Engagement. That term, along with discoverability, is a key measurement of a digital publisher’s success. The more engaged an audience is, the easier it becomes for publishers to monetize their content.
Regardless of the monetization model a publisher chooses — ad revenue, subscriptions or affiliate marketing — the higher the level of audience engagement the easier it is to make money.
While that may seem straightforward enough, engagement is such a broad term that trying to figure out how and where to begin measuring it can be daunting. Short of speaking to every single visitor that arrives and leaves a site, it’s impossible to perfectly understand how engaged audiences actually are.
What publishers can do, however, is track a series of well-documented website metrics that paint a holistic picture of what does and doesn’t appeal to site visitors.
Some of these metrics provide insight into a site’s user experience (UX), while others shine a light on how users are consuming content. Join us as we explore these metrics to identify the data that publishers should be measuring.
Why Is It Important to Track Website Performance Metrics?
Publishers need to track their website’s performance metric to fully understand where there’s room for improvement from both a creative and technical standpoint. If they don’t, they won’t know where their audience is coming from, which content is attracting the most visitors and how often users leave the site after only viewing a single page.
Moreover, tracking a site’s performance can also answer important questions around which ads are attracting clicks, how many free visitors are converting into subscribers and which pages are proving most popular. This is a wealth of information that can guide both the content creation process and wider site optimization efforts.
All of the metrics we’ve listed below can be tracked with a variety of free Google tools and paid third-party alternatives. But it’s important to understand that tracking certain metrics only works well when done as part of a broader measurement initiative.
For example, knowing bounce rate can be helpful, but pairing that data with scroll depth adds far more insight into user behavior and can inspire more targeted actions.
It’s also worth noting that while publishers can use their Google Analytics account to build a picture of how their audience is using their site, there are third-party tools that make it possible to directly approach visitors for feedback. Examples include:
- Website widgets
- Email surveys
- Push notifications
How to Identify Which Website Performance Metrics to Track
The easiest way to pick the metrics worth tracking is by understanding which will have the most tangible impact on the audience. Anything that affects user experience (UX) or is an indicator of user engagement is worth tracking.
Most, if not all, publishers are concerned with their bottom line. Ultimately, traffic equals money — an equation that holds true regardless of monetization models. All of the metrics we’ve reviewed here deal with some aspect of that traffic equation.
For example, a poor site speed could be hurting a publisher’s ability to attract and retain new users. A high bounce rate, meanwhile, might indicate that visitors see little reason to explore the site beyond the page they landed on.
Every metric is a small piece of a larger puzzle and understanding how each fits together is essential for publishers to attract and retain audience share.
10 Website Performance Metrics Publishers Should Measure
We’ve compiled a list of the best website performance metrics for publishers to track and analyze below. While these metrics will provide deep insight into what is and isn’t working for a site, the list isn’t exhaustive and should be treated as a starting point for the optimization journey.
1. Site Speed
Site speed is a measure of how quickly a website loads in a user’s browser, the quicker the page load time, the more responsive it feels for that person.
Publishing the best content in the world won’t matter if a site is so poorly optimized that slow load times drive the audience away. That’s the tough reality publishers face, with Google’s research showing that page speeds directly influence audience retention for news sites.
As such, this is one of the first metrics we recommend publishers of any size review. Larger publishers will have a better chance of retaining existing audiences, while smaller publishers need that strong first impression.
It should be noted, however, that site speed isn’t a singular metric. Rather it’s covered by a set of signals that falls with Google’s Page Experience, which covers among other things how quickly a site loads and becomes interactive as well as how stable the viewing experience is.
The speed related signals we’re looking for can be found within Core Web Vitals (CWVs) and include:
- Largest contentful paint (LCP): This is a measure of how quickly a page loads the largest text or image visible above the fold. You should aim for an LCP of less than 2.5 seconds.
- First input delay (FID): This is a measure of a page’s interactivity and you should aim for an FID of less than 100 milliseconds.
- Cumulative layout shift (CLS): This is a measure of visual stability, that is how much teh layout moves in response to images and other assets loading in. You’ll want to aim for a score of less than 0.1.
There are a number of ways to measure your site’s CWVs, but we’d recommend using Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool. Anybody can use the PSI tool to evaluate any website to understand how it’s been optimized.
There can be any number of reasons why site speed is slow, ranging from an excess of plugins on a WordPress site to slow DNS lookup time.
