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Ask the Analyst: Talking the talk

Alex White | Digitaria
By Alex White , Analyst | @alex7white
Feb 23, 2012

[Editor’s Note: Google may not have an analytics help desk, but as a Google Analytics Certified Partner in the GACP Directory, Digitaria is certified to answer your Google Analytics questions. “Ask the Analyst” is a new DigiThoughts segment that deals with real analytics questions submitted to the Digitaria Web Analytics team. Submit your analytics questions to ask-the-analyst@digitaria.com]

Today’s question comes from a caller seeking clarity on four terms used in Google Analytics: New Visitor, Unique Visitor, Absolute Unique Visitor, and New Visits.

As the analytics team newbie, I’ve quickly come to realize that in order to succeed in the analytics world, you need to have a blend of dedication, perseverance, bravery, and curiosity. If you have ever seen a raw data dump, you know exactly how intimidating the mountain of numbers, metrics, and analytics lingo can be. Web analysts are essentially translators, tasked with wading through the raw (and sometimes ugly) information in order to process and deliver valuable recommendations to improve a client’s performance. The analytics department is often looked at as being the Rosetta Stone of data for each client.

In order to walk the walk, you have to talk (or at least understand) the talk. Here are four key Google Analytics metrics defined:

New Visitor:
    •    This metric determines if a visitor has been to your page before or not. If Google Analytics detects a cookie that was placed in a previous visit, it will recognize the visitor as a Returning Visitor. If the cookie was deleted, or never set in the first place, Google Analytics will record this visitor as a New Visitor (and place a new cookie).

Unique Visitor:
    •    This metric indicates the number of unique individuals (actual people) that came to your website, often during a certain period or within specific parameters on a report. This metric is tracked via cookies, and will change as you adjust the date range or limitations of the report. For example, you website may have gotten 1,000 unique visitors during the month of January, but only 100 of them were new visitors. The number of unique visitors should always be lower than page views or visits (if not, you may have a problem), as visitors can view multiple pages in a sitting or visit the page multiple times. One should note that it will never be 100% perfect because of limitations in technology. For instance, visitors may delete cookies or block JavaScript, which prevents Google Analytics from effectively tracking those visitors.

Absolute Unique Visitor:
    •    This is an old metric, comparable to Unique Visitor, but your reporting should use one or the other and we recommend “Unique Visitor.” “Absolute Unique Visitor” is how Google Analytics reported Unique Visitors in the older user interface of Google Analytics, and you will not find it in the new UI because it’s being phased out as a metric. There is a slight technical difference in the way Unique Visitor and Absolute Unique Visitor measure visitors, so they do not match exactly when you compare the two. We recommend using the “new Google Analytics”, and you won’t have to even worry about the difference between these two metrics.

New Visits:
    •    The number of visits by those who have never previously checked out your site. This is essentially a visit count for first time visitors.

Essentially, “visitor” describes one person looking at your site. “Views” refers to the number of different pages looked at by each visitor—therefore, your views should almost always be higher than the visitor number. Differentiating these terms is the first step in translating data into analysis.

[Do you have a Google Analytics question? Submit it to ask-the-analyst@digitaria.com]