If you own or manage a website, at some point you'll want to know where your visitors come from.  Perhaps you're trying to monetize your website, or just increase traffic to improve your ranking.  Maybe you're ultra-competitive against yourself, and are trying different methods of driving traffic to your website.  Learning how to track website traffic is the 'gateway drug.'  Next you'll want to increase web traffic, and then who knows what you'll try next!?

Let's get started.

The first step is to set up Google Analytics for your website.  This is fairly simple, as the folks at the big G have made it easy on purpose.  It's free to set up too.  Just visit www.google.com/analytics to setup access to the free service.  If you need help getting your account setup, start with this article on setting up Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is easier than you think.

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Once your account is set up and you have added your account(s), you'll need to wait a day or two before you see any traffic on your website.  Even though Google has likely been tracking traffic to your site since you launched it, it's only been using it for its internal purposes and hasn't been keeping the detailed records that you want to see.  Depending on your level of traffic, you should see traffic within a day or two.  If your site is small or you just launched it, send the site some traffic by asking friends and family to visit it and promise them something in return (a free latte next time you get together works for me!)

Once you have some visitors to your website, you can then begin your training as a jedi website tracker.  Here's what to look for.

Site Traffic Screenshot Number OneCredit: authorThe first thing you'll see in the middle of your screen will be a graph of the last 30 days' traffic to your website.  This is a very high-level view of your traffic, but it's very useful data.  

Visits  This section tells you how many total visits you've had to any page on your website in the term Visits. The higher the number here, the better.

Unique Visitors  A lot of people find the next term confusing, but it's really simple.  When someone visits your website, google registers their IP address (where they are on the Internet).  This visitor, aka 'computer,' counts as one visitor even if they visit your website multiple times throughout the time period displayed.  The same goes for multiple people using the same computer (your kids, for example) to view your website in the same period; it will only count as one 'unique visitor.'  That's the best way G knows how to track traffic to your website at this point.  Again, the higher this number, the better.

Pageviews  Pageviews is how many total pages on your website wer viewed by your visitors during the time period displayed.  So if a visitor visits your homepage, and then clicks on one more page to find out how to contact you, for example, that would count as two pageviews.  Until you have a lot of content on your website that is interlinked, expect this number to stay low.

Pages / Visit is the total number of pageviews divided by the total number of visits to your website during the time period in view.  Depending on your website's purpose, you may want a high ppv or a low ppv.  It just depends.

Avg. Visit Duration is simply how long people stay on your website.  Again, the target number here could be high or low, depending on your website's purpose.  This number is an average of total visits divided by total time spent on your website by all visitors.

Bounce Rate is how many people click off your website after viewing only the page they landed on.  If your website is simply a long sales letter with annoying music and images that don't load, expect a high bounce rate.  But if your website is laid out well, with clearly communicated purpose, you can probably expect a low bounce rate, as long as your traffic knows why they're going to visit your website before they actually visit.

% New Visits is a metric that shows you how much of your site traffic has never been there before.  This can be a little inaccurate, especially if your visitors clear out their browsing history and delete their cookies frequently.  This number can vary greatly depending on what you're doing to drive traffic to your website.

Traffic Sources OverviewCredit: authorTraffic Sources shows you where online visitors to your site came from.  To see this data, click on Traffic Sources on the left menu, and then click on 'Overview.'  

The default display is by Keyword, or what people typed into their browser bar that led them to your site.  This is helpful information, but it's necessary to dig a little deeper if you want to learn how to increase web traffic to your managed domains.

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For a brief look at what search engine your users are using, click on 'Source' under Search Traffic.  Interesting to know, but not very useful, unless you're big into demographics or something.

If your site has been up for a while and you want to know which 'backlinks' are serving you the best, click on 'Source' under Referral Traffic.  This displays which other websites are directing traffic to yours, and how many visitors it sent you during the time period in review.  In the example here, the website venturebeat.com wrote an article about us, and directed a majority of the traffic for the four weeks on display.  It's really awesome when this happens.

Referral Traffic SourceCredit: author

 One last look involves the 'Landing Page' on which visitors 'land' on your website.  The more pages your website has, the more variations that are possible.  Every page on your website could be a landing page, so this could quickly become a large report.  One use of this metric is to track how well an email or promotional campaign works in driving traffic.  

You can test the effectiveness of your email or promotional campaign by setting up a page called yourwebsite.com/checkthisout.  In your email you would include a link to this page (make sure this page hasn't been mentioned anywhere else before, by the way, or this won't be quite as effective at filtering out your latest efforts).  You can then check the site traffic report to see how may of your visitors are landing on that page, which would only be possible through the email link you sent to your subscribers.

That's a primer of how to measure your site traffic using Google Analytics.  Check out these great books for more.  If you have any suggestions or questions, please share below.  I answer all questions!