Google Analytics Guide: How To Understand Reports & Explain To Your Clients

Google Analytics Guide: How To Understand Reports & Explain To Your Clients

If you are in advertising and want to be a marketing guru for your clients, you need to have a basic understanding of Google Analytics. One way to learn it is through Google’s free online classes. It’s fairly straightforward, and you can go at your own pace. If you decide to do that – great, but in the meantime, what we’ve put together below is a quick tutorial on four reports that all advertising professionals should be able to pull and explain to their clients, as well as some answers to questions you may get about Google Analytics.

REPORT #1: Audience Overview Report.

This report gives you basic information about a website’s performance and traffic. You can navigate to this report by logging in to Google Analytics which you access by first logging into the Google account associated with the Google Analytics account. Either the advertiser gives you access to their account email and password or they can make you a “read only” admin on the account. Then you go to If you have access to more than one advertiser’s account be sure to select the correct business at the top left of the page.

  1. Click on “AUDIENCE” on the left side column.
  2. Click on “OVERVIEW.”
  3. Select the date range on the top right that you want to pull data from. Make it one year to get a look at monthly traffic patterns. If you want to look at two date ranges, click the “compare to” option in the drop-down menu.
  4. Click on “MONTH” on the right side of the graph (or hourly, day, week).
  5. Click on “USERS” in the drop-down box above the graph.

When looking at the graph line you can hover over each month’s (day, week, hour) blue dot and a white box will appear over the blue dot which shows you the exact number of users for that month.

Below the user’s graph are some key stats:

USERS are how many unique visitors came to the website over the time period you selected. 

NEW USERS are the number of visitors who came to the website for the first time.

SESSIONS are how many times the website was visited over the time period you selected, from both new and returning visitors. A Session times out after 30 minutes and a new Session begins.  Any time a visitor lands on the website, Google Analytics attempts to assign the person a client ID, that’s stored in a cookie on the User’s browser.  If that person comes back later to the website, another Session is recorded but not another User.  So, Users could record multiple Sessions on a website if they continue to come back and browse.

NUMBER OF SESSIONS PER USER is the average number of Sessions initiated by a User.

PAGEVIEWS are the total number of pages viewed on your website during the selected time period.  Ideally you want multiple Pageviews per Session.

PAGES/SESSION is the average number of pages viewed during a Session.  Ideally this should be a 2 or higher for most types of businesses.

AVERAGE SESSION DURATION is the average amount of time a person is on your website – obviously the longer it is typically the more engaged the person is.

BOUNCE RATE is how many people looked at one page and left.  (For more info on what is a good bounce rate go to

% OF NEW SESSIONS is what percentage of visitors were new versus returning visitors and is expressed as a pie chart.

If you are reviewing this report with a client, you would want to look at are overall Users up during the campaign versus before the campaign and year over year?  Is there a healthy percentage of New Visitors?  Has Pages/Session gone up indicating people are engaging in multiple pages on the website?  Is Average Session Duration up? 

Let’s look at a real-life example.  This is for an advertiser who was running a campaign October 14-January 13.  We pulled the Audience Overview Report and set the date frame to do a comparison to that same time period to the year before:

Users are up 39%, New Users and Sessions are up as well.  Great, that would indicate more people are coming to the website.  But are they engaging the way we would want?  Not really.  Number Of Sessions Per User is down, as are Pages Per Session and Average Session Duration.  All those point to people not finding what they are looking for and leaving the website too soon.  Bounce Rate is up meaning more people are looking at one page of the website only, and then leaving (“bouncing”).  For a retail client, this is not what you would want to see. 

Your recommendations to the advertiser might be to look at their website’s click through landing page and home page to make sure that the information customers are most likely to be looking for is there and easy to find.  You should also check the website’s loading speed.  Long load times can lead to people dumping out of a website in frustration.  (That report in Google Analytics can be found under the heading on the left column and clicking on BEHAVIOR>SITE SPEED>OVERVIEW.)

REPORT #2:  Landing Pages Report.

This report gives you information about a specific webpage’s traffic.  You can use this report to show how traffic has (hopefully) increased to the click through landing page (where visitors land if they are coming from clicking on an ad – which may or may not be the homepage depending on the campaign).  To navigate to this report:

1. Click on “BEHAVIOR” on the left side column.

2. Click on “SITE CONTENT”.

3. Click on “LANDING PAGES”.

Set the date time period on the top right of the page to do a comparison to that same time period to the year before.

