Marketing

17 Helpful Google Analytics Custom Dimensions For Analyzing Website Traffic

39 marketers share the most helpful Google Analytics custom dimensions for analyzing their website traffic for greater and more actionable insights,

Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik on January 13, 2020 (last modified on February 19, 2020) • 20 minute read

Google Analytics can be a firehose of information and data. If you aren’t intentional about how you set up your account, you can wind up looking at a bunch of vanity metrics and other “nice-to-haves” that aren’t actionable.  

Setting up custom dimensions allow you to add extra layers of insight into how visitors are interacting with your site. 

In this post, we’ve compiled a list of the 17 most helpful dimensions to filter and analyze your site traffic and campaigns by in Google Analytics, including: 

  1. Source/Medium
  2. Browsing Behavior
  3. Keywords
  4. Session Length
  5. Session Value
  6. Time on Page
  7. Organic Traffic
  8. User Explorer
  9. Bounce Rate
  10. Landing Page
  11. Exit Pages
  12. Conversions
  13. Referral Traffic
  14. Demographics
  15. Custom Demographic Segments
  16. User Logins
  17. Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV)

What’s a custom dimension?

Custom dimensions allow you to add an additional, actionable piece of data to understand better what’s happening on your site.

For example, if you run an eCommerce shop, you might want to add a custom dimension around out of stock products. 

Before deciding what custom dimensions to add to your account, we recommend starting with a bird’s eye view of all of your traffic. 

Editor’s Note: Check out the Google Analytics site traffic overview dashboard template to get a bird’s eye of what’s happening on your website.

Then, create a list of the questions – or metrics – that you most want to know. Here are a few examples.  

  • What’s the average age of people who visit our blog?
  • What’s the most popular location for site visitors? 
  • What are the most common keywords that people search for to find a specific landing page? 

You can use this information to set up the most relevant custom dimensions for your business. 

In addition, once set up, 90% of the people we surveyed check these stats on at least a weekly basis. 

1. Source/medium

Nay Opie of SiteVisibility says, “The most informative one is ‘source/medium’ because it allows you to look at all traffic from a channel, as opposed to relying on the Channel Grouping to be correctly configured and correctly ordered in the channel settings to ensure all traffic sources from a channel are attributed to the channel. The ‘source’ aspect of the dimension allows you to drill down into where the traffic has come from, e.g. how much of your Organic traffic came from Google My Business.”

Harry Makin of Bamboo Nine adds, “There are many great dimensions that can provide you with invaluable insights into your website’s traffic. However, on a day to day basis, I find that the Source/Medium dimension is the first one that I reach for when analyzing the traffic that a website is receiving. Source/Medium allows you to analyze the traffic that is coming to your website based on the Source (the website or origin of your traffic e.g. “Google”), and the Medium ( the category from which the traffic has been driven e.g. Paid Search traffic is shown as “CPC,” Organic Search traffic is shown as “organic”). This allows you to see exactly where your website’s traffic is coming from and analyze if your marketing efforts are performing well or poorly. This particular dimension can be applied like any other Secondary Dimension, or, you can navigate to Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium, where Analytics helpfully provides you with a ready-made report.”

“For me, in the case of ZoomOwl, I am most interested in identifying the source and medium of the traffic,” says Lenin Nair of Zoom Owl. “I am working towards improving the organic traffic of the website. So, I look at the source/medium report (Acquisition>All Traffic>Source/Medium). Also, I want to find the sites that refer traffic to me. This helps me understand which sites are linking to me and being influential in bringing traffic. This helps me in identifying the right areas for future link building. So I look at referral sites also.” 

“While traffic to a website is a great thing, something that’s much more important to understand is exactly where that traffic came from,” says Ron Stefanski of Jobs for Felons Hub. “Because without the sources of traffic, your analytics wouldn’t have anything to analyze. I like to look at this information frequently to see what marketing efforts I implement work and to expand on those in an effort to bring as much traffic as possible to my website.

Libby Fischer of Whetstone Education adds, “When seeing where traffic is coming from, I most often segment by medium. While source will tell you where a referral to your site came from (a search engine or a link from a website), medium allows you to sort by campaign. This helps us understand the effectiveness of our search engine optimization versus other campaigns, like email newsletters, so we know where to focus our marketing efforts in the future.”

Brett Farmiloe of Markitors says, “As an SEO company, we’re consistently using the Source/Medium dimension in Google Analytics. Source/Medium enables us to segment organic traffic. We love comparing this segment to previous periods to help us recognize trends in organic when compared to other methods of traffic. Plus, once the Source/Medium dimension is set, we can also determine which landing pages are driving the most value for our client sites. These insights provide us with critical data to drive decisions and move small businesses forward online.

