Google Analytics Metrics and Dimensions

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December 20, 2012

Dimensions and metrics are the building blocks of your reports in Google Analytics, but so often I see confusion about the difference between dimensions and metrics. And even when you have a fair understanding of what dimensions and metrics are, you may not realize how many of them you actually have to choose from.

There are more than 400 (!) metrics and dimensions you can choose from when you’re creating a custom report or advanced segment. There is a very helpful Dimensions & Metrics Reference guide in the Google developer documentation. But before diving in, let’s get everyone up to speed on the basics.

Dimensions describe the data

They are the labels in the rows of your reports. Think of a dimension as describing the “what,” as in “what keyword did they use” or “what city is the visitor from” or “what pages were viewed.”

Metrics measure the data

Metrics are elements about a dimension that can be measured. Think of a metric as answering “how many” or “how long,” as in “how many visits” or “how long a visitor was on the site.”

Now, back to those 400+ metrics and dimensions. The Dimensions & Metrics Reference lets you explore all the possible options through one of three modes: API, Web, and App. The API mode lets you view the dimensions and metrics according to how they are referenced through the API (e.g. ga:userType, ga:sessionCount, etc.). The Web and App modes list them all out according to how they are named in the interface (depending on whether you are tracking a web site or mobile application).

It also groups them by type, so you can see dimensions and metrics related to users, sessions, traffic sources, etc. If you click on a dimension or metric, it takes you to the definition of that dimension/metric.

Now it’s your turn

Still confused about dimensions and metrics? Wondering about some of those odd metrics, like TV Impressions are? Ask us below!

Jim Gianoglio is a Senior Analytics Consultant. He works with implementation, analysis and training of Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager. Before focusing on analytics, he led the SEO campaigns of Fortune 500 companies in the insurance, retail and CPG industries. Things you didn’t know about Jim: he’s biked from Pittsburgh to Washington DC in 41 hours, roasts coffee beans and has done voiceovers for TV commercials.

  • http://gilliganondata.com Tim Wilson

    Great reference resource! Rather than a question about specific metrics or dimensions…how about a request to: 1) convert this to a Google doc that is publicly available and accepts comments (for people to ask questions about specific metrics/dimensions, and so the doc can be updated as new ones roll out or as there are responses to questions), and 2) rather than color-coding the “where available,” make it a column (or two columns) to allow filtering? If you’re not interested, I may do that (linking back here and keeping Lunametrics crediting).

    • http://www.dcin24.com/#utm_source=www.lunametrics.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=lunaBio Jim Gianoglio

      Tim – brilliant suggestions!

      The spreadsheet is updated to include columns for “where available.”

      And here is the living Google Doc version.

      I made it editable (that seems to be the only way to allow people to add comments). So for anyone just exploring, please be careful not to accidentally delete or change things :)

      Also, for anyone up to the challenge, there are a number of dimensions and metrics without an API reference. I’m pretty sure I got all of them that were available, but if you see one that I missed, please feel free to add.

      As for the dimensions and metrics related to the social reports, don’t get me started! I would love for someone to double check my categorizations and API references on those. The naming conventions used are, well… confusing is a bit of an understatement.

  • http://www.websales.co.in Bhavesh Desai

    Excellent helpful chart.
    Definition, Dimensions describe the data and Metrics measure the data, worth tattoo on hand!!!!!!!!!

  • https://plus.google.com/108774090143038749085 Jim Gianoglio

    A tattoo based on my blog post!? I am truly honored :)

  • http://tonyahn.com Tony Ahn

    I’m currently studying for the Google Analytics Individual Qualification. What I find confusing about dimensions vs. metrics is that some dimensions, although they describe the data, are expressed as numbers, like “days since last visit.” It would be nice to have a little section that listed the dimensions that are expressed as numbers, and explained why they were dimensions instead of metrics.

  • http://ufnasoft.com Younas Aamir

    Jim, it is really nice article.
    I have a question, what the maximum information about a visitor we can get?

    • https://plus.google.com/108774090143038749085 Jim Gianoglio

      @Younas –

      GA captures around 265 different metrics and dimensions – everything from where they’re locations (city, region country, etc.) to what pages they view on your site and more. You can see the full list of available dimensions and metrics using the new metadata API here.

      In addition to that, you can use custom variables (for Classic analytics) or custom dimensions (for Universal analytics) to capture additional information you have about your visitors. So really, you can collect anything you’d like (as long as it’s not personally identifiable info – PII). Also keep in mind that you only have 5 custom variable slots (or 20 custom dimensions for Universal), so you’re somewhat limited there. If you’re a Google Analytics Premium client, then you have 50 custom variables/200 custom dimensions.

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