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A Simple Guide to Web Traffic Terms

Views, visits, visitors -- it's all the same, right? Not so fast, speed racer. If that's your way of thinking, you could be misinterpreting your traffic data and making some ill-informed decisions.  

Because lots of people tend to throw these various terms around all willy-nilly, I've compiled a nice little cheat sheet so you can truly understand what's what, interpret your website analytics correctly, and make well-informed, data-backed decisions about your marketing. 

Before you read on, it's important to note that various analytics tools may have slightly different definitions of the following terms. It's best to consult your particular tool's documentation to understand exactly how each is calculated.

Pageviews/Views

A pageview (in Google Analytics) or a view (in HubSpot) is counted when a page on your site is loaded by a browser. It is counted every time the respective tool's tracking code is loaded. In other words, if a person were to view a page on your site and reload the page in their browser, that would count as two views. If a person viewed one page, viewed a second page on your website, and then returned to the original page, that would count as three views.

Pageview data is great for understanding your site's stickiness. Are they visiting one page and then bouncing? Or are they sticking around to check out more of your website's content?

Unique Pageviews

A calculation you'll find in Google Analytics, unique pageviews aggregates pageviews that are generated by the same user during the same session (see definition of session below). unique pageview is the number of sessions during which that page was viewed one or more times. So if a person viewed the same page twice (or more times) during an individual session, unique pageviews would only count that pageview once.

Visits

In general, a visit is when someone reaches your website from a referring source outside your website domain. Usually, analytics tools only attribute one visit even if a person goes to multiple pages on your site while they're there. In other words, a person can accrue multiple pageviews during one visit. This is why pageview counts are generally larger than visit counts.

In HubSpot's software specifically, if a person were to visit your website, click a link that took them to another website, and then come back to your website, that would count as two visits.

Sessions

A session -- which is specific to Google Analytics -- is a group of interactions that take place on your website within a given time frame. In other words, a session is the container for the actions a user takes on your site within that time frame. While similar to visits in that one session can involve multiple pageviews, it's this additional layer of timing that makes sessions unique. By default, sessions in Google Analytics last 30 minutes, but you can adjust this length to last just a few seconds or a few hours at a time. A session ends and a new session starts for a user when either A) there has been 30 minutes of inactivity and the user becomes active again, B) the clock strikes midnight, or C) a user arrives via one campaign, leaves, and then comes back via a different campaign.

In contrast to HubSpot's definition of visits, if a person comes your site, leaves, but returns within 30 minutes, Google Analytics will count it as one session, not two. In addition, if a person is inactive on your site for 30 minutes or more, any future activity on your site is attributed to a new session, even if they've never left your site. This is why HubSpot users may see a discrepancy between visits in HubSpot and sessions in Google Analytics. 

Visitors/Users

A visitor, or a user in Google Analytics, is someone who visits your site. Keep in mind that a single visitor/user can have multiple visits to your site, (or sessions in Google Analytics). In HubSpot's software, for example, a visitor is tracked by the cookie placed in their browser by the HubSpot tracking code installed on your website. In Google Analytics, how users are calculated is a bit more complicated. If you were to segment your analytics by a particular time frame, for example, the visitors/users count would tell you how many different individual people visited your site during that period of time. 

New vs. Returning Users/Visitors

A report you'll find in Google Analytics, this shows the ratio of new to returning users by number of sessions and percentage of sessions. A new user has never been to your site before, whereas a returning user has visited your site in the past. These metrics are great for getting a sense of how well you're retaining your visitors, and how effective you are in attracting net new visitors at the top of the funnel.

Just keep in mind that, because Google Analytics uses cookies to track visitors, the report won't be 100% accurate in distinguishing new from returning visitors. For example, if a person visits your site via their mobile phone and then on their personal computer, they'll be counted as new visitors on both occasions (unless you're using Google's Universal Analytics capabilities).

Got it? Good. ;-)

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