What Is The Difference Between Sessions, Users, And Pageviews?
Google Analytics can be confusing and mysterious for anyone who just does know much about the technical part of terms related to it such as users, sessions, and pageviews. You get a huge amount of data through Google Analytics and hence it can be difficult at times to understand the information correctly.
There is so much happening on your account and so many metrics are tracked simultaneously. But from the SEO point of view, the most important ones are users, sessions, and pageviews. In case you are a blogger and just declare that each month 2 million viewers visit your site, no one will believe you. But when you show the Google Analytics graph indicating sessions, then you have something to back up your declaration.
However, still, it does not confirm that 2 million viewers have visited your site because there is a difference between viewers and sessions. Interestingly, there is a difference between all the three metrics commonly used to indicate traffic on your site, including sessions, users, and pageviews.
Of course, it is pretty confusing. And that is why to clear any doubt regarding all these three things here we are trying to understand what sessions, users and pageviews are which will ultimately make you understand the difference between them.
Understanding Sessions, Users And Pageviews
If you have a Google Analytics account, then whenever you search for the data these three metrics, Sessions, Users and Pageviews will show up. Small SEO business services use them to measure the traffic your website is getting.
According to Justin Cutroni,
“Digital Analytics data is organized into a hierarchy of hits (pageviews or event views), sessions and users.”
So in that case pageviews will show the highest numbers, followed by sessions and users will show the least numbers. To understand these metrics even better you need to understand first what cookies are?
Relevance of Cookies
Cookies are stored on the browser of the visitor and are nothing, but pieces of stored data. These can be used for multiple purposes but preferably for storing and identifying one person as a different visitor from the other and so on.
It is possible for a single website to store multiple cookies on the browser of a visitor. Get one thing clear, that a cookie is directly associated with a site and every time you request for any web page on that site, the cookies associated with that website come along with that request.
Incidentally, these cookies also expire and their expiration term is decided by the code set within the website itself.
What Are Sessions?
Google Analytics uses sessions as a cookie, which comes with an expiration term of just 30 minutes. It works similar to the way a visitor ID cookie works. In case a person who is visiting your website do not have a session cookie, then your analytics account will create a new one.
However, if he already has a session cookie, then his visit will be registered and his expiration term will be set to 30 minutes once again. So what exactly are sessions?
Sessions are usually described as the group of interactions that occur on your site during a given time span, usually 30 minutes. The moment a visitor comes to your website; his session cookie activates meaning his session begins. In the case of sessions, however, things such as a number of pages viewed by the visitor or what the visitor is doing exactly is not taken into consideration.
According to professional SEO services, the important thing to remember regarding sessions is that it has a definite time frame. So how a session does come to an end?
Ending Of A Session
A session comes to an end if:
The visitor has stopped doing any activity on your site for 30 minutes. It happens many times that the visitor comes to your webpage, and then simultaneously opens a new window and starts exploring that particular site.
In that case, he completely forgets that he has also opened your website. At such times, he will be completely inactive on your site, although he is active online.
The session also ends at midnight. It means since the expiration process is time-based when the clock strikes midnight, due to the time zone configuration settings, the session of the visitor continuing his browsing even after 12 am will be considered as a separate session even though he started browsing around 11:45 pm.
So in this way, even though the time spent by the visitor is only 15 to 20 minutes, in this case, Analytics will consider it as two sessions.
Significance of Sessions
So, why is it important to know the sessions for your website? In technical terms, sessions give you an exact estimate of the number of times visitors opened your website and have carried out transactions/activities.
I will explain it to you with an example. For that, we will take into consideration that our site is an email service site such as Rediffmail. If a visitor checks his mail three times in a day, he will be contributing three sessions to the site every day. It is quite possible that sometimes his sessions will be very short say of only a few minutes.
And sometimes these sessions can be longer extending to a couple of hours. But since the duration of a session cookie is set for 30 minutes, the expiration will refresh every time the visitor opens some page. In that case, even if a visitor is on your website for a couple of hours and keeps on opening one page in every 29 minutes, the analytics will calculate it as only one session.
What Are Pageviews?
It is one of the easiest to understand. Pageviews are the total number of times the page on the website has been viewed. Now in case, one person clicks on your page multiple times, the analytics will count his each visit as a pageview.
Why Are Pageviews Important?
SEO services make use of pageviews for different purposes apart from of course, knowing how many people viewed your site that particular day, week or month. A page-view analysis generally indicates whether your new page layout or the online ad campaign you are running is really performing as per your expectations or not.
For this, the best way is to track your pageviews prior to improving the design and content of your website or implementing new marketing strategies. Get the Google Analytics data related to pageviews and then introduce the changes or update your website the way you want.
