Google analytics sessions vs visits and users vs visitors update

The team over at Google analytics on Good Thursday 2014 have decided to significantly change reporting terminology. Unique visitors has been changed to users and visits to sessions.

Users (formerly Unique Visitors)

Visitors has been renamed to Users to better reflect the fact that someone might first access your website from Google search on their desktop at work then return directly from their mobile phone to continue reading your article.  Essentially the same user but two visits sessions.

Sessions (formerly Visits)

Visits has been renamed to Sessions to better reflect that one person might access your website from several different devices and multiple times a day.

Imagine a reader of Techradar who might read the news from his desktop at work then on his phone on his commute home (hopefully not while driving) and then again on his tablet at home. This would count as three sessions but would only count as one user.

Google can identify that it is the same user if they are signed into their Google account on all devices as well as by other means. Therefore the terms session and user better fit this behaviour.

The problem I see with this is that it is going to lead to a lot of confusion when Google cannot identify same users (say when they’re not logging into their Google accounts or if they don’t even use Google products at all!).

Those Monday morning reporting meetings just got a lot more complex!

Sometimes a user will actually be one unique person across multiple devices and other times multiple users will mean the same person that Google could not identify and it will be an analytics nightmare setting up systems to try to match your site’s sessions to users.

If, for example, your website has logged in visits you could identify single users across multiple devices which Google might not identify as being the same user if they’re not logged into their Google account.

The annoying part will be trying to explain to management that users means only visitors that Google identifies as being the same but it is not 100% accurate since much of the time it will be individual people but counted as multiple users and this will be misleading for reporting purposes.

It will be possible to determine how much this varies from unique visitors by comparing the mix percentage in the coming days as we gather more data.

You can read more about clicks vs sessions, users vs visitors and sessions vs visits at Google’s page here.

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