How Can the Number of Unique Visitors Be Greater Than the Number of Visits in Google Analytics?

The question seems paradoxical. I mean, the tail doesn’t wag the dog. And a visit can’t generate multiple visitors, right? And yet, if you compare visits and unique visitors to a given page or set of pages, you will often see that the number of visits is less than the number of unique visitors.

Here’s why.

In Analytics, there are three types of data: visitor, session and page.

  • Visitors are the client, i.e. the browser. So, think of a client as an “avatar” for a person. The client is the thing that does the visiting and viewing.
  • Visits are session-based, i.e. time-based. They have a beginning and an end. Google associates a visit with only one page: the landing page (the page where the session started).
  • Pages represent “activities” performed by the visitor during the visit (e.g. viewing a page or creating an event).

The key here is the difference between the Visitor:Page relationship and the Visit:Page relationship.

With the Visitor:Page relationship, every page is linked to a visitor. It’s kind of like saying this: “How many people saw door #3?” Let’s say Google tells you that 74 people saw door #3.

With the Visit:Page relationship, a visit is only linked to a page if the visit started on that page. It’s kind of like saying, “We’ve got a bell on each door that only rings when people enter. Yesterday, door #3 rang 17 times, which means we had 17 visits that started at door #3.” So, Google would tell you that the “visit bell” rang 17 times.

So, when you look at pages, and ask, “How many visits and unique visitors were there for this page?” Google Analytics will tell you, “This page was seen by 74 ‘people.’ This page was the first page seen in 17 instances.”

Clear as Mudd? 😉

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