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4 deceptive Google Analytics metrics that fool retail marketers

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In the world of web analytics, not all metrics are created equal. Some can stand alone on their own, giving you valuable insights into business performance at a glance. We call these metrics Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and depend on these metrics to guide our marketing efforts, especially as we head into the busy holiday season.

For retailers, popular KPIs include Conversion Rate, Average Order Value and Customer Lifetime Value.

KPIs only make up a tiny percentage of the overall metrics available to marketers. Anyone who has logged into Google Analytics can tell you that there are seemingly infinite reports, metrics and dimensions available by default. While many of these can support your KPIs, there are a few “usual suspects” that always seem to confuse marketers and steer the ship in the wrong direction.

Bounce rate

Bounce rate is a fairly simple metric. It measures the percentage of website visitors who view a single page on your website before leaving, or “bouncing.” Marketers tend to obsess over their website’s bounce rate, constantly questioning if it aligns with bounce rates of similar stores in their industry.

But here’s the thing: There is no standard bounce rate. Differences in design, conversion paths, user experience and page type can wildly influence bounce rate on your website. For example, imagine a visitor searches for “how to clean my Lenovo PC” and lands on a support article on your site that answers that exact question. The user will be highly satisfied and will likely bounce after finishing the page. This will increase bounce rate, while also improving user satisfaction.

Pro tip: Use bounce rate to optimize conversions on individual landing pages. Drill into your landing page reports to see how data differs for devices, sources and user type. This will define what a poorly performing page is for your website and allow you to A/B test more effectively.

Average session duration

Average session duration is a confusing metric, because it doesn’t measure the total time of a website visit. Instead, it measures the time spent between an initial page load and subsequent page loads or event triggers. Imagine the following sequence:

  1. User lands on home page and stays for one minute.
  2. User clicks to product #1 page and stays for one minute.
  3. User clicks to product #2 page and stays for one minute.
  4. User exits the site from product page #2.

In this example, the total time spent on the site is three minutes. However, average session duration will only show as two minutes, since there is no “ending” timestamp when the user exits on product page #2. Therefore, only the first two minutes are logged.

This is where our old friend, bounce rate, comes to ruin the party. Unless custom events are set up in Analytics, a bounce will typically log a time on site of 0:00, no matter how long the user actually spends on your site during that single page session. This can greatly skew the average session duration metric, especially on sites with high bounce rate variance per page.

Pro tip: Track scroll rate, button clicks, video plays, PDF downloads and other on-page interactions with event tracking to get a more accurate understanding of session durations. This metric can also be used as a relative metric on a per-page basis when A/B testing, similar to bounce rate.

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