Understanding Your Google Analytics Part 1: Users vs. Sessions

Google Analytics presents you with insights that can make a big difference in the success of your site development and ad campaigns. Two common metrics that Google Analytics presents are users and sessions. While related, they aren’t identical. This blog takes an in-depth look at the Google Analytics users vs. sessions question by outlining what they mean and when you want to pay special attention to each one.

Users in Google Analytics 

The user metric tracks the number of unique visitors to your site. Each time a device or browser loads a page for the first time, Google counts it as a new user. If the same party visits multiple times using the same device or browser, Google recognizes them and tracks them as a returning user. 

Tracking users has two main benefits:

  • If you’ve run a paid advertising campaign on Google or Facebook, checking the new users metric for that source and medium can indicate how successful it was. 
  • Once you’ve attracted these visitors, the returning users metric is a good indicator of how engaging they find your content. 

Google Analytics has a couple of quirks that can impact reported visitor numbers. For example, if someone visits your site using one device and comes back using another, Google will consider them a new user each time. The same thing will happen if a regular visitor deletes their browser cookies before returning. However, these instances don’t typically account for the majority of new visitors.

Sessions in Google Analytics

Sessions are the total number of visits to your site. If you have a client who visits your site 50 times using the same smartphone, they will be counted as one user but 50 sessions. Most marketing companies will provide you with this number when they report data to you because it’s always a higher number than users.

The session metric is great for measuring overall site or campaign performance. If an increase in sessions is accompanied by more goal conversions, it can be taken as a sign of quality growth. On the other hand, if your sessions are up by 300% but the conversion rate hasn’t changed, you’ll want to investigate further.

Like users, the sessions metric has its own quirks that impacts total accuracy. In Google Analytics, a new session starts after 30 minutes of inactivity or right after midnight. What this means is that if someone visits your site, takes a lunch break, and resumes 35 minutes later, it counts as two sessions. The same thing happens if they load the site at 11:45 p.m. and leave at 12:15 a.m.

So Which Metric Matters More?

Users and sessions metrics both help you understand how your audience engages with your site. While the former can assess the success of recent campaigns or a site launch, the latter may give you a good idea of how compelling existing visitors find your content. These are all insights that can translate into marketing decisions that get results. 

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Spotlight Branding is a content marketing and branding firm for lawyers and other professionals. Our goal is to help you create an online presence that positions you as a credible expert in your field, keeps you connected with your network in order to stay top of mind and increase referrals, and to become more visible online so prospects can find you!

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