Frank Spear of RafflePress.com adds, “We use this data to check with our influencers and see which ones are meeting our expectations. Additionally, this is a great opportunity to find mentions of your brand on other websites. 

From a marketing perspective, the source dimension can help you decide which platform has a majority of your target audience. For instance, if you noticed that 70 percent of your social media traffic comes from Facebook, you’re going to want to share your latest and greatest content on that platform first.” 

“Understanding where our (engaged) users are coming from helps us think of ways to better reach them,” says Neal Winter of Press Page. “These insights are reported on weekly, monthly, and quarterly, and then compared to historical data & ad spend. The big question we ask is – overall, is traffic increasing from sources that we’re investing in, and how is this traffic engaging with our content? It also allows us to drill down into our CPL and CPA for different channels.

Traffic source is especially valuable to us when we consider other factors like behavior and location. For example – how are our target audiences in different regions finding our content, and are they all behaving differently (higher traffic coming from organic on a piece of content + a good click-through rate once the traffic is on our site would indicate that we can add some budget to push it more on other channels).” 

Source also gives us other insights like:– how content syndication with our partners is performing– How review channels (like G2, Capterra etc) are contributing to our traffic and how they’re behaving, which also helps us allocate the right amount of resources to them– Other valuable channels that are driving traffic to our site that we might not have even thought would work for us.”

Brennan Flentge of Investis Digital agrees, “If you’re focused on tracking success in multiple channels, regularly checking the Source/Medium dimension is a must. At first glance, it’s helpful to see where the majority of your traffic is coming from. You can filter this data with additional dimensions, like Age, Device Category, or Region, to better understand which campaigns or channels are performing best with specific audiences. For eCommerce brands, I primarily use the Medium dimension in reports to compare YoY metrics like Sessions, Revenue, and Transactions across channels like Paid Search, Organic Search, Email, etc. You can compare this data in bar charts sorted by month to look for trends and analyze performance over time.”

Editor’s Note: Check out our Google Analytics Acquisition Snapshot dashboard to get additional insights into which sources perform the best.

2. Browsing behavior

Marc Pitart Casanova of cvonline.me adds, “Google Analytics offers a wide range of dimensions, tracking your site’s usage and collecting data related to your users’ source, characteristics and very important their behavior on your site. These are for us the groups of dimensions we consider most helpful when analyzing our traffic & their behavior in order to make decisions on actions to attract more traffic & product development to improve the user experience on our site. 

Acquisition isn’t everything, though. It is important to extract patterns using other dimensions related to the characteristics of the users, especially cultural characteristics such as country and language or behavioral characteristics such as Returning vs. New Visitors.”

“The favorite dimension we use is Browsing behavior,” says David of Loyal-Entrepreneur.com. “By adding this dimension to your data collection, you can get a sense of how your users navigate the site. It’s great to understand if users are navigating via the back button or navigating to links you provided.”

Brandon Amoroso of Electriq Marketing says, “Personally, for my team, I feel that the most helpful Google Analytics dimension for analyzing traffic has to be behavior. As it allows us to compare how new users interact with the website (session length, pages visited) across various traffic sources. We typically focus on how new users from organic search interact with the site versus paid acquisition and/or email, for example.”

Jay Lee of uAcademy adds, “We dedicate a lot of time to the Behavior category because the reports show what’s happening on each URL and how people flow through our website. You can see where people go, how much time they spend on pages, bounce rate, percentage of people who leave after seeing just one page, number of pages per visit.” 

3. Keywords

“This is a no-brainer, and it directly relates to our goals in SEO,” says  Will Brown of GPO. “I constantly track keywords to ensure our pages are ranking for the right audiences. As I continue to get updates on keywords bringing in search traffic, I’m able to make the proper steps to move forward with my organic projects.

4. Session Length 

“To determine whether visitors are genuinely interested in our website, we look at the average session duration,” says Stan Mead of Summit Home Buyers. “This shows you how long (on average) people are visiting your site. You can chart this metric over time to see the browsing patterns of your visitors. If your average session duration is rising, that’s a good sign that your content is becoming more interesting to read. The longer you can keep visitors engaged, the more likely they are to fill out lead forms or make a purchase.”

5. Per Session Value  

Harm Jan Feijer of Trendhim says, “Working for an e-commerce company means that our main focus is on finding qualified traffic. In that regard, the per session value dimension is key because it includes both the conversion rate and the average order value. Comparing this value on different time intervals makes it an extremely helpful metric to gauge whether our performance improved or worsened, and take action based on that.” 

6. Average Time on Page 

“I wouldn’t say that one specific analytic dimension is the absolute best by itself because they have to be used in unison to get the real story,” says Jonathan Hess of Centsibly Frugal.  “However, I think average time on page (dwell time) is a hugely important stat because it shows how interested the readers are in your posts. A lot of people skim posts looking for main topics/headers and readjust what they came for, but if you’re achieving high times on the page, the reader is interested in more than just a portion of your post.” 

