Google Analytics can be a complete mystery to some. There is so much data in there and you never quite know if you are using it to the best of its ability let alone if you are understanding the data correctly.
It definitely doesn’t help when you see other bloggers saying they get 2 millions viewers each month but then show you the Google Analytics graph for sessions to back that up. Guess what, sessions and viewers are NOT the same thing!
It is no wonder there is so much confusion around this subject.
So today I am going to share the difference between users, sessions and pageviews, and why it is so important that you understand these numbers.
If you use Google Analytics, then you’ve probably seen this screen before:
There is so much going on and so many metrics to look at. But the ones that seem to catch most people’s attention are users, sessions and pageviews.
In case you don’t have Google Analytics installed, you can check out my guide to installing it on both WordPress and Blogger.
Moving on then…
Users are the unique individuals that visit your website.
Picture this, I visit your website on January 1st. Then again on January 10th. And again on January 30th.
I would count as only one user.
You see, I may have visited your site more than once but I am only one individual. So Google Analytics tracks me as one user.
Sessions are like store visits. An individual (or user) may have looked at many different departments (or pages) during their visit.
So sessions seem to be the most complicated of the three.
According to Google,
A session is a group of interactions that take place on your website within a given time frame.
The moment someone lands on your site, a session begins. It doesn’t matter how many pages they view or what they are doing really.
The important part to remember is that a session is within a given time frame. So what ends a session?
- The person has not been active on your site for 30 minutes // For example, they clicked a link from your blog and a new window opened. They move onto the new window and forget that your site is open.
- At midnight
Here are two examples:
Session Example 1
I visit your site. This immediately starts a session. I read your homepage, check out three blog posts and even fill out your contact me form before finally stepping away from my computer leaving your site up. If I do not return and show some activity on your site within 30 minutes, the session ends.
This results in 1 user, 1 session and 5 pageviews.
I return to the computer and continue browsing an hour later. Since I was inactive for over 30 minutes, this actually starts a second session.
So this results in 1 user, 2 sessions and 5 + any additional pages viewed.
Session Example 2
It is New Years Eve and at 11:45 pm I land on your blog. This starts a session. I am so interested in your content that I continue reading well past midnight. Since the day ended, the session ended and this would now count as two sessions. One for New Years Eve and one for New Years Day at this point.
So the number of sessions is actually the number of sessions completed by every unique user on the site for that given time period.
A user will have at least one session. But there is also a chance (and you hope) that a user has multiple sessions.
Pageviews are easy, they are the number of times your pages actually load or get a “hit.”
It doesn’t matter if it is the same person (or user) viewing the page or even if it is all in the same session. A pageview is a pageview. It is probably the most simple metric out of this list.
Let’s pull it all together with an example:
I visit your page on March 1st. While I am there, I read one blog post and click a link off of your site.
Current Stats: 1 user | 1 session | 1 pageview
I return 15 minutes later and decide to click on a related post. I read 2 more blog posts before closing my computer down for the night.
Updated Stats: 1 user | 1 session | 3 pageviews
A new person, let’s call her Sarah, visits your site on March 3rd. She lands on your homepage, reads your about page and even views your portfolio page before contacting you via your contact page. Once she sends the contact form she closes down your site.
Updated Stats: 2 users | 2 sessions | 7 pageviews
Sarah decided she was so interested in your work that she came back to your blog just a few days later to read through 4 of your blog posts.
Updated Stats: 2 users | 3 sessions | 11 pageviews
Since Sarah already visited in the month of March, the number of users for March would stay at 2 but this visit would increase the sessions and pageviews.
You seem to be killing it on social media and person #3, or Elizabeth, lands on one of your blog posts. She starts to read it before getting distracted on a phone call.
Updated Stats: 3 users | 4 sessions | 12 pageviews
An hour later Elizabeth returns to your site to finish reading the post before heading off for bed.
Final Stats: 3 users | 5 sessions | 12 pageviews
The pageviews should not update since the page didn’t reload.
Pretty simple, right?
An important caveat to remember
Okay, so Google Analytics isn’t great about recognizing the same person from multiple devices.
If I visit your site from my laptop and then again from my phone, I would actually count as two users.
Also, if a user has cleared their browser cookies and come back from the same device, they will also count as two users.
Why are these metrics important?
They are important because you can tell if you have a lot of return visitors.
Personally I would rather have 1,000 users that keep returning (multiple sessions) and view a bunch of pages than 5,000 users that don’t return or aren’t engaged.
It also comes into play when working with advertising/marketing/PR agencies. They want to know the number of unique individuals who will see the content! Reach is super important.
You need to be able to show them that your blog/website actually gets those numbers.
Understanding users, sessions and pageviews isn’t as complicated as you thought! That is the good news.
You can also understand the metrics that other bloggers are sharing. You now know that sessions do not equal the number of unique visitors.
Do you have a better understanding of these metrics now?