SEO and Analytics

12 Ways to Measure Your Website’s Performance

June 14, 2019
By Pam Berg

Every business should have a website. And every business site should be doing serious work to support your goals! If you’ve got a new website but can’t tell if it’s doing its job, we’ve got your back. Let’s look at the essential KPIs to measure website performance.

Why Is It Important to Measure Your Website?

Just like regular checkups with the doctor, you should analyze your website’s health and performance to make sure it’s doing everything you had hoped and dreamed of. A website that’s launched and ignored can quickly become less of an asset, and more of a problem.

Think about the last time you visited a site that was totally unhelpful, or gave you such a poor impression that you exited without bothering to look at any content. Are you going to visit that site again? Heck no. Problems with SEO, user experience, and content quality can reflect badly on your brand. They can leak into reviews, cost you sales, and affect your word-of-mouth reputation.

That’s why I recommend setting up and regularly checking your own reports to measure website performance. You can use the default dashboard views in Google Analytics, or customize a visual tool like DashThis to pull data from multiple sources.

What Are Good Website Goals?

In order to measure how your website performs, you first have to define exactly what you want it to do. That way all of your data has a purpose. What are the profitable actions a visitor could take on your website? Those are likely your goals.

There are several general KPIs that are applicable to most websites. Everyone wants their site to deliver a smooth, fast user experience, right?

These are common website goals:

  • Increase traffic (total, and per source)
  • Increase dwell time (time on page)
  • Fast page load times
  • Attract new customers
  • Earn links
  • Rank well in the search results

The unique KPIs you use to measure website performance will depend on your business.

Technology companies often have a ‘book a demo’ or ‘free trial’ offering, so the goal would be to have potential customers complete that action. Email sign-ups and gated content downloads are great goals for businesses focused on lead generation. Clicking to get directions on your Contact page would be a solid goal for a brick-and-mortar business.

Now let’s talk about how to measure these and other performance goals!

12 Ways to Measure Website Performance

Before you get started, we recommend that you have at least two full months of data in Google Analytics or your other tracking tool of choice.

Tons of factors can cause spikes and drops in data, from campaigns and bot traffic to Google algorithm updates, holidays or seasonal browsing behaviour, and global issues. That’s why it’s ideal to compare year-over-year data: data from July of one year will compare better to July of the previous year than it would to June. But if your new site doesn’t yet have a year of data, month-over-month numbers are your next best bet to look for growth and declines.

You’ve got your goals, you’ve got your data – now let’s get started!

Measure Website Performance Using Google Analytics

These are the easiest, FREE ways to analyze your website using nothing more than the default Google Analytics dashboards that open when you log in. They’re a great way to quickly check up on basic traffic and engagement metrics.

1. Total Website Traffic

More traffic is almost always a top goal. More website visitors means more opportunities for conversions! You can quickly look at your website’s total traffic in Google Analytics under Audience > Overview. Simply select a date range and comparison (previous period or previous year), and you can see whether there’s been growth or not.

screenshot showing traffic data in Google Analytics

Sessions are the total number of times your site was visited. Users are your unique visitors – some people may have visited two or more times, so these two numbers are usually different.

2. Visitor Engagement

Lots of visitors came to your website, but what did they actually do? For a high-level look at audience engagement, check right beneath the traffic stats found under Audience > Overview.

screenshot showing engagement data in Google Analytics

  • Pageviews are the total number of pages viewed in your chosen date range
  • Pages per session measures the average number of pages a person views during a single session
  • Average session duration measures the length of time people spend looking at your content
  • Bounce rate measures the number of visitors who bounced (exited) without taking an action, and tracks them as having viewed one page for zero seconds; this means they viewed the landing page, and may have scrolled, but didn’t click

Pages per session and session duration include bounced sessions. If you have a bounce rate of 52%, that means 52% of your sessions were logged as zero seconds and one page viewed – which factors into your averages and drags them down. Google Analytics is sneaky like that.

