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Explaining metrics: website user vs website session?

In 2015, Google Analytics changed their naming conventions and added in stats for Sessions and for Users. It’s still a little tricky to decipher what this means so here’s a quick overview.

Visits and Unique Visits

Previously in Google Analytics, you were able to track your website visitors by Visits and Unique Visits. Visits referred to the total number of hits you got on your site, while Unique Visits referred to how many of those were actually different people.

You could have had a handful of unique visitors racking up a lot of the total visits on your site, for example. But unique visitors were not tracked across different types of screens (like a website browser screen compared to a mobile browser screen).

The terminology change

Now, you can basically think of those concepts in the form of different words.

Visits = Sessions
Unique Visits = Users

The change came about when mobile devices started becoming more prevalent and Google began being able to track a single person across their different devices.

“Unique visit” is no longer applicable – what you’ve got on the other end is a User accessing your site at different times in different ways but potentially, still trackable across their different sessions.

A little more on sessions

Sessions are an interaction with the website, period. If someone comes to your site and leaves the tab open, it will time out at 30 minutes and then once they come back, it begins a new session. Sessions will also time out at midnight.

(There are several other nuances here but this is just an overview of the basics.)

A little more on uniqueness

Google is not omnipotent. Nor do we want it to be, really. But it’s worth noting that Google Analytics can only measure uniqueness based on cookies.

So if you’ve got a New User coming in – it may not genuinely be a New User rather than a Returning User. It may be someone who comes back a lot but cleared the cookies on their computer (which we recommend doing if you want to escape retargeting).

So take Google Analytics’ data with a grain of salt. It’s not perfect and it’s also free, which means beggars can’t be choosers here. However, it is a marvelous resource for most of your web analytics needs. And did I mention it was free?

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