belief that if lots of people spend ages on your site and visit multiple pages it means that they’re totally engaged and having a wonderful time. Well maybe, maybe not. This post questions what common indicators of success - number of users, bounce rate, session duration and pages per session - actually mean for your site.

Number of users

You could be getting millions of users to your site, but if they’re leaving without engaging in a meaningful way the numbers are empty. The trick is to define what you want them to do. Is it to contact you to get closer to purchasing your services? Or if you’re a government site with hundreds of pages it could be that the sheer absence of contacts or on-page searches constitutes success. Context is everything, so make sure you define your goals before defining what engagement means.

People engaging with your content in Google

Alternatively, people who engage with your content might not even reach your site! Some get what they need from Google search results without having to click on a link, see the Govt.nz public holiday dates as an example: 

public holidays results

 It’s similar for businesses who have a Google+ business listing - people can find out how to visit and contact them from Google.  

silverstripe results

To measure this kind of engagement look at how many times your website is viewed in Google results using the Google Search Console, or you’ll get automatic reports if you create a Google+ account for your organisation.  Put yourself in the shoes of your users and Google your services to understand what good engagement means.

Bounce rate

‘Bounces’ are generally considered a problem. They show users who visit just one page of your site and then leave, ‘bouncing’ out. A high bounce rate for a commercial site means that people aren’t clicking through to the shopping cart and purchasing something. 

But a one-page visit might be exactly what your audience wants - to get quickly in and out of your site with everything they need. You might have your contact number on your home page, allowing people to land there and call you right away. Or they might land on a deep-level page and get what they need.

For example on the Govt.nz school holidays page shows holiday dates. People land on that page straight from Google after searching for ‘school holidays’  and generally don’t visit anything else on Govt.nz.  

govt.nz school holidays page

Pages per session and session duration

High pages per session and session duration are the opposite of a high bounce rate. The theory goes that if people are taking the time to click around your site, they must have found value there.

But what if high ‘engagement’ figures mean they’re furiously trying to track down a piece of content - an instruction for example - and can’t find it? We’ve all been in the situation of spending ages blindly clicking around an unintuitive site, hoping to stumble upon what we need in a nest of convoluted titles and mysterious links. Have you ever spent ten minutes looking for something only to gain seven useless downloads and a sore head? 

user error pic

To find out if high engagement = a positive user experience look at the nature of the engagement. Finding out what next steps users take on your site can be useful - if people keep navigating up to the home page or searching it suggests they’re struggling to find what they’re looking for. What pages are people visiting - do they reflect your idea of a good experience or are odd pages popular?

The meaning of bounce rate, pages per session and session duration are dependant on factors such as your goals, the design of your site, your audience needs, and Google. Define your goals and put yourself in the shoes of your users to find out what constitutes success on your site. Work out what success means for you, and let the data tell your individual story.

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Download SilverStripe's top tips to consider when implementing analytics into your website.

About the author
Lana Gibson

Lanalytics works to eliminate the frustration of bad user experience one website at a time, using the power of data. She provides clear audience insights that help people achieve measurable success online.
 
You can contact Lana from her website Lanalytics.

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