Now track your pageviews again. In case, the pageviews increase, it means the changes you made are really working and you can retain them or continue with the ad campaign. However, in case the pageviews come down, you would rather go back to the original site design or content. So in this way, pageviews can be used as parameters for judging whether your new updates are workable or not.
In case the pageviews show increased popularity your website may face the problem of Internet congestion. In that case, top SEO services advice increasing the capacity of Web server so that the browsing experience of users is improved.
What Are Unique Pageviews?
Many SEO experts stress on unique pageviews rather than pageviews as it provides a useful alternative to the basic figures of visitors. In the case of unique pageviews, the multiple views factor is directly eliminated. Even if a particular user visits your same page multiple times in one session, analytics will count it as only one single unique pageview. That is why unique views are considered as user sessions/page.
Which Is More Important-PageViews Or Unique Pageviews?
Understand one thing that every time a user clicks on ‘refresh’ button, it is as if he is requesting a new data from the Web server. It automatically leads to rebuilding the Web page when the data comes on the screen.
As mentioned above, every time the user hits the button of ‘refresh’ Google Analytics will count it as a separate pageview. So, you need to take into consideration this aspect when you are viewing the statistics for a pageview. It means just because the report of Analytics shows 100 pageviews, it does not indicate that 100 different users visited your website.
And this is where you should take into account the number of unique pageviews. These are the pages viewed by the unique visitors.
For getting the exact number of unique visitors or viewers to your website you need to look for Page Unique Pageview. It is a field that is listed in the Top Content report in Google Analytics report. Once you click on it, you will get the above result that shows separate figures for pageviews as well as Unique pageviews.
So for knowing how many unique visitors visited your site, a best SEO service company focuses on the Unique pageviews statistics.
The browser stores this ID as a cookie. So, it also indicates that this particular user ID is unique to that particular visitor but more importantly. it is more specifically identified on that particular browser. It means that if the same visitor visits your website using a different computer or a browser the Google Analytics will consider him as a new user and create a new ID for him.
However, it does not happen most of the time as a person usually uses the same browser mostly to surf through different websites. Although this probability is not applicable to all the users, it does not have a major impact on the statistics.
How Long The Cookie Retains The Identity Of A Visitor?
Ideally, the cookie retains the identity of the visitor in the form of the User ID. Interestingly, every time the user visits any webpage on your website, the expiration date will be automatically reset again for two years.
For example, if a new user visited your page on 1 January 2015 so as per rule, Google Analytics will create a new cookie that contains his visitor or user ID and its expiration date will be set as 1 January 2017. But if the visitor again visits your webpage on 1 January 2016, the expiration date for his ID will be reset again as 1 January 2018.
In case the visitor does not visit your website in between these two years, the cookie containing his ID will be automatically deleted. So when this visitor comes back to your visitor after a gap of two years, the Analytics account will create a new ID for him and he will be treated as a new user.
Importance Of Metrics
These metrics are really of a big importance as they tell you the exact number of people visiting your site, users who keep on returning multiple times, the amount of time a visitor stays on your page and also who are your new users.
It is always better to have a lot returning visitors who engage in multiple sessions instead of those users who view multiple pages and do not return or stay for a longtime on your website. This particular data related to sessions, pageviews, and users provided by Google Analytics account is highly useful for SEO consulting services who want to strategize online digital marketing for your website and improve chances of lead generation.
These metrics help them gauge the reach of your website and the areas needing more improvement.
Difference Between Sessions, Users & Pageviews
So finally, we have in a nutshell, what exactly are sessions, users, and pageviews. But what is the exact difference between these three? Let us understand it with an example.
Consider that I visit your site on May 1. While on your website, I visit your about us page, home page as well as the contact page. In case I’m the only visitor on your website at that time, the Google Analytics profile will read as below:
· Sessions -1
So, it means I am a user, who has created one session but has viewed three pages.
In case I return to your website yet again using the same browser/machine on the next day, say May 2. Again, I go to your homepage, about us page and contact page. Now the report will read:
Since I came the next day the 30 minutes time has expired and the account will calculate my next visit as the second session. But since I am using the same browser/device and has not cleared my cookies the report will show only 1 user.
As regards to pageviews, it is just the counting of a number of webpages a visitor has loaded, so since I have visited 3 pages, the pageviews will be 3 and since I am the same user, the second time the pageviews will be 6.
In general, there are seven metrics that are reflected in the Google Analytics reports. However, the most important ones are pageviews/unique pageviews, sessions, and users. More often, the percentage of new visitors reflect how well your marketing and advertising campaign is faring.
It also indicates whether newly implemented updates and online marketing strategies are attracting new potential customers or not. Initially, the number is high when you first install Google Analytics tracker as every visitor is new. So just let some time go before taking the figures seriously into consideration.