When you’re starting out, Google Analytics can seem like a mass of impenetrable graphs and numbers. What are the reports telling you about the performance of your site? What does good performance look like? Here are some benchmarks from a range of government sites that can help you find out whether:
loads of people are exiting your home page without exploring your site further
you’re getting good mobile traffic
people are using your site-search heavily, possibly because they’re not finding what they need
The percentages below are based on averages from a sample of ten sites. They’re not conclusive success and failure indicators, but when I’m looking at a new site they help me understand how it’s working. If you’re getting numbers that are significantly different you may want to do some detective work to find out why.
Note: if I used commercial sites they would have different benchmarks (e.g. mobile use would probably be higher). But it’s still useful to check these GA reports, as the usability concepts are the same.
Over 50% bounce on the home page
70% of sample sites have home page bounce rates under 50%
Your home page is your shop front - it’s usually designed to promote your services and entice people to explore. If people are landing on your home page and leaving without looking at anything else (bouncing), it could be a problem.
Sometimes users can get what they need from the home page. For example they might want to visit your office or call you, and are delighted when they find the contact details there. But if you’re a government agency you’ll probably want your website to do some of the customer-service work, and prevent unnecessary contact. In which case you’ll want your home page bounce rate to be as low as possible.
Check the All pages report, and look at the bounce rate for the home page:
Look at what people searching for on the home page in the Search pages report. Search terms reveal what people want from your website. For example if there are lots of searches for an application form, you can prioritise it on the home page so people don’t need to search or exit your site without finding it.
Mobile traffic under 33%
It’s easy to forget about mobile usability when you’re working away on your desktop. Our sample sites receive an average of a third of their traffic from mobile, and you can often increase your mobile audience by providing a responsive site that meets their needs. Some sites won’t get much mobile traffic - for example if you provide complex data sets people will probably use these on their desktop computer. But in general it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy - Google is more likely to rank you highly in mobile search results if you provide a good experience for mobile users.
If your mobile traffic is low, and you think you should be reaching more of this audience, create an advanced segment in Google Analytics for mobile visitors to understand how they use your site. Put yourself in the shoes of the user and see where they’re landing and what they’re clicking on (or not clicking on), and compare them with your desktop audience.
On-site search use above 6%
One sample site has over 6% search rate
If people search on your site it can mean that they haven’t found what they’re looking for fast enough - searching is often a last resort. Again, this depends on your site. If you’re a big government agency your users might happily rely on search. But for smaller sites, high search use can indicate that:
the right pages aren’t appearing in Google
your information architecture isn’t user-friendly
you don’t hold the information that people expect from you
Look at the Search terms report to see what people are searching for. Can you cover these user needs better in your content? Are the results pages for these searches helpful? Use the Search pages report to go deeper - you can see what people are searching for on each of your website pages.
Find measures that work for you
Most success or failure measures are dependant on your content, audience and goals, and it’s a good idea to get your team together to work out what success means for you. Then you can track your goals and work out why changes occur. These are trends that I find useful to investigate when I’m reviewing a new site, and hopefully they’ll tell you something about your own audience.