Understanding Analytics Terms | Users, Hits & Sessions

Users, hits, and sessions: these are important terms to know and understand when gathering data about your website. Data that is accumulated can be used to evaluate how your site is functioning and in turn help to find ways to improve your business opportunities.

Users

Users are basically your website visitors. Analytics platforms such as Google Analytics will make a best guess of an anonymous person that is visiting your website and classify them as a user.

Here is how they are detecting users depending on whether they are visiting the full website, mobile version, or other versions of a site.  

1. Website Users

Almost all data gathering platforms use a cookie to measure users on a website. A cookie is a small text file and it contains an anonymous identifier. Google Analytics uses a first party cookie that is connected to the domain that creates it. The great thing about first party cookies, is that almost all browsers allow them and they are very reliable.

2. Mobile Users

Mobile tracking is achieved almost the same way as web tracking. The device has an anonymous identifier stored inside. Every time the app is installed, the identifier is generated. So, if the user ever deletes the app, this identifier will also be deleted. However, if a user updates the app, it will not change.

The identifier and the cookie basically work in the same way. The only difference is that the identifier is not stored in a cookie, but rather it is stored in a database directly in the mobile device. This is how data gathering platforms like Google Analytics can create metrics such as unique visitors or users.

3. Other types of Users (kiosks, point-of-sale system, etc)

Nowadays, a user can access your content on additional devices such as kiosks or a point-of-sale system. The problem for these alternate devices is that there is no cookie or database to store the identifier so it is difficult to gather an accurate count of users. The only way to count for these devices is to use measurement protocol. This works by manually inserting the identifier into every hit in every session.

Hits

A hit is the most basic type of data. There are different types of hits depending on the platform you are using. Here are the main hits classified by Google Analytics.

1. Page Views/Screen Views

Page view is the term used for visitors from the web, while screen view is the term used to identify mobile visitors. These are automatically generated as a user views a piece of content. This is a fundamental metric as it is used to calculate other metrics such as page views per visit and average time on page.

2. Events

An event is measured when a user takes an action and interacts with content. Unlike pageviews, events must be manually implemented. An event could be when a user clicks on a button, swipes a screen, or watches a video.

3. Transactions

A transaction is a term used to identify when a user makes a purchase on your website. E-commerce tracking must be implemented in order to collect transactions. Additional data related to the transaction could also be tracked such as product descriptions, shipping, payment type, etc.

4. Social Interaction

A social interaction is when a user likes, retweets, or clicks the +1 button (depending on the social media platform they are using). To track when users are clicking these social buttons it must also be manually implemented in Google analytics.

Sessions

A session is basically a collection of the cumulative hits from one user. By default, analytics tools like Google Analytics will group these hits based on a user’s activity.

Most platforms use a period of 30 minutes, called a timeout. If a user is inactive for 30 minutes, the analytics platform will terminate the session. It will count a new session when the user becomes active again. You may want to change your default timeout for various reasons, for example if you have a long video on your webpage.

These platforms also use the time between the first and last hit to calculate the time on site. Time between the hits themselves is also used to calculate time on page.

How These Three Terms Can Help Better Your Analytics Management Strategies

These are the most basic terms used in analytics platforms such as Google Analytics. Users are simply the visitors to your website. Hits are the various interactions users may have on your website. Lastly, sessions are the groups of hits that your users accumulate in one sitting. Hopefully this guide will help you better understand the typical analytics language and help you use it to better manage your data.

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