We won’t delve too deeply into optimizing a site here, as we’ve already put together a guide on how to Improve Core Web Vitals (CWVs).
At the same time, it’s important not to be overly developer centric when tackling CWV optimisation, with all departments including UX and content creation contributing to the effort. These teams can help with on-page optimisations as well as internal and external linking.
2. Conversion Rate
Conversion rate is the percentage of visitors that took a desired action while on site and can apply to a broad range of activities. Before publishers can identify their conversion rate, they first need to define what it is.
Different businesses will have different conversion metrics. eCommerce sites, for example, might consider a conversion to be when a customer adds an item to a shopping cart and again when they complete the checkout process.
While this is a relatable model for publishers that rely on subscription models or affiliate marketing, publishers that rely on ad revenue don’t have any “sales” to track. Still, most if not all publishers, regardless of monetization models, will have a shared pool of actions they should be tracking.
- Clicks on a links
- Sign-ups for newsletters
- PDF downloads
- App installations
- Landing page arrivals
Let’s look at how to set up Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to measure conversion rates. While the tool is designed to track different events across a website in detail, by default it isn’t set up to measure these events as conversions and provide conversion rates. This means we have to tell GA4 which events it should treat as conversions.
This can be done by creating specific events and then marking them as conversions. Here’s a list of the steps:
- Step 1: In GA4 click on Admin and then on Events.
- Step 2: In the Events page, click Create Event.
- Step 3: Click Create.
- Step 4: Create the desired event.
- Step 5: Head back to the Events page and toggle the conversion button next to the desired event.
There are a series of steps publishers need to take in order to improve their conversion rates and these include optimizing landing pages, boosting page speed, leveraging social proof, implementing exit-intent pop-ups and personalizing the user experience.
Publishers should think holistically about the journey the audience makes to arrive at a conversion point. Everything from compelling CTAs and quick load times to customer testimonials and tailored visitor experiences affect whether somebody is willing to pull the trigger on a product or service.
3. Sessions by Traffic Source
Understanding which channels are driving the majority of traffic is key to helping publishers improve their audience development strategies.
By knowing which channels are the most effective traffic sources, publishers have a better understanding of where to invest their time and resources. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean doubling down on what’s working, it can also mean investing in suboptimal channels to improve their effectiveness.
In addition, it’s important to know which channels are more likely to lead to conversion pages such as subscriptions. Finding those sources that drive the most profitable actions allows publishers to optimize their monetization strategies. Again, though, it’s important not to become overly dependent on a single source of traffic.
While having a dominant traffic source can be beneficial, over-dependence on a single source can be risky. For example, publishers relying on one or two channels might not necessarily reach as many new audiences, which could result in slower growth.”
GA4 provides a report on the source of every visit to a site, such as search engines, other websites, newsletters or direct traffic. Accessing this information is very simple, just click on Reports, then Acquisition and finally on Traffic acquisition.
4. New Vs. Returning Users
Understanding the ratio of new vs returning users helps not only with audience segmentation but also with providing context for other metrics.
For example, new users might spend longer on the site than returning users, which could suggest a number of things. Perhaps there’s an issue with navigation or perhaps certain content is less compelling for returning users.
By segmenting the audience, publishers can apply a new level of interpretation to their behavior.
Being able to see whether new or returning visitors subscribe can then help to shape audience journey development. This could mean focusing on driving higher numbers of free newsletter sign ups to fill the marketing funnel.
GA4’s Retention section, which is found by clicking on Reports, contains information on both new and returning visitors. The overview panel contains several charts that visualize the data.
Ultimately, new users indicate acquisition effectiveness and content relevance, while returning users demonstrate loyalty. Publishers should focus on optimizing onboarding for new users and nurturing relationships with returning users, while striking a balance between growth and retention.
5. Average Time on Page
How long a user is willing to spend reading an article or watching a video is a clear indicator of how much they value that content.
Average time on page scales up the above value judgment by averaging the amount of time all users spent on a specific piece of content. This metric is particularly helpful in identifying pages that are either high or low performers.
Calculating average time on page involves dividing the total time on page by the total number of web page views less page exits. Here’s the formula:
Average time on page = Time spent on page / (Total page views – page exits)
Once publishers have the results in hand they’re better able to plan their content strategies.
Unlike average session duration, which helps publishers track engagement at a site level, average time on page is a great way of drilling down into the engagement levels of specific pieces of content.
