A beginner’s guide to Google Analytics terminology

Can you differentiate between sessions, users, and pageviews? Bounce rate vs Exit rate? Check out this beginner’s guide to Google Analytics terminology to help you out.

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Data in Google Analytics can easily be misinterpreted due to the many (seemingly) similar terms that are used throughout various reports.

Let’s begin with users…

Users are the number of unique individuals that visit your website

The number of users in a selected date range (let’s say a month) is simply a headcount of the number of unique individuals that visit your site in that month. This figure is not looking at how many times the same individual visits your site, how many pages they visit, or what specific activity they undertake.

When we’re looking at users, that’s all we care about – the unique individual. A single individual may visit multiple pages on your site every single day for a month, but this will still only track as one user. This number will not increase until another unique individual pays a visit to your site.

Easy! Let’s move on to sessions, which Google defines as….

Sessions are “the period of time a user is actively engaged with your website, app, etc.”

As soon as an individual visits your site, a new session of activity is triggered. By default, this session will expire after 30 minutes of inactivity, or at midnight (which could suggest they are no longer browsing around, or that they have left your site). This metric alone is not tracking the number of pages the individual visits, nor what specific activity they are undertaking.

Sessions can, therefore, be referred to individual, uninterrupted browsing “sprees”. This figure in your analytics does not distinguish between unique individuals, it is simply counting the number of sessions, regardless of who’s doing them.

A single user can have multiple sessions on your site – if one session has expired and they return at a later point in time, this will count as two sessions.

What about new sessions?

New sessions are an estimate of first-time visits from users

If this percentage is relatively low, then the majority of visits to your site are from returning users – those who have previously been to your site. If this percentage is high, then lots of new traffic is coming to your site.

Lots of new traffic means you are doing a good job at reaching new users, but bear in mind that you should seek to retain these users and their longer term engagement with your brand.

Average session duration

When looking at sessions, another metric to be aware of is average session duration. This is a calculation made up of total duration of all sessions (in seconds) divided by the total number of all sessions. However, this can be problematic because Google Analytics looks at the interaction from page to page as a marker for the session’s duration, and so it cannot calculate the duration of time spent on the exit page. This means it will only record session duration based on the time of a user’s last page entrance, or as Google defines it, the last interaction.

This can skew the accuracy of the average session duration, especially if a session consists of a single pageview (bounced session), as no session duration can be calculated in these instances.

Now we’ve covered users and sessions (phew!), let’s take a look at pageviews…

Pageviews are quite literally the number of views to a page on your site

When we talked about users earlier, we said that the number of users correlates solely to the number of unique individuals, and not what activity they are undertaking. The pageviews metric is at the other end of the spectrum – it is all about the activity, and far less to do with the people doing it.

When measuring pageviews, we are looking at the total number of hits across all sessions, rather than who is responsible for them. If a page has 50 views, these could be from 50 different people viewing the page once, from ten people viewing that same page five times each, or even from one individual person viewing that same page 50 times over.

This metric offers an indication into the most popular or prominent pages on your site, which you can use to help shape its content and call-to-action. Looking at pageviews alone will not be enough to get a feel for how engaged your users actually are with your site – did users visit a lot of pages because they were genuinely interested in your site? Or because they were unable to find what they were searching for?

Unique pageviews, on the other hand, only counts one pageview, per user, per session, even if they are from a repeat visitor. By aggregating these views, the unique pageview metric gives a slightly clearer picture of the actual engagement on each page.

So, how can we dig deeper into all of this data?

Average time on page

The time users spend on a page can reveal a lot about which pages are and are not working well for your audience. In many ways, this number is more specific than the average session duration we talked about earlier because it is measured on a page-by-page basis. However, bear in mind that time on the exit page is still not being accounted for here.

Pages/Session tells us the average number of pageviews in a single session

The pages/session metric provides further insight into your audience’s engagement with your site – whether they are checking out multiple pages, or just one or two. That said, this metric is an average calculation based on the number of pages viewed by each individual user (including repeated views) during one single session, meaning it can be tricky to define an “ideal” page/session.

Therefore, we need to drill down even further, and focus on finding out specifically which pages are getting visits, as well as the time spent on, and bounce rates of, these pages.

Of course, if you want users to navigate through a higher number of pages on your site, be sure to include plenty of prompts and CTAs to entice users to check out more of your content, products, and services.

Bounce rate

Google defines the bounce rate as the percentage of single-page sessions. You will notice that both Individual pages have bounce rates as well as your site as a whole.

A high bounce rate could indicate problems with individual pages – perhaps they are confusing or uninteresting, perhaps they do not entice visitors to stick around for more, on the other hand it could be that users have found exactly what they wanted straight away.

… Vs exit rate

Exit rate, however, is a representation of how often users are ending their session or leaving your site after viewing the particular page in question.

A page with a low exit rate probably has a low bounce rate because users are clearly moving on to other pages on the site before leaving. But a high exit rate does not mean high bounce rate because users could visit multiple pages before the one they exit from.

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