3. Traffic By Source

Not all traffic is good traffic. For example, nobody wants more visits from spam and bots. And you may have experienced a total traffic increase that’s entirely due to an ad campaign while search traffic declined – which speaks to your SEO. That’s why it’s important to look at traffic by source, which you can find under Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium.

screenshot showing traffic broken out by source in Google Analytics

Here you’ll find traffic broken out by each search engine (Google’s not the only one!), social network, referral source, ad type, and more. You can view engagement data for each source. And if you have goals configured, you can see which sources are the highest and lowest converting.

4. New vs. Returning Visitors

If your business is still building its reputation, you’re likely focused on reach and awareness. Acquiring new website visitors would be a major goal. But if your site features lots of resources such as blog posts, white papers, and downloads, having a healthy ratio of repeat visitors would indicate success.

You can find this valuable data under Audience > Behaviour > New vs. Returning.

screenshot showing new vs returning visitor data in Google Analytics

Repeat visitors are also a positive for B2B websites, because it typically takes more than one viewing of your services, case studies, and pricing to reach a B2B buying decision.

5. Dwell Time

Remember how I told you that Google Analytics lumps bounced sessions into your average session duration? If you were wondering how you’re supposed to figure out how much time people actually spent looking at your content – the answer is dwell time, aka average time on page.

The average time on page doesn’t include bounced sessions. So although 52% of your website traffic is still missing from this data (if your bounce rate was 52%), it’s significantly more valuable than the average session duration because all those zero-second sessions aren’t messing with your numbers.

You can find dwell time for each of your site’s pages under Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages.

screenshot showing dwell time data in google analytics

The ideal dwell time for a blog post or case study would be longer, depending on the length of the text. But for pages that need a speedy user experience, such as a checkout or contact page, you want to see short times.

These numbers still aren’t perfect. If the majority of people bounce after reading your blog post – which is super common – then you still don’t really know how most people engaged with it. But wait…

6. Google Analytics Events

If you want to measure website performance like a boss, you need to track all the actions happening on your site that indicate engagement. Google Analytics can be configured to log these micro-interactions through ‘events.’

An event can be almost anything that indicates your target audience is interested in what you have to offer.

screenshot showing a list of events with data from google analytics

Here’s a shortlist of popular events to track, with links to tutorials on how to configure them using Google Tag Manager:

Another popular event is ‘scroll depth, which tracks how many people scroll down 25-100% of your pages. When paired with your average time on page, this can really help you determine the effectiveness of your content!

screenshot showing scroll depth data in google analytics

Events are reasonably easy to configure once you’ve installed Tag Manager on your site. Don’t worry if at first it takes you several hours to configure one event, it will get easier!

7. Google Analytics Goals

Google Analytics goals are the actual conversions – a sign-up, a purchase, or a form submission. Typically they indicate that a sale was made or a lead was earned, although certain businesses or non-profits might place more value on session durations and content downloads.

Goal completions are a hugely important way to measure website performance, because they give weight to your other data, such as traffic sources or visitors from certain cities. Goals are set up in the Admin panel, and can be viewed under Conversions > Goals > Overview.

screenshot showing conversion (goals) data in Google Analytics

You can configure goals based on any of your events, such as a form submission or button click. Why would you need to set up both events and goals for the same action? Good question!

Events are tracked every time they happen, while goals are tracked per session. If one visitor completes a goal three times during their session, it will only be logged once in Google Analytics. BUT goals are automatically shown in a column beside most data in the default dashboards, displaying totals and conversion rates.

You can also set up destination goals, for which the visitor has viewed a certain page. This is great if you have a ‘thank-you’ page that would only be seen after opting into something. It’s also useful if visiting a certain page of your site indicates a valuable customer.

Another fantastic choice is the funnel goal, which allows you to track steps in a process such as viewing 3 pages in a row while going through your online checkout. This allows you to visit Conversions > Goals > Funnel Visualization and see where customers are dropping off.