In GA4 the metric is called average engagement time and data can be found by following the below steps.
- Step 1: In GA4 click on reports and then on Engagement.
- Step 2: In the Engagement page, click Pages and screens.
- Step 3: Review average engagement time data in the middle column of the table.
Despite the temptation to rely on this metric when making value judgments about specific content pieces, average time on page should be used as a directional metric rather than an absolute measure.
It provides insights into user engagement, but should be considered alongside other relevant metrics such as bounce rate, conversion rate, scroll depth and exit rate. By analyzing multiple metrics and considering the context, publishers can make informed decisions about revamping pages and improving content to enhance user engagement and achieve their goals.
6. Scroll Depth
Scroll depth is another important measure of user engagement, providing insight into how far down a page the visitor scrolled before navigating away. Scroll depth is typically measured as a percentage of a page’s total content and is a great way to track on-site behavior with a view to increase conversions.
This metric will show which bits of content were actually seen by the audience, data which can be used to evaluate that page’s effectiveness.
It provides valuable context to other metrics such as bounce rate, which is when visitors exit the entire site after having only seen one page. If the audience is landing on a page and scrolling for a brief amount of time before exiting then we can deduce that they weren’t overly engaged by what they saw. This analysis is as applicable to a news story as it is to a home page.
At the same time, however, a high scroll depth without conversion can also suggest that perhaps a particular call to action (CTA) needs some additional work.
Scroll depth tracking can be switched on or off in GA4 in the Enhanced Measurement section, by following these steps:
- Step 1: In GA4 click on Admin and then Data Streams.
- Step 2: Data Streams offers a selection of device-related (iOS, Android, Web or All) data, select the appropriate data set and hit the right arrow button.
- Step 3: Hit the settings icon in the Enhanced Measurements section, then select Scrolls and hit the Tick button.
- Step 4: With GA4 now tracking scrolls as an event, head back to the Events page (found in the Admin menu) to view the data.
We should note, however, that scroll tracking in GA4 has some serious limitations. The default scroll event only records when visitors see more than 90% of a page, but GA4 also prevents users from adding additional parameters, such as a smaller trigger percentage.
This means publishers are better off using GA4 in conjunction with Google Tag Manager (GTM) to set up variable percentage triggers to better understand page engagement.
With that said, we do want to highlight the fact the publishers should think about scroll depth optimization from both a technical and creative perspective. From a technical perspective, they need to ensure that pages are properly structured, load quickly and have a responsive design for smooth scrolling across devices. From a creative angle, the goal has to be about engaging users with compelling content, visuals, and clear CTAs to encourage scrolling.
It’s important to balance content length with user experience, strategically place engaging elements throughout the page, and use analytics to identify optimal scroll depths for your specific content types. This then needs to be followed up with continuous testing and refinement to maximize user engagement to deliver the desired scroll depth goals.
7. Pages Per Session
Pages per session is another useful indicator of how engaging a website is as it shows the number of pages the average user accesses in a single session. The higher this metric is, the longer users are staying on a site and consuming its content.
With the average pages per session figure falling across all industries towards the end of last year, it makes it more important than ever you’re up to speed on what is and isn’t working for your site.
While there are some technical fixes for this, publishers really need to focus most of their efforts on content creation. Having great articles and posts that readers want to consume one after another will go a long way to increasing the page on sessions.
We’re advocates for investing in creating content, noting that 70-80% of results come from creative endeavor, while 20-30% come from improving the user interface.
There are a number of immediate actions that publishers should take to improve their pages per session and we’d recommend starting with some customer feedback analysis. This will help develop understanding of the intended audience and more effectively map out user journeys.
Technical work can focus on simplifying web design, introducing on-page elements such as a list of related posts at the bottom of each blog post and making sure pages load quickly. At the end of the day, though, remember that 80:20 rule.
GA4 tracks pages per session data with its audience builder feature. We’ve created a brief overview of how to create and track audiences below:
- Step 1: Click on Admin and then Property.
- Step 2: From here click on Audiences and then New audience.
- Step 3: Pick whether to create a new audience, use and edit a temple or use and edit a suggested audience.
- Step 4: Once the audience has been created, set its Membership duration to “Maximum limit” then set the Scope to “Within the same session”.
- Step 5: Create an audience trigger and then save it.
- Step 6: Mark the trigger event as a conversion.
