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Understanding the Basics: Users vs Sessions vs Pageviews

September 29, 2020

Let’s begin to understand what we’re measuring.

So you want to get a better understanding of your web and marketing analytics? You’ve come to the right place. Welcome to Data Driven - a blog series from Builder Designs. For our first installment, we’ll get a better understanding on the foundations of what (and who) Google Analytics measures. Today, we’re tackling the differences between users, sessions, and pageviews.

Getting our vocabulary straight may seem elementary, but in order to really understand what our analytics are telling us, it’s crucial to understand.

Google Analytics measures website volume in three different ways: users, sessions, pageviews.

Let’s Start with Users.

Users are defined by unique IP addresses, but it’s best to think of them as the people visiting your website. Think of them as your buyers. This is where we like to start first.  This is a great metric to start to gauge who is coming to your website and what they’re doing.

We like to look at users in a few different ways. One of the most important ways we divide users is by new users versus returning users. The difference there is pretty simple. New users haven’t been to your site before, returning users have.

We also like to look at where users came from. Did they come from the Google search engine? Did they click on a social media ad? We can look at that information in our Source/Medium Report. Be on the lookout for that blog coming up!

One important thing to remember about calculating metrics surrounding users is that it’s all based on Google’s tracking cookie. If users clear their cookies, they’ll be counted as new users, even though they may have been to the website before. Also don’t forget that every piece of analytics you look at has a time element to it. It’s common for users to be counted as both new and returning users in the same time period.

Sessions and Pageviews

Sessions and pageview are pretty closely related. A pageview is when a page on your website is visited by a user.  A session is a collection pageviews by a user.

Let’s look at some examples!

A user is searching for “New homes near me”, and because you’re ontop of your SEO efforts, your website comes up on page one. Jane Doe clicks on the link and opens up the website. 

This is one session, containing one pageview by one user.

Jane Doe then clicks on the available homes page and then clicks on the listing for 123 Main Street.

This is now one session, containing three pageviews, by one user.

Jane Doe then closes her browser and remembers she liked the pictures for 123 Main Street, so she goes back to the home page, then to available homes, and then clicks on list again.  

This is now two sessions, containing three pageviews each, by one user.

Tracking pageview and session allow us to calculate some important engagement information  from each webpage. We love to look at average session duration (the amount of time a person stays on your website during a session) and average pageviews per session (how many pages a user looked at during a session).

Closing the Loop

It’s probably no surprise that these metrics are all related and by tracking all of them we can start to see patterns. For example, we can generally conclude that…

Traffic coming from search engines have a higher session duration (4:21 on average)  and more pages per session (5.1 on average).

Traffic coming from ads have a lower average session duration (0:43 on average) and fewer pages per session (1.8 on average)

Knowing that information, we should say we should focus on search engine traffic instead of advertising, right? Well not really, because we also know…

Traffic from search engines refers only 30%-50% new users whereas traffic from ads generally refers 60%-80% new users. Because users can be new and returning users over a period of time, we know that traffic for advertising brings in returning users from search engines. In fact, in most cases, an increase and quality ad traffic will increase the amount of traffic coming from search engines.

Cool, huh?

We’ll explore this topic again when we talk about how users land on your website. Stay tuned!

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