The Difference Between Sessions, Users and Page Views In Google Analytics

Google Analytics (GA) is a very powerful and popular tool used for tracking website analytics and data. It’s popular for two reasons:

1. It’s free!
2. It’s Google so, hey, it must be accurate right?

So the chances are, even if you are not in charge of your company’s website or have anything to do with the marketing department, you will probably have come across Google Analytics data at some point. Even if you haven’t, the data that someone else has given you about your company website will almost certainly have come from Google Analytics even if it was just the amount of monthly visitors you receive.

And getting this amount of monthly visitors data using GA yourself is easy right? You just log in and then you’ll see that it is right ther- Oh

Where does it actually say site visits?

And this is one of the most confusing, but basic things about Google Analytics. It doesn’t actually say how many site visitors there are.

Instead we see three different statistics that might be site visits. Sessions, users and page views. Here’s an screenshot as an example:

Sessions, Users, Page Views

So what do these mean? Why are the numbers so different? And which one is your web analytics person counting as visits in their update report?

Sessions

This is the most important, but complicated, one. According to Google, a session is counted when a user interacts with the website in some way, either by clicking something, scrolling through or reading something – potentially (but not necessarily) across multiple pages. In essence a ‘session’ that someone has spent actively engaging with the site. Here at Orbital we count sessions as visits; because we believe this statistic to be the closest to what people expect a ‘visitor’ to the site to be (in that it is someone who comes to and interacts with the site); it doesn’t include the same visitor going to another page on the site like page views does, and it counts returning visitors, unlike the users statistic. Because of this, Google uses sessions as its main statistic in analytics.

Example: Let’s say User X goes onto example.com. They read the homepage (perhaps clicking on the slider at the top), and click to another page. This is one session, no matter how many other pages they click on. If User X (the same person) returns to the site the following day, and does the same thing, this counts as another session. If User Y goes onto example.com, reads the homepage and immediately leaves (or ‘bounces out’ in analytic speak), this still counts as a session.

Users

Someone counted as ‘user’ in Google Analytics is always just one person who came to your site, even over multiple visits, during the timeframe you specified with GA. Google knows it is the same person by sending a cookie to their browser. This is the most unreliable of the statistics because of this reason (the same person could clear their cookies or use a different device).

Example: User X visits the site and interacts with it (which = 1 session) on 10 March, and again (with the same browser and device without clearing their cookies) on the 12 March. If you are looking at your GA data between 10 – 15 March, then User X’s visit would count as 1 user BUT 2 sessions.

Page Views

The easiest one of the lot. Again as Google states, page views are the amount of total pages viewed, including repeated views of the same page. Back in the old days of the internet when all of this was fields and you could get a return ticket to Australia for 4 shillings, this would be called a ‘hit’. A warning here is that some people may count page views as visits (as it is almost always the higher number of the three statistics) when this isn’t strictly true. It may be the same visitor that’s gone to different pages on your site.

Example: User X visits the site’s homepage (which = 1 session and, if they haven’t been on the site before, also counts as 1 user). This is 1 page view. If User X clicks to another page, such as an ‘about us’ page, this counts as another page view. So User X’s visit in this instance as 1 session, 1 user and 2 page views. It just so happens that Google Analytics neatly puts the pages per session stat right next to this one, which you can use as a guide (along with a few other statistics) to see how much people are interacting with the site:

Pages per Session example in Google Analytics

And that’s it! The difference between sessions, users and page views. Which one are you counting as your total site visitors?

Stumped by Google Analytics reports and want someone to explain the jargon to you? Want to know how to better target your online customers and drive site traffic? We can help! Get in contact with us here.