When you look at what is listed on the report under the “Landing Page” column you will see a forward slash “/” in the first heading.  That always represents the homepage of a website.  Then you would look for the URL (webpage address) of the click through landing page you are using for the campaign.  The URLs will not show the entire URL, just the part that comes after the .com in the address.

In the report above we have kept the date comparison so we can see how the campaign compares to the same time period the year before.  We are landing people on the /events/weddings/ page of the client’s website.  You can see traffic is up 83% over the previous year.  New Sessions and New Users are up also which is a great sign.  Bounce rate is up slightly but not a lot.  Pages / Session and Average Session Duration are slightly down but not a worrisome amount.  It could be that people are finding what they are looking for on that landing page.  The next thing I would do is talk to them about is if they are seeing conversions from that page.  If so, then all is good.  If not, then they might need to tweak their content or the lead form on that page.

REPORT #3:  Benchmarking Report.

You can use this report to show how an advertiser’s traffic compares to other’s in the same type of business, and where that traffic to the advertiser’s website is coming from – called “channels” (i.e., search engines, typing in the website address specifically, coming from another website, etc.).

The Benchmarking Reports use anonymous data from other websites. (This is not available for health care related websites due to privacy guidelines.)  These reports allow you to see how your marketing is performing against the aggregated data of other similar websites.  The percentages show advertisers how their website is trending above or below the averages in receiving visitors from certain “channels.”  The channels that Google Analytics reports by default are:

Organic Search – a visitor who came to your website from a search engine.

Display – a visitor who comes to your website from clicking on a display ad.

Other – a visitor that Google Analytics can’t determine where they came from before landing on the website.

Direct – a visitor that typed in your website’s URL into his browser. (Also, mobile app traffic can be lumped in here as well)

Social – a visitor that came from a social platform (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, etc.) to your website.

Referral – a visitor that came to your website from another website.

Email – a visitor that came to your website from clicking a link in an email.

Paid Search – a visitor that came to your website from clicking on a paid search engine ad (i.e. Google Pay Per Click ads.)

The use of colors helps you to identify over-performing or under-performing channels versus the benchmark. Green means the website is doing better than average and red indicates potential areas of improvements. The stronger the color, the wider the difference compared to the benchmark.

To navigate to this report:

1. Click on “AUDIENCE” on the left side column.

2. Click on “BENCHMARKING”.

3. Click on “CHANNELS”.

4. Select the type of business this is by clicking the drop-down menu next to “INDUSTRY VERTICAL.”

5. Select the state where this business is.

6. Select the average daily sessions that this website receives (remember you can get that info by going to the AUDIENCE OVERVIEW report and selecting to view a time period by day).

For this report you typically would set the date range to show a year’s worth of data (no need to set the comparison dates).

How should you use this Benchmarking Report?  If you pull this report BEFORE a campaign it can help you show a potential advertiser why he or she needs to do an ad campaign with you.  In the report above we can see that this business is well below the average for their industry in attracting people to their website, in most of the channel categories.  They are relying almost exclusively on Organic Search traffic.  You can use this report after a campaign has been running to show an advertiser increases in their benchmark status.

REPORT #4:  Channels Report. 

Similar to a Benchmarking Report but this will just show you the different traffic channels (how traffic to the website is being acquired) and you can compare the dates of the campaign to a time period previously for comparison.

To navigate to this report:

1. Click on “ACQUISITION” on the left side column.

2. Click on “ALL TRAFFIC”.

3. Click on “CHANNELS”.

Set the date time period on the top right of the page to do a comparison to that same time period to the year before.

What you are looking for is to see if traffic is up or down from each of the major channels (Organic, Referral, Social).  If you have been running an ad campaign for the client you should see increases in at least one of these channels, depending on the type of ad campaign.  For example, if you are running a digital display campaign you would see an increase in Referral traffic (people who come to the website from another website (i.e. clicking on an ad) and possibly Organic Search too from the increased branding and awareness your ad campaign is building.  If you were running a Facebook campaign, then you should see an increase under Social.  This report is a great way to demonstrate that you are delivering return on investment for an advertiser.

Why Doesn’t My Monthly Digital Ad Campaign Report Match My Google Analytics Report?

