A beginner’s guide to analytics

Running a website without analytics is like trying to navigate a foreign country without a map. You can move around, try to remember where you’ve already been, but you’ll never really know if you’re getting closer or farther away from your destination. Not all who wander are lost — but some are.

Analytics give you the ability to determine where you are and chart a course to where you want to go, providing plenty of helpful feedback along the way. They’ll tell you how many people your site attracts every month, where they’re coming from, what they like, what they don’t like, and how they behave. For data heads, it’s fascinating stuff. For everyone else, it can be a bit bewildering.

Google Analytics (or any of the other analytics suites available to WordPress users, for that matter) is an incredibly powerful tool, packed with advanced features that the average site admin frankly doesn’t need. Today we’re bringing you our Cliffsnotes guide to site analytics. If your eyes glaze over at the sight of a scatterplot or histogram, this post will familiarize you with all the features you need to know, without getting bogged down by baffling figures and graphs.

Site traffic

And the award for most obsessed-over site metric goes to… traffic! No surprises here, as traffic is also one of the most important metrics to watch. A high-traffic site is a happy site.

Total visitor numbers are a good indication of whether your site is growing, plateauing, or declining. They can tell you when you’ve done something right (e.g. when a spike corresponds with a bit of media coverage) or wrong (when a downturn parallels a change in content). However, traffic numbers can only tell you so much. You shouldn’t try to establish causality where there is none.

Traffic sources

As you might have gathered from the name, the traffic source metric tells you where your visitors are coming from. Google Analytics breaks traffic sources down into four broad categories: organic (search engines), referral (another site), direct (people typing your domain name into their browser), and social (social media).

You can use this information to determine the most effective ways of reaching your audience. It can also show missed opportunities. For example, if all your traffic is coming from Google and other sites, you might be overlooking social media as a traffic source. Try linking your site to a Facebook page and see if those numbers start to climb.

Top pages

No matter what kind of site you run and how much traffic it gets, you’ll find that the vast majority of visitors hit a small minority of pages. You can see your most popular pages by navigating over to the Behaviour section, where you’ll find the total number of page views for each page, as well as the percentage of traffic each receives.

The value of this data is self-evident: when you know what elicits the best response from your audience, you can produce more of it. If you’re starting to feel a little more comfortable with analytics and want to dig deeper into how users are engaging with your site, check out the Behaviour Flow Report. It’s such a pretty thing.

Bounce rate

We wrote a whole post on bounce rates a couple of weeks ago, but it bears repeating that monitoring your bounce rate and working to improve it will pay dividends in terms of visitor engagement, satisfaction, and, ultimately, conversion.

Unfortunately, bounce rates don’t tell you why visitors are bouncing or sticking around — you’ll have to do some qualitative research to find that out. Slow load times, unresponsive design and bad navigation are all common culprits, so if you can turn those around, you should be on your way to keeping your bounce rate down and your time on page up.

Conversion rate

When people hear “conversion,” they most often think of revenue — but that’s not all the term refers to. Depending on the type of site you run, a conversion could be a new subscriber, social share, product download, or any number of things. Maybe the best definition of conversion is something that’s good for you and hard to achieve — a measurable action by a visitor that benefits your business. Tracking and increasing conversions should be among your primary objectives.

To get started with conversion tracking, you need to set some goals. Google Analytics simplified the process with their goal templates tailored to businesses within specific industries, but you can also set custom goals. After implementing these, you can begin analyzing performance data across various visitor segments. Examine the path visitors took to complete the conversion, and see if you can replicate that in other sections of your site.


By now, you should have a basic understanding of how analytics work. If used smartly, they can shed light on what’s happening with your site and help you make better marketing decisions. Of course there are way more analytics tools available than what we’ve covered here, but with these basics under your belt, you should be off to a great start!

PSA: As of Sept. 29, 2017, you can no longer purchase themes from this website. We will continue to provide limited support, including bug fixes and security updates, until March 31, 2018. Thank you for everything. We'll miss you dearly.