Koozai > Blog > Understanding Basic Google Analytics Terminology

Understanding Basic Google Analytics Terminology

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This post is for people just starting to use Google Analytics, to take you through what you see and explain some terms that you may not have heard of if you’ve not used Google Analytics before. Some things make complete sense and others look like they make sense but are actually slightly different to what you expect.

Basic Google Analytics Glossary

This first part is here to explain terms that you will see throughout your visits to Google Analytics, without understanding these you won’t be able to make the best interpretations of your data and without that you might as well not have any data!

Google Analytics Terminology



A visit to your site is when the Google Analytics tracking code is triggered on a user’s entrance to the site. Everything they then do on your site is tracked within that visit, until they leave or the session expires (after 30 minutes of inactivity).

New and Returning Visits

Through the use of cookies, Google Analytics will know if a user has been to your site on that browser before – and if so, will track them as a Returning Visit. If no information is available in the cookies, the visitor is tracked as a New Visit. If the cookie that tracks this has expired or been deleted then the visit will be classed as New. Furthermore, a user using a different browser or computer for another visit will initially be tracked as a New Visit, as cookies are held within individual browsers rather than across the whole computer or tied to the user magically.


The number of visitors will always be lower than the number of visits to a site, this is because some visitors will visit more than once. A visitor will be New and then Returning, but as above, if a visitor comes to the site from another computer or browser they will be seen as a different visitor.

For example, if you go to a site you are a visitor, if someone else then uses your computer and the same browser they will be seen as the same visitor as far as Google Analytics is concerned. However if you then use a new computer, you are seen as another visitor as Google cannot work out that you have visited from another place before.

Contrary to expectation, there is a significant difference between visits and visitors – hopefully this has helped to shed a little light on these variations. Simply put, a visit is time on the site whereas a visitor is a group of visits made on one computer, through one browser that has stored the cookies to track the visits to this one visitor.

Bounce Rate

A confusing aspect for many people, simply put, a ‘Bounce’ is a visit to your site that exits having only looked at one page. The ‘Bounce Rate’ is the percentage of visits that only viewed one page before leaving the site.

Ideally you want your Bounce Rate to be as low as possible, as that shows that users are engaging with your site. Depending on the type of site a typical Bounce Rate could be between 30% and 50%. Sites such as blogs will often see a higher Bounce Rate as many people only come to the site to read a post they have heard about, when they enter the site on that post and exit having finished reading it they count as a Bounce.


A pageview is a view of a page, simple huh? But think about how you navigate websites – do you often go to the same page several times while moving around? This means you are triggering multiple pageviews of the same page in a single session, which is why Google Analytics offers you an extra statistic: Unique Pageviews. Unique Pageviews are the number of visitors to a page, rather than the number of visits to that page – notice the subtle difference?

Pages per Visit

This is how many pages a visitor makes in one visit. This data is used in the Depth of Visit report that shows you how deep most visits to your site are, taking deepness as the more pages you visit the deeper your visit is.

Navigating Your Way Round Google Analytics

Having covered most of what can be seen above the fold in the Google Analytics dashboard and some of the common terms reported on, I’m now going to take you through a quick explanation of what each area of navigation is for.


The first thing most people see when they open their account in Google Analytics is the Dashboard, containing a graph of visits, Site Usage, Visitors Overview, Map Overlay, Traffic Sources Overview and Content Overview. Additionally, if you have Goals or E-commerce tracking set up you can also see an overview of these. From the dashboard you can click through to any of these areas by clicking ‘View Report’, however, my preferred navigation route is through the left hand menus which clearly explain what kind of data you can find in each section, so I’m going to take you through these now.


This section contains the visitors stalking data, that is, everything you need to know about your visitor and how they view your site. Including: where they are, which browser is being used, what operating system they are using, how long they are on site, how often they are on site and more! It’s good to explore this area and see which areas might help you, for example:

  • Does your website work properly in all browsers being used?
  • How many users can actually view the Flash on your site?
  • How many times do visitors return to the site?
  • How much traffic is coming from overseas?

See how much this data can help you make decisions about design, targeting, performance and more? Remember to think outside the box and not just concentrate on the numbers, figure out what they might mean to you in order to get the most from your data.

Traffic Sources

Traffic is another word for the visits to your site but is usually used when referring to groups of visits. The source of a visit is the specific place that sent the visit to your site. Sources include Google.co.uk, Google.com, Twitter.com, paid advertising, display ads, bookmarks people have in their browser and loads more. These are grouped in to the following main Mediums:

  • Organic – Non paid search traffic
  • Referral – a visit through a link to your site from another site
  • (none) – this is usually all visits that come direct to your site, through users bookmarks or if the user types the address in to the browsers address bar manually. It will also include any visits where data cannot be passed on from the entry source.
  • CPC – This stands for Cost per Click and refers to paid advertising, Google AdWords visits can automatically be tracked within this Medium and you can manually set up any other advertising to also be grouped under this Medium.

Using the campaign tracking URL builder tool from Google you can create URLs that include whatever source, medium and campaign tracking information you would like it to have. This way you can group and track your visits exactly how you want to.


This refers to the pages of your website. Within the Content Reports in Google Analytics you can find out how many times your pages have been seen, how many have had unique views, the bounce rate, how users got to each page and even which links were clicked most on each page. Useful reports here are include Top Landing Pages (which pages people enter the site on) and Top Content (the most viewed pages).


Goals are something that you have to set up yourself. It is within this section that you can measure conversions to find out how well your site is performing. Goals can either be:

  • URL Destination – the most popular goal often used to measure how many people see a confirmation page
  • Time on Site – if an aim of your site is to have users play a 10 minute game then you may wish to track all visits over 10 minutes as a goal completed
  • Pages/Visit – if you want to track the how many pages users view per visit you can set your target as a goal


Ecommerce is an area of Google Analytics that is most beneficial to websites that have an online shop. Using Ecommerce tracking allows you to see data for which products you have sold, how much has been spent and more. I find that this is most useful for seeing which marketing method has given the best return on investment.

Anything Else?

If you’re getting stuck in Google Analytics leave a comment or get in touch and we’ll see what we can do to help. For our website analytics consulting we use Google Analytics on a daily basis to analyse and optimise website performance and I would personally encourage anyone with a website to ensure they track interaction with it from the word go.


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  5. Dan Harrison avatar
    Dan Harrison

    A great introductory article on Analytics Anna. I’ve already forwarded this article to a client of mine who is just starting out with GA, trying to understand his website visitors.

    And I *finally* understand bounce rate! :)


  6. siva avatar


    Thanks for the Wonderful post.I just want to know know thing in google analytics.

    What does “% Change” denotes in google analytics. And how the values look like.

  7. Enda Gaffney avatar
    Enda Gaffney

    Good post Anna, though I’m struggling to understand the difference between Visitors, Unique Visitors & New Visits.

    Essentially Visitors are a subset of Uniques Visitors are the same – they will be firstly be new and then returning thus the number of unique visitors is always higher than the number of visitors in the defined time period.

    New Visits – this is also a subset of Unique Visitors (and will this always be lower) somebody who hasnt been to the site below.

    Which would you say is the most important parameter for a site – New Visits?

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