If you are one of the many HubSpotters who utilizes Google Analytics in addition to the integrated analytics already included in HubSpot, you may have noticed that these two metrics don’t always match up. And we get it – what gives, right?
Here’s what we know: Both tools are meant to help you keep track of and measure visits to pages on your website. Yet, both tools actually have different definitions of a “visit”, which is why sometimes the numbers just don’t add up. In this post, we’ll discuss the differences between how a page “visit” is classified within HubSpot and Google Analytics, and how to work with the results from both systems in the context of your marketing strategy.
A Google Analytics “Visit”
The definition: Google Analytics categorizes a new “visit” based on two factors that work together to define a single session: time and referral source, meaning the unique origin of the traffic coming to your website’s domain. This could be a source like Google when conducting a search, or a social media channel like Facebook.
Here’s how it works: When a visitor lands on your website from an outside source and views your web pages, a session begins that will track that visitor’s activity throughout any pages hosted on your domain. This session will continue until there has been a 30-minute period of inactivity by the visitor or the visitor leaves your site, at which point one unique “visit” will be recorded in Google Analytics.
A real-life example: Let’s say a visitor searches on Google for “James Bond cars” and clicks on a link to an Aston Martin fan site from the search results (and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t click on that link?). The visitor’s referral source is recognized as Google and a new session begins, thus generating one unique visit in Google Analytics. Later the next day, the visitor finds an Aston Martin fan page on Facebook and clicks on the link there to view another page on the original Aston Martin fan site. This second interaction has a newreferral source of Facebook, and therefore a second session begins with a second unique visit being recorded.
In some cases, Google Analytics will lump two sessions together and count them as one “visit” because the referral source is the same. Let’s say the visitor is searching for “James Bond Cars” in Google and clicks a link to a car listing on Cars.com. The listed Aston Martin is not an original Bond model and this is simply unacceptable, so the visitor navigates back to their search results and clicks to view another car listing on the same site. The visitor has now visited Cars.com twice – but since Google is the referral source in each instance, it’s counted as just one “visit” session. Keep in mind the time caveat here: This all has to happen in the same 30-minute session.
A HubSpot “Visit”
The definition: HubSpot records a new “visit” any time a visitor reaches your site from an outside domain, or a referral domain, meaning any domain that is not being tracked through HubSpot.
Here’s how it works: When a visitor enters your site through an external domain, a new “visit” begins that will continue to track the visitor’s activity across the pages associated with your domain. There is no time limit caveat for a visitor session in HubSpot as there is in Google Analytics – a “visit” will conclude only when the visitor leaves your domain by visiting an external site or closing their browser window.
Right away, you can see this differs quite a bit from the Google Analytics definition of a “visit.” So let’s take a look at the same Cars.com example as before to see how HubSpot will interpret the same visiting behavior. Queuing light bulbs in 3...2...1...
A real-life example: From HubSpot’s perspective, the initial visit to Cars.com is recorded with an external referral domain of Google.com and a new visit begins. The car model is unacceptable once more, so the visitor navigates back to the search results page and clicks the second listing's link to revisit Cars.com. This time, the visit will be recorded as a second unique visit because the referrer of Google.com is again recognized as an external domain. Though the overall “source” of these two visits is consistent, there are still two visit events from external locations. So for HubSpot, there are two unique recorded visits for this scenario as compared to the one unique visit recorded in Google Analytics.
Remember that Google Analytics might recognize some domain visits (i.e. consecutive visits from a Google search) as the same overall “source” and combine these visits together into one event. In HubSpot, a new “visit” will begin each and every time a visitor finds your site’s pages from an external domain.
Using HubSpot and Google Analytics Together
These two schools of thought in classifying this session-based metric of a “visit” will inevitably produce different results across the board. However, these two "visits" are not intended to be compared against each other. Based on their definitions, it would be like trying to compare apples to pot roast. Or oranges to a delicious plate of Pad Thai (mmm, Pad Thai). They simply just do not compare.
Rather than focusing on why the total number of visits in one month doesn’t match across the two platforms, focus on identifying trends over time of the unique visits to your pages. You should be able to recognize the same traffic ebbs and flows within each of these reporting tools through a graphical representation of your site visits. Identifying those trends will help you discover important opportunities or pitfalls in your marketing strategy, like:
Which marketing efforts resulted in increases in site traffic for a particular time period
Which traffic sources were top visit contributors, like Facebook links or email campaigns
How seasonal fluctuations in traffic to your domains could be better managed with seasonal offers to drive visits and promote lead generation
For more information and examples on how these two systems categorize visits, check out our designated Knowledge Base article.
*This post is part of an ongoing series in which members of the HubSpot Support team offer sane, sensible advice to real questions posed by real HubSpot customers. We might not solve all of life’s mysteries, but we can sure as heck try.
Originally published Jan 9, 2015 9:10:00 AM, updated February 01 2017