This is a question a digital advertiser may ask.  The reports an advertiser gets from the digital company (Vici) running the ads will NEVER match the reports from Google Analytics.  Why?  Because the reports we give you are reporting clicks on the ad as recorded by the ad exchanges’ servers.  Google Analytics doesn’t record a visit until a whole lot of things happen first.  Here’s a look at what has to happen for Google Analytics to be able to track a visit (Session) from someone who clicks on an ad and comes to the advertiser’s website:

As Google explains in this article:  When you compare Clicks from ads and Sessions from Google Analytics side by side, you might expect that the numbers match, however, they often don’t. There are a number of reasons why this can occur.

How Clicks Are Recorded:

When someone clicks on an ad, the click is immediately recorded in the exchange server logs which is what is reported in a digital company’s Monthly Reports.


How Sessions In Google Analytics Are Recorded:

For Google Analytics to be able to record a session, several things happen (as illustrated in the graphic above):

1. When the click takes place, the browser is pointed to the advertiser’s landing page.  Then,

2. The advertiser’s website then responds to this request and starts to transfer data from the web server to the user’s browser. Then,

3. When the browser starts to download the landing page, there may be a request for several files at the same time, including JavaScript, CSS, images, video, audio, etc. The requests for JavaScript include the Analytics tracking code.  Then,

4. The JavaScript file (ga.js or analytics.js) must first be downloaded and interpreted by the user’s browser.  Then,

5. The user’s browser/device and security settings must support:

  • Cookies
  • JavaScript
  • Images

(If any of the above are disabled, Analytics may not be able to record a session.) Then,

6. The browser sends a separate request to, the Analytics servers. Then,

7. Finally, a session is recorded in Google Analytics.

What If An Advertiser Just Wants To See Traffic From A Specific Ad Campaign?  UTM Codes.

If an advertiser wants to isolate specific traffic to his/her website from a specific digital ad campaign, then UTM codes have to be used.  A UTM code is a piece of code that is placed at the end of a click through landing page URL to track the campaign name, medium, and source. Using these codes, Google Analytics software can determine where traffic is coming from.

For example, an advertiser might want the click through landing page for an ad to be landing people on their frequent shopper signup page at:

To track what channels are sending people to that specific page you or the advertiser would add a UTM code (in red italics below) to give to us as the click through landing page and it would change it to look like this:

(To learn about how to create UTM codes read this blog post.)

If the advertiser is using UTM codes, that report will look like this:

To navigate to this report:

1. Click on “ACQUISITION” on the left side column.

2. Click on “CAMPAIGNS”.

3. Click on “ALL CAMPAIGNS”.

Whatever naming you or the advertiser has inserted into the UTM code will appear under the “CAMPAIGN” column heading.  As you can see above, this advertiser is doing two sets of Native Ad Creative, Pay Per Click ads, Facebook ads, email, and tracking visits to their blog.

You Should Explain To The Advertiser That There Are Also Limitations With Using UTM Codes:

Even using UTM codes, not all traffic that the digital ad campaign drives to a client’s website will appear in their Google Analytics.  Why?

1. Users might have set their browser preferences in ways that prevent Analytics used on websites from collecting data. 

2. Google uses bots to audit and click on ads (mostly in their hubs, like California) to test ads before they go live. UTM codes pick up on this, and often you get several UTM clicks from this state throughout the duration of the campaign, with a 100% bounce rate and zero seconds on the site. Sunnyvale and San Francisco are the two biggest auditing sites, which you can see in your Google Analytics Channels report.

3. If a user comes to your site from an ad, and then leaves the landing page before the tracking code executes, then the code is never passed to the Google servers, and that click is not registered as a Session.  This is called Server Latency and may be an issue with the advertiser’s website loading speed.

4. Google Analytics also has limitations when it comes to correctly “sourcing” where traffic comes from.  For example, Google Analytics will list mobile app traffic (traffic coming from ads people see on their mobile devices) as DIRECT rather than REFERRAL.

5. Some browsers give users the option to disable images that are requested from domains other than the current page. Disabling such images will prevent data from being sent to Google Analytics.

6. A visitor may click on your ad, but then change his/her mind and prevent the page from fully loading. This can happen by clicking to another page or by pressing the browser’s stop or back buttons.  In this case, the UTM code doesn’t fire and Google Analytics doesn’t register a visit, but the ad server still counts this as a click.

We hope this Google Analytics Guide helps you feel more comfortable in using Google Analytics.  Just follow the steps outlined above and those four reports will give you a wealth of data and insight into a website’s performance and how an advertising campaign is impacting it and make you look like the Marketing Guru you are!

Understanding Google Analytics reports sets you apart from your competition. And that’s why all Vici Trainers are Google Analytics Certified!

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