Understanding Your Analytics Reports

  • Four Reports

    If you have signed up for analytics reports, all of the web maintainers for your website will get a monthly e-mail with four (yes, four) Google Analytics reports attached: two different types of report, based on two separate analytics profiles.

    The Two Types of Report

    Each report gives you a different look at your website:

    1. Site Report: The site report gives you seven key statistics that apply to your whole website.

    2. Content Analysis: The content analysis gives you detailed information about each page of your website.

    The Two Profiles

    A profile is the Google Analytics term for a particular view of a website’s analytics. Your reports use two profiles:

    1. All Visits: This profile shows all traffic to your site.

    2. External Only: This profile shows only traffic that originates from outside IUP’s computer network.

    Note that all four of these reports only count traffic on the production server. That is, traffic on the staging server is not counted. This allows you to build your site without worrying that you are affecting your analytics.

    What Should I Be Looking For?

    What you are looking for depends on your goals. We host a lot of sites with a lot of different goals, but here are two of the most common:

    1. Recruitment: You are looking to find new students, bring people out for an event, or generally get them more interested in you. Your visitors come to your site to learn more about you. (This is a primary goal for most academic departments.)

    2. Services: You offer some sort of service, probably to current students, faculty, and/or staff. Your visitors come to your site to get something done: for instance, to find out what their graduation requirements are, how to apply for financial aid, or to get help connecting to the wireless network. (This is a primary goal for many of our support offices, but a strong secondary goal for many academic departments, too.)

    If your goal is recruitment purposes, you should be looking to see lots of new, external visitors who stick around for a while and eventually take the next step toward becoming a student (downloading an application, contacting you, registering, applying, etc.).

    If your goal is to offer a service, you’ll be looking for fewer new visitors and shorter visit lengths. You want your visitors to come, get what they are looking for, and move on, so the shorter their visits, the more satisfied they will be.

    How Accurate Are These Numbers?

    Traffic to a website is surprisingly hard to measure. The measurement approach used by Google Analytics—a method often called JavaScript tagging—is generally seen as the best method we currently have available. But for a variety of technical reasons, we know that not every visit to the website ends up being counted. The chief problems:

    1. Only HTML pages get counted. That means you won’t see any statistics on how many times your PDFs or Microsoft Office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) have been downloaded.

    2. Visits from anyone who has scripting or images turned off won’t be counted.

    3. Reports from Google Analytics sometimes use sampling.

    Keep in mind that every web analytics system will be inaccurate in one way or another. At the moment, the JavaScript tagging approach, despite its limitations, gives us the best measures we can get.

    Moreover, because any under- or over-counting should be more or less consistent from month to month, these reports are quite serviceable for improving your website.

    One additional note: logically, all the numbers on your External Only reports should be less than their counterparts in your All Visits report. We create the External Only report by simply removing any visits that originate within the IUP network.

    In practice, you may sometimes find that the numbers in your External Only report are greater than those in your All Visits report. This seems to be due to issues with the use of sampled data for some reports.

    Next Steps

    Take a look at your reports, then head over to our in-depth look at your site reports and your content analysis.