Hits, Sessions & Users in Google Analytics
Are you confused by the differences between hits, sessions, and users? Sometimes terms like these are used interchangeably, along with others such as “visits” and “page views”. Read on to find out what they mean in Google Analytics!
Sometimes people will use the term “hit” to signify when someone has visited their page. However, in Google Analytics, it’s more about the actions that people take on a page. Google Analytics counts hits as “interactions”, which sends data to Analytics and is recorded as user activity.
Some hit types can include:
- Page (e.g. when a page is loaded on a website, or even inside a mobile application)
- Event (e.g. when a user clicks play on a video)
- Ecommerce (e.g. making a purchase online)
- Social Interaction (e.g. clicking an embedded “Like” or “Retweet” button)
These hit types are sent to Analytics via a special tracking code, rather than the regular Google Analytics tracking code. So a regular page view in Google Analytics will not necessarily be counted the same as a page view that is a hit. Hits are specifically set up to include specific interactions that you want to capture.
Also, note that hits in Google Analytics are not the same as hits in web server jargon. Those kinds are typically requests for files from a web server (such as a stylesheet, an HTML page, an image, and so on).
Sessions (previously known as Visits)
A session typically refers to a group of interactions that are made on your website, during a visit from a user, within a certain time frame.
The interactions can include those listed above in Hits, and the session can last until the user has been inactive for 30 minutes (by default, but you can adjust this time if you wish). If the user returns after this period is up, a new session will be started. But if they leave the site and return within 30 minutes, any activity there be considered part of the original session.
So, one user can create multiple sessions. Those sessions might be on the same day, or over a longer period of time (weeks, months). The sessions can expire or end due to a number of reasons, including from the 30 minutes of inactivity, or at midnight for the start of a new day.
If a user has come via a campaign, but leaves and returns via another, that’s again a new session. Whenever the source changes, the session changes, even if it’s still within the 30 minutes of the original session.
Depending on how the URL is tagged, a campaign may create a different session. If you let Google do its auto-tagging, each ad click generates a unique value and is seen as a new campaign. So, every click creates a new session, even if you’re clicking the same ad.
However, campaigns that have been manually tagged with UTM parameters have the same value. So, even if you click the same ad more than once, it is seen as coming from the same campaign and thus continues the existing session.
A user is, basically, a unit that is recorded when someone visits your website. Users can be categorised in different ways, such as new or returning users. Possibly most confusingly: multiple users can actually be the same physical person. Sometimes there are discrepancies and double-ups.
When a browser loads your website for the first time, it records a new user accessing the site. Typically, your browser will save a cookie for tracking. However, if the person clears/deletes their browser cookies, and visits your website again, it will register once more as a new user. And of course, if they use a different device or browser (such as Safari instead of Google Chrome), that’s another new user.
Users can also be counted in multiple ways depending on the source. So, if they first came to your website organically through a search on Google, they’re recorded as a new user. But if they later return to your website through a paid campaign ad instead, they’re new again!
If you visit a website within a certain time period, via the same browser, and the same method, you might count as a returning user.
We hope that helped! Let us know if you have any questions.
Written by Chelsea Zanki