The full process in GA4 is more complicated than our brief overview, and for publishers who are flying solo on this front we’d recommend carefully scouring Google’s documentation to avoid potential mistakes.
8. Click-Through Rate (CTR)
While click-through rate (CTR) is more commonly associated with digital advertising, publishers can use the metric to gauge both how effectively they’re attracting new audiences as well as the performance of their ad inventory.
SEO is a major component of a successful publishing business, regardless of whether that publisher focuses on news or evergreen content. But successfully claiming one of the top spots in the SERPs is only half the battle; the other half is making sure the audience wants to click on the link they see. This means creating titles and meta descriptions that resonate with readers and attract clicks.
Publishers can also use CTR to gauge how well their CTAs are performing, which is essential to measuring the effectiveness of lead generation efforts. Publishers that use a subscription model need to convert their free readers, which means getting them to a landing page and then signing up.
For example, a CTA with a high CTR rate but low conversion rate means that either the landing page or subscription offer may need reworking.
And let’s not forget CTRs in relation to their ad inventory. Knowing which ads perform better with their audiences can help them enter direct partnerships for what is now premium inventory.
Boosting CTR requires a mixed approach. Publishers need creative, compelling and clear CTAs while also optimizing ad placement and using engaging visuals. On the technical side, they can ensure fast page load times, mobile responsiveness, and a smooth UX. Test different ad formats, optimize for viewability and analyze user behavior to make data-driven improvements.
Publishers can also benefit from thinking about their ad placement. For example, placing an ad immediately after the first paragraph of an article and having at least two ads within the post itself, while not being afraid to make the ad units big, can all help improve CTRs.
The easiest way for publishers to track audience visits from Google search results is through the Google Search Console (GSC). After logging in, navigate to Performance and Search Results and the entire site’s CTR will be clearly displayed alongside total clicks and impressions.
Clicking on the Pages tab in the lower half of the page allows publishers to review performance of individual pages.
9. Bounce Rate
Monitoring a site’s bounce rate — the percentage of visitors that leave after viewing a single page — helps publishers understand where their audience is losing interest.
Users are counted as “bouncing” back to the search results or referring website regardless of how long they stayed on the site. Whether it’s 30 seconds or 30 minutes, it’s still considered a bounce.
While improving CWVs — as covered above — will certainly help reduce bounce rates, publishers need to think about other technical considerations, such as user experience, that can play a role. Moreover, creative factors such as engaging content, clear navigation and compelling design also improve bounce rates.
Analyzing user behavior, optimizing page layout and enhancing content relevance can also reduce bounce rates.
GA4 reports, by default, don’t include bounce rates and publishers have to add it themselves. It’s a fairly straightforward process, however, and the steps are below:
- Step 1: Log in to GA4 and then click Reports .
- Step 2: Pick any report (just not an Overview) and click Customize report
- Step 3: Click on Metrics and at the bottom of the menu type Bounce rate into the Add metric box
- Step 4: Click the Bounce rate metric to add it then hit Apply
10. User Feedback
We’ve already covered a range of metrics that will provide valuable insight into website performance. But one metric that can be lost in the shuffle, and we’ve only partially touched on, is seeking direct audience feedback.
Audience feedback provides an insightful, though subjective, window into the value judgments of a cross section of site visitors. It’s important to remember the limitations of such an endeavor and that the larger a sample size, the more valuable the takeaways.
Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, we’d definitely recommend surveying site visitors. At the end of the day, hearing from actual users may provide insights that data gathering will simply miss. Do they like the design language? Is subject coverage too thin? What would they like to see more of?
User feedback is a valuable metric that offers qualitative insights into the user experience. Publishers should invest in ways of tapping into this feedback, as it provides a user-centric approach, helps identify pain points, enhances engagement and loyalty, enables iterative improvement, and provides a competitive advantage.
By considering user feedback alongside quantitative metrics, publishers are better positioned to make informed decisions, prioritize improvements and create a more user-focused experience.
For those that made it this far, well done! The above was a fairly comprehensive exploration of the various metrics we think are worth covering.
Ultimately, whichever metrics a publisher chooses to focus on need to fall within their time and resource budget. It’s not always practical to tackle every single item on the above list, despite the potential rewards from doing so.
While we’ll always recommend optimizing site speed and CWVs, given the broad upside this route offers, each publisher will have to decide for themselves what their priorities are and how each metric aligns with them.