What are Users, Sessions, and Pageviews? Google Analytics For Beginners

While we’re not going to say that Google Analytics is simple, there’s quite a bit you can learn about your site with an understanding of a few basic concepts. Let’s start with the relationship between users, sessions, and pageviews.

First, let’s grab some sample data from the official Google analytics demo account. If you’re trying to learn about Google Analytics and you want to experiment with some sample data, you can gain access to the demo account here.

After logging in, this is what the audience overview page looks like:

Google Analytics Audience Overview Data

The standard ‘Audience Overview’ data – click image to see a larger view.

There’s quite a bit of information we can glean from the overview page without looking at any other pages in Google Analytics. However, we want to concentrate on three metrics:

  1. Users – This is the number of actual people that have visited the website, at least according to Google Analytics. A couple of years ago, Google called users “visitors” instead.
  2. Sessions – This is the number of discrete visits people have made. If, for example, a user visits your site today and then again tomorrow, that would be 1 user and 2 sessions. A couple of years ago, Google called sessions “Visits” instead.
  3. Pageviews – This is the number of pages that people have viewed in total. In the old days, we called these “hits.”

Practical Examples To Clarify Understanding

Because we like to be thorough, here are some scenarios to help illustrate what users, sessions, and pageviews mean.

  • If you visit SporkMarketing.com for the first time and look at our home page, our about page, and our contact page, that would be tallied as 1 user, 1 session and 3 page views.
  • If you return to SporkMarketing.com in one week and look at the same pages again, that would be tallied as 1 more session and 3 more page views. However, it will not count as 1 more user, because it’s the same person visiting twice.

So that’s the basics…but what do these numbers mean?

How To Interpret Users, Sessions, and Pageviews

Pageviews – more is usually better. Generally speaking, you want each visitor to look at as many pages on your site as possible. Depending on the type of website you have, the type of advertising you do, and the type of user on your site, the average number of pageviews per session can range from 1.2 to 10. For ecommerce sites, 5-10 pageviews per session is a reasonable figure.

Generally speaking, the more pageviews you have per session, the better.

Sessions – repeat visits can be a good thing: If you subtract the number of users from the number of sessions, you’ll have an idea of the percentage of repeat visitors your site has.

  • Repeat Visitors = Sessions – Users

In the sample data above, you can see that Google Analytics calculates repeat visitors for us in the lower right hand corner. It’s about 23% in the sample data. Repeat visitors don’t mean anything by themselves, necessarily, but generally speaking repeat visitors are a good indication of a loyal customer base.

Users are good, but sales are better. Last but not least, it’s important to point out that users are only a proxy for sales. If, for example, your site has only 500 users per month, you might be tempted to assume your site is small, underachieving, etc. But if you sell half of those users a product or service, that is pretty awesome.

Likewise, if your site has 100,000 users and a dozen sales, something is not right.

Finally, Let’s Remember Analytics is Just An Estimate

Google Analytics uses javascript and cookies to track visitors. This is problematic for a couple of reasons:

  1. Javascript can be blocked. A lot of people shop online in ‘privacy’ mode, or use browser add-ons that block advertising and tracking. These tools almost always block Google Analytics.
  2. Cookies can be cleared. When someone visits a website that uses Google Analytics, a ‘cookie’ is added to their browser. This cookie is basically a name tag – a unique ID number that Google can use to identify a repeat visit. Many people clear their cookies daily, weekly, or block cookies entirely.

If you’re comparing Google Analytics data to data provided by your hosting company, data from another Analytics platform, or even data from Google AdWords, you will have discrepancies. The discrepancies are usually a result of javascript blocking and cookie deletion.

Therefore, we suggest thinking about Google Analytics data as a trending tool rather than a precise measuring tool. Don’t try and parse the data too much – just look at the big picture. Trending data is still very useful in terms of time period comparison – you can learn a lot comparing one month to the next, one quarter to the next, etc.

We’ve posted about Google Analytics quite a bit on our blog. Check out “Web Analytics 101 – What You Must, Should, and Could Be Tracking” for more info.

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