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Key performance indicators (KPIs) for Google Analytics

By Drew Strojny on November 20, 2014

Google Analytics offers a multitude of data-related features for websites serving nearly any imaginable purpose and targeting all kinds of audiences. And best of all, you can start using it today, free of charge!

There are numerous helpful tutorials on the Web that show you how to use the different tools in Google Analytics. At the end of this post, we’ll direct you to some Google Analytics-related articles that we think are relevant and practical for WordPress users.

But before you start perusing the pie charts, line graphs, and spreadsheets available in the application’s UI, it’s important to figure out what to monitor. Otherwise, you could face information overload – not to mention a lot of time tracking metrics that have little to do with your goals.

Identify your KPIs

In the age of share counts, search result rankings, and visitor numbers, it’s tempting to just track the metrics everyone seems to be talking about. The thing is, what it makes sense for others to monitor on their websites won’t necessarily make sense for you, too.

In short, you should determine what kind of performance-related data matter for your website. These data are your key performance indicators, or KPIs.

KPIs are nothing new. A Ford Motor Company assembly line in 1920 would have considered the number of automobiles produced per week to be an important KPI. The methods used to track this KPI would be primitive by today’s standards, but a KPI is a KPI!

Small organizations and bloggers using WordPress should keep the following ideas in mind when identifying website-related KPIs:

  • KPIs should align with business goals: You might monitor other KPIs offline – the number of business cards traded at an industry event, for instance – but just as those KPIs correspond to a business goal, the KPIs related to your website should align with a specific action you want website visitors to take. In many cases, this will be a revenue-impacting action, like contacting you for a quote if you’re a service provider.
  • KPIs should correspond to trackable metrics in Google Analytics: Google Analytics is really just a toolkit that exists to help you monitor KPIs and make evidence-based publishing decisions. When you know what your KPIs are, you should connect each one to a specific tool or tool in Google Analytics.

Let’s consider two examples of business websites with vastly different performance goals and, thus, vastly different KPIs. By seeing some “KPI identification” in action, you’ll be in a better position to tease out KPIs for your own website.

Handwoven e-commerce

Imagine you operate a small business selling handwoven scarves online. Your primary business goal for the website is clear: you want customers to add scarves to a virtual shopping cart and complete a checkout process.

That being the case, some potentially useful KPIs might include:

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  • Completed transactions: This KPI refers to the percentage of visitors who actually purchase something.
  • Incomplete transactions: Some visitors might add items to their cart and not go through with the purchase process; you will want to take note of this when it happens.
  • Number of pages visited before completing a transaction: Now we’re getting more granular! If you’re trying to gain a better understanding of how shoppers use your website, this KPI could prove highly useful. There really are few limits to the kinds of KPIs you might want to track.

Notice how these KPIs are specific to the business goals of your hypothetical e-commerce website. They aren’t the same thing as Google Analytics metrics (more on that in a bit); on the contrary, they relate to the business owner’s sales objectives.

One of them also correlates to a negative outcome – users adding items to their carts but not following through with a purchase. Even undesirable outcomes can be important KPIs. Understanding your scarf buyers also means learning why some of them don’t buy your scarves – and at what point in the sales process you’re losing them.

“Snapping” up photography clients

Now consider a website for a freelance photographer, the KPIs for which could also prove useful to other professional service providers.

The main objective for the photographer is getting people to contact her via an online form. That being the case, here are some potential KPIs she may want to track:

  • Contact forms submitted: The percentage of visitors who fill out and submit a contact form is one of the most important (and perhaps most obvious) KPIs for this user.
  • Bounce rate: Your bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors who arrive on a page and leave without viewing anything else. Having a high bounce rate isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s certainly not ideal if a high percentage of users bounce from a page you want to use for lead generation!
  • Traffic sources that lead to submitted contact forms: Once again, this KPI is far more granular than the first one. But it’s through KPIs like these that Google Analytics can prove most useful (since you can use the application to monitor traffic sources).

The purpose of these examples is to demonstrate how important it is to know why you’re looking at a particular metric. Sure, Google Analytics shows where your traffic comes from, but how do you connect that data to business goals? Identifying relevant KPIs from the get-go will help you put Google Analytics data in perspective.

Using Google Analytics to track KPIs (and conversions)

After you’ve identified the KPIs you want to monitor, the next step is figuring out which tools in Google Analytics you should use to keep track of them. Continuing with our scarf store and photography examples, here’s a rundown of how you might connect your KPIs to specific Google Analytics features:

  • Completed transactions: Goal pages, which can be found within Conversion reporting
  • Incomplete transactions: Funnels, which you can set up when you set up Goal pages; funnels help you trace the path to a goal. In the case of an incomplete transaction, you would monitor the percentage of users that begin the checkout process only to abandon it before following through with a purchase.
  • Number of pages visited before completing a transaction: Goals and funnels
  • Contact forms submitted: Goal pages
  • Bounce rate by page: Bounce rate; in this case, an eponymous Google Analytics tool
  • Traffic sources that lead to submitted contact forms: Funnels and traffic acquisition reports

One analytics-related vocabulary word we’ve avoided until this point is “conversion.” Why? Because we don’t want you to confuse conversions with KPIs!

Your conversion rate refers to the percentage of users who complete the action you want them to complete. For example, if you want them to fill out a contact form, a conversion would occur any time a user reached the contact form’s “success” page. Similarly, the percentage of users who sign up for your email list (assuming that’s something you want them to do) would yield a conversion rate of a different sort.

“Conversions” and “KPIs” are often discussed in the same breath. While conversions often are KPIs – and can be some of the most important ones – KPIs encompass much more than just conversions.

As mentioned before, the percentage of visitors who don’t convert can be just as significant a KPI as the percentage of those who do!

Additional resources

Our goal for this post was to show you the “why” of Google Analytics. Identifying KPIs that relate to specific business goals is key to getting the most value out of the tools Google Analytics offers – and it’s an easy first step to forget.

Ultimately, knowing what your KPIs are will help you discover which metrics to monitor. Think of KPI identification as a Google Analytics prerequisite that helps you focus on the specific data points that matter to your business!

That said, Google Analytics is an intricate, multifaceted toolkit with a lot of features and functionality. There’s no single how-to guide that can tell you everything you need to know, but we think the following resources are a great start for beginners:

Google Analytics can be extremely useful for WordPress users. But like any toolkit, it’s only as effective as the person using the tools, which means understanding how you’re using them – and why.

Start by identifying your KPIs. Then, when you know what you’re looking for, feel free to go nuts with Google Analytics!

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