8. Site Search

If someone takes the time to search for something specific on your website, they’re closer to conversion than those just casually viewing pages. If your site has a search functionality, you can enable site search tracking under View Settings in the Admin panel.

Site search data helps you gauge both the usefulness of your UX design and the interests of your audience. If people frequently search terms that indicate they can’t find important content, you may need to move it someplace more obvious. And a high search volumes of topics among your blog topics or products indicate areas of interest.

This can be used to influence new content, new products, and even your site design. If you notice that visitors heavily search a certain topic every July, you can make sure to have new content published on that topic, or you can showcase products at the times people are most ready to buy.

Off-Site Ways to Assess Website Performance

Although I could gaze into Google Analytics for days (and I often do), there are lots of other KPIs to measure website performance. Let’s look at the other tools and methods you can use to assess crucial performance components like speed, links, ranking, and value to your audience.

9. Keyword Rankings

Your position in the search results reflects the strengths and weaknesses of your website’s SEO. So it makes sense that you should regularly check to see which queries your site ranks for, and how you’re doing.

There are several powerful SEO tools that you can use to see your keyword rankings, and most will let you see at least some limited results with a free account. At Anvil we use SEMRush to quickly gather keyword data for our site and our clients’ sites.

screenshot showing keyword rankings for a web design agency from SEMRush

You can see the terms for which your pages are already ranking and your position, as well as useful information like how hard it is to rank organically for that keyword. Then you can plan website improvements and new content geared toward increasing your position, or ranking for terms not on your list.

Want to learn more about how to climb those search results? Check out Increase Your Organic Traffic with 10 Easy SEO Strategies!

10. Site Speed

Page load times impact your user experience, and weigh heavily among Google’s ranking factors. A slow-loading page often results in the visitor exiting without even reaching your site, which is bad for business. That’s why you should always look into site speed when you measure your website performance.

This data is available in Google Analytics, but we recommend using a free, handy online tool like Google’s PageSpeed Insights or GTMetrix. These tools don’t just tell you how URLs are performing – they also offer tips to make them faster!

screenshot showing page speed data from GTMetrix

11. Earned Links

We’ve already talked about several ways to measure your content’s quality: dwell time, scroll depth, page ranking for keywords, and engagement within the page (outbound or internal link clicks, video plays). Link building is also a big part of helping your site and its content rank, so links are a great unit of measurement.

Links from other websites share their SEO ‘juice’; Google bots crawl the other site’s links and follow them to your site. The linked text helps Google understand how and why you’re related to the topic discussed on their page, and the link itself helps you build authority. The best links come from super-trustworthy sites like those ending with .edu and .gov, because if they trust you then you’re obviously the real deal.

You can see your links as referral traffic in Google Analytics, under Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals:

screenshot showing referral traffic in google analytics

You can also use an SEO tool like SEMRush to analyze your link profile, remove potentially toxic links from low quality sites, and get ideas for link building campaigns.

screenshot showing link profile overview from SEMRush

12. Social Media and Email Data

Just like checking up on your keyword rankings, you can learn a lot about your content’s quality through social media and email platform data. Although comments and shares can be useful, we’re specifically talking about clicks.

Clicks from shared content through to your website help you measure the relevance and usefulness of the content you’re publishing on your website. You can test custom titles and meta descriptions (social) or headlines and teaser copy (email) to see what earns the most clicks.

Pair that post click or CTR data with Google Analytics data on dwell times and scroll depth, breaking it out by social channel or email campaign and per landing page. Ta-da! You get a clear idea of what your most connected audience cares about. 

We hope this list has helped you start analyzing your website! How you measure its performance will of course depend on your business, and the unique needs of your audience. The most important KPIs will be the ones that reflect your business goals.

Pam Berg

Pam has backgrounds in journalism, computer forensics, and public libraries, which add up to the perfect mindset for digital strategy. She's been a professional content writer for over 20 years, and working with clients in SEO and analytics for 8 years. Her Instagram feed is equal parts horses, waffles, and drag performers.

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