7. Organic Traffic

 “The most helpful Google Analytics dimension for analyzing traffic for our clients would be the organic traffic dimension,” says Tricia Moceo of Stodzy Internet Marketing. “Most of our clients are in the Addiction Treatment industry, and this dimension specifically helps us to see what pages our traffic is landing on, based on organic search. I’ve found this data to be the most useful in our reporting as we plan for future content and keyword focus. I have created a template with Google Data Studio that plugs in the data from this Google Analytic’s dimension to best display the rankings in organic traffic, conversion-driven keywords, as well as individual pages.” 

Christopher Carson of Corvirtus adds, “Organic traffic is important to monitor; it demonstrates how people are finding your website. When I look at my organic traffic, I typically look at the bounce rate (both landing page and overall for the website) and sessions. If a specific page has a high bounce rate with a low amount of sessions, the web page might not have what the user is looking for or might be structured in a way that isn’t semantic. If a page has a high bounce rate and a high amount of sessions, users are finding the information they need and leaving as a result. If there are a low bounce rate and a high amount of sessions, users are finding the information and taking the time to review the web page. Bounce rate and sessions help me understand what is and isn’t working while helping me formulate a strategy around the data.”

8. User Explorer

Jessica Campos of MarketingForGreatness.com says, “User Explorer is my favorite place! I believe it is important to analyze traffic but not just the numbers. With user experience being so important these days, we need to focus on what the users want. That’s qualitative data that can help us craft a much-personalized experience. I create Goals I can track, and then I integrate User Explorer’s features to prepare future buyers’ journeys, customer experience mapping, and empathy maps.”   

9. Bounce Rate 

“The Bounce Rate of any page in Google is one of the most helpful dimensions in Google Analytics,” adds Niamh Hogan of Web Clare. “It provides real insight into pages that engage the user and pages that need to be reworked. Engaging landing pages are crucial to reducing the bounce rate across your website. As Google algorithms evolve, more and more searches are landing beyond the “home” page, and each page should be viewed as a potential landing page. How these pages perform combines to give a site-wide bounce rate. Creating different segments in Google Analytics is the way to analyze your bounce rate better.

10. Landing page 

“The landing page dimension has consistently been my go-to dimension,” says Martin Nolan of Broadplace Advertising. “Traffic is down. Go to the landing page dimension and see which pages are causing it to be down. A channel’s traffic is down. Go to the landing page dimension, segment it by that channel, and see where the drop is. Conversions are poor. Go to the landing page dimension and see which pages are contributing less revenue YOY. I could go on and on and on, but the point is that the landing page dimension is basically the Swiss army knife of dimensions. It can be chopped any way you want to find what you’re looking for.” 

Lorena Giannotti of Domain.com adds, “Landing page is an underrated dimension. Getting people to visit your site is a lot of work, requiring a strong acquisition strategy and upfront investment in spend and resources. By looking at your bounce rates by landing page, you can identify where you are losing visitors at a high rate and make corrections to keep those visitors on the site or eliminate wasted advertising spend.” 

“By looking at these landing pages, in relation to your leads or goal completions, you can assess what methods are working to attract customers and then what content is actually converting them,” says Lauren Gast of Truck Drive Institute. “For example, if a specific blog post is drawing hundreds of visitors a month, but not converting them into customers, you can take the necessary actions to optimize that post. Try adding forms to the top of the page or more visible calls-to-action throughout. Analyzing this data is crucial to your growth.” 

Craig Ricks Jr. of Acadian Windows and Siding says, “The most helpful Google Analytics dimension is Organic Landing Page visits. Especially when determining the effectiveness of an SEO or content marketing campaign, filtering your dimensions to view organic landing page visits gives you a good understanding of how your content is attracting potential customers to the website. As our company grows, we’ve used content marketing as a way to establish a presence in new markets. Examining this dimension in Google Analytics has been critical to measuring our success.” 

Toni JV of JVT Media adds, “I like this dimension because it allows me to understand my target market further, what they are interested in and what they think is valuable. It also allows me to see certain patterns in popular pages that people are interested in. For example, I can look at what sorts of headlines brought in the most people, what sorts of topics, etc. With all this data, going forward, I can adjust what sorts of pages I create in the future, as well as update older pages to try to get them to rank better.”

11. Exit Pages  

”The most important is exit pages (Behavior),” says Romain Chiaramonte of Wild At Heart. “Indeed knowing key pages is a thing, but knowing which pages generate visitor exit is a cornerstone. This way, you’ll be able to adjust the page content, colors, CTA, popup, etc…the more the visitor stays, the more the conversion rate goes up!”

