Just Three Little Words

Approximately 93% of all digital analytics conversations use one or more of only three terms.  Learn these three terms and you can  probably talk your way into a digital analytics job.  We’ll even up that 93% to..oh…98% with a bonus term.

Let’s say someone visits your site (or app or blog or whatever).  Let’s call him Timmy.  Timmy visits your site on Sunday and looks at two pages.  On Monday he looks at three pages.  On Friday he looks at one more page.


One Unique Visitor.  Timmy is ONE unique visitor.  Even though he visited your site three times this week, he’s only counted once in the unique visitor column.  If he visited eighteen times, he’d be counted once.  If he visited one time, he’s counted once.

  • How do it know?  At this point, you may be asking a very good question.  How do it know?  I mean, if Timmy visits my site at work, and then goes home and looks at it on his iPad over dinner, how does it know that he’s the same guy?  Short answer: it doesn’t.  It counts him as two unique visitors.  In fact, if Timmy views your site on two different browsers on the SAME computer, he gets counted twice.  This leads us to an important universal truth of analytics: unique visitors are not people.  Unique visitors are as close an approximation to people as we can do and — for virtually all types of analysis — good enough.


Three Visits (a.k.a. Sessions).  Timmy visited your site three times this week: Sunday, Monday, and Friday.  Admittedly, they were different lengths of time – that’s what page views are for – but there were three of them.

  • What about The Doritos Problem?  Ah great question!  You’re asking what happens if — during one of Timmy’s visits — he gets up between page one and page two to grab a bag of Doritos.  Is it still one visit?  Well, if Timmy takes more than thirty minutes away from the computer to eat the Doritos, it’s two visits.  If there is less than thirty minutes of inactivity between pages, it’s the same visit.


Six Page Views.  In those three visits, Timmy consumed a total of six page views.  Two on Sunday, three on Monday, and one on Friday.  If revenues to your site are at all driven by ad impressions, page views are your happy place.


Bonus term: Bounce.  A visit that consists of only one page view?  That’s a bounce.  For content-based sites like blogs, bounce is “bad” — you want people to stick around as long as possible.  For “I’m here to get something done” sites like tech support sites or e-commerce sites, “bounce” can be a good thing.