I wrote what’s below in an email to a client to help them understand their Google Analytics reports. I found it the other and thought maybe you folks could get some use out of it too. It’s some definitions of the core pillars of Google’s analytics architecture.
Here goes (and if anyone finds any inaccuracies here, please point them out):
A page view is the simple metric to understand. It’s every time a single page is rendering a browser.
A unique page view is the same as a page view, but multiple visits to the same page during the same visit (see below) are only counted once. So if Bob visits the home page, then the mortgage page, then the home page again, he has racked up three page views, but only two unique page views.
(Why care about the difference? If you sell advertising on your site, you care about raw page views. If Bob visits the same page 10 times during a visit, you don’t care, because you get an ad impression every time. But if you’re actually trying to measure the effectiveness of your site, then multiple views of the same page are not worth noting, so you’d care about unique page views.)
A visit is a single user session. So Bob, in the above example, has generated a single visit. If he comes back tomorrow, that’s a new visit. (Visits time out after 30 minutes, so if Bob came back 45 minutes later, it would also be a new visit.)
Visitors (also known as “absolute unique visitors”) get a little more complicated. A visitor is the number of unique people that visited during the reporting time period you’re looking at. Remember that every report in GA is limited by a date range. If you’re looking at one month, Bob will only be counted as one visitor during that period, even though he may have visited every day (incurring a visit each time).
A new visitor is a visitor who has not be recorded visiting prior to the time period being viewed. A returning visitor is a visitor who has visited prior to the reporting period being viewed.
Here’s an example that brings them all together —
Bob visits your site on December 12, 2008, viewing 10 total pages. However, he kept returning to the home page, which he viewed four times.
In this case, Bob has generated one visit, 10 page views, and 7 unique page views (six pages and the home page, counted only once).
Bob returns on January 5, 12, and 20, 2009.
If you look at the reports for January only, you would see.
Bob would be a single visitor during that time. He would be classified as a returning visitor, because of his visit in December. (If you looked at the report for December, however, he would be classified as a new visitor in that month).
Bob would also have registered three visits during January, plus any page views and unique page views that he generated during his visits.