12. Conversions 

“I would say the single most important dimension in Google Analytics is conversions,” says Elias Manolopoulos of AeonAds. That’s the whole point of a marketing campaign. Are your users taking the actions you want? Either that’s signing up for a newsletter, attending an event, or buying your product/service. The more successful a page is at converting, the more you should promote it on social media and attempt to link it in your SEO efforts.” 

Caitlin Strempel of CRS Digital Marketing adds, “I don’t care what is bringing me the most traffic, I care about what’s turning into sales! I will calculate the conversion rate of each channel that traffic is coming from. When a channel has a low conversion rate, I will optimize the advertising campaign/marketing strategy specifically tied to that channel. And if, after several optimizations, we still don’t see the performance we would like to, I reallocate the funds to a platform and channel that IS working. This method helps us get rid of what’s not working for our company and our clients’ companies and double down on what is.”

Tony Heywood of Dentons Digital says, “To do this successfully, you need to have Google Tag Management installed on the website so that you can track various events on the website including phone calls, email clicks, form submissions, video plays, PDF downloads, and email sign-ups. You need a solid data set to gain a good understanding of the conversion rates of a website, ideally one months’ worth of data that can then be expanded when you get more information. Once you have a solid dataset, you can track the traffic from different campaigns, channels, and pages to audit your conversion levels and improve your campaigns. In terms of checking traffic levels, we would recommend that a business checks their traffic levels at least once a week, but has custom alerts set up in Google Analytics to alert them to any major fluctuations in traffic, spikes or drops, so they can check if fluctuations in traffic are the results of issues with the website, ranking changes or a website hack.”  

13. Referral Traffic 

Melanie Hartmann of Creo Home Solutions says, “We layer bounced traffic with referral traffic. In looking at our overall bounce rates, recently, they’ve gotten very high, which was concerning. However, upon layering it with the traffic source, we can easily see that our organic search traffic continues to maintain a low bounce rate – which is most important overall as that is where our sales and clients primarily come from. We discovered that the high bounce rate was from other sources our website has been linked to. Since our services are area-specific, those finding our website from national articles are not likely to stay long, thus resulting in a high overall bounce rate.”

Or, as Brian Casey of IMPACT adds, “If you see a big increase in goal completions from a particular channel, such as referrals, you could focus your strategy on amplifying those referral opportunities.”

14. Demographics 

“While many marketers may place focus primarily on sessions or users when analyzing website traffic, we place focus on demographics,” says Alex Hamilton of Beer is OK. “Reaching a high volume of users is great, but reaching targeted customers is even better. By placing focus on your largest website audience based on age and gender (permitting that fits your target audience), you can optimize your website to boost conversions and pages per session.

To report on this, we include a detailed breakdown of age and gender (drawn from analytics) monthly, matching this to overall conversions and conversion rates. This shows the shift in overall conversions based on onsite changes did overtime to help the website appeal to these key demographic groups.”

15. Custom Demographic Segments

“Setup custom segments to classify your visitors by various demographic data, such as age, gender, and location,” says Cayley Vos of Netpaths. “Custom visitor segments provide a wealth of information about how specific users are interacting with your site, and you can use this segment to create goals for this specific audience you wish to target.” 

Eric Axelrod of DIGR adds, “The most effective dimensions are equally Age, Geography, Device Type, and traffic source/referrer. This tells us where our traffic acquisition strategy is effective and where we should be focusing our efforts. These dimensions are also segmentation criteria we will use to run paid advertising campaigns. With these, we are able to drill down into the most effective strategies for getting in front of more people and spreading the word about the importance of data.” 

16. User Logins 

“User login status is a really helpful group to isolate with a custom dimension,” says Ryder Meehan of Upgrow. “It allows us to see which users are already customers.”

Ramey Miller of Text Request adds, “New and Unique Users is a powerful dimension. Since our product is a SaaS, people come to our site several times a day, but they aren’t potential customers, they are just trying to get into their login. So with these dimensions, we can figure out how many new and unique visitors we are getting and plan our marketing accordingly.

17. Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV) 

“For me, the Lifetime Value function should be part of every marketer’s tracking,” says Bernadette Kelly of ActiveWin Media.  “Regularly updated, it can provide invaluable information on how to budget for all channels to ensure ROI for every campaign.”

In sum, these are 17 dimensions that you can use to understand who is visiting your website, how they are finding it, what they are doing once they get to your site, and so forth. These can help you spot patterns and trends to inform your marketing strategy moving forward.

About the author
Jessica Malnik
Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik is a content strategist and copywriter for SaaS and productized service businesses. Her writing has appeared on The Next Web, Social Media Examiner, SEMRush, CMX, Help Scout, Convince & Convert, and many other sites.
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