Metrics, dimensions or reports – what do I need?

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We talk to many clients around their use of analytics and one of the things we continuously come across in conversations is an apparent confusion between metrics, dimensions and reports (not to mention KPIs etc) – when to use them and in what context they should be used.

We’ve heard metrics talked about as though they’re reports many times, but it’s not only through conversations either, there are also some handy guides that’ve been produced that we’ve come across which blur the use of them even further.

Now on the face of it, you probably think it doesn’t make too much difference – the end goal will be the same. But, in reality, I think it makes quick a big difference for a whole multitude of reasons, not least of which would be confusion around how to generate a report for your boss who asks you for something specific. Knowing where to look and how to generate the “thing” is fundamentally based on your understanding of the differences between a metric, a dimension, and a report.

So, to try to clarify, here’s some definitions and some illustrations:

Definitions

Metrics

These are things you are counting.  They come in 2 main forms:

  • numbers – the standard ones are things like visitor counts, visit counts, the number of pages viewed, the amount of revenue, the number of orders etc.
  • ratios – these are generally calculated from two underlying number metrics, for example conversion rate (Signups / Visits) and expressed as a percentage.
    The key here is the term “rate”.  If it’s got rate in it, it’ll likely be expressed as a percentage.

There are generally different types of metrics as well, depending upon your analytics platform:

  • standard metrics – these would be visitors, visits, page views, time on page, bounces, entries, exits, revenue, orders etc.
  • custom metrics – these are the things that you count that are not standard, such as internal searches, clicks to tabs, signup starts, signup completes etc.
  • calculated metrics – these are the result of a calculation, such as a conversion rate (signups completed / visits) or completion rates (signups completed / signups started) or average order value (revenue / orders).  Notice that these can be both a percentage or a number.

Dimensions

These are the differences in the thing you are measuring and are normally text based values, but can be other types too.  For example, if you’re looking at the Keyword dimension, then you’d have keyword values listed, typically running down the left hand side of the report.

  • text based values would be things like page names, site sections, keywords, campaign names, product names.
  • date based values would be dates in the reporting period, listed underneath one another, such as days, weeks, months, quarters etc.
  • numeric based values would be things like individual Order IDs or Customer IDs, or it could be Ages or Age Ranges (although technically that would be a text based value).

Reports

These are a combination of Metrics and Dimensions, but a report requires at least one dimension and one metric.

Metrics dimensions reports

So what do you need?

Simply, a combination of all of them.  But whatever you’re doing with them, keep them focused – don’t load them up with metrics just because they’re available.


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