If you have a website, you’re probably using Google Analytics to track your online traffic (if you aren’t, you really should set it up). Simply by adding a tiny piece of code to your website, you can monitor not just the total number of pageviews on your website, but also how visitors interact with your website.
But the Google Analytics dashboard can be confusing, especially if you’ve never used it before. It includes so much information about your website that it may take quite a while to get used to it.
If you feel overwhelmed by the different metrics you see in Google Analytics, this guide will help you understand the key differences between pageviews, sessions, and unique pageviews, and how to track each one.
What is a pageview?
According to Google, a pageview is “an instance of a page being loaded in a browser.” To put it simply, when a user views one page on a site, it counts as a pageview. If the user reloads the page or goes to another page and then returns, it is another pageview. For example, if the same user loads the same page 10 times, it generates ten pageviews.
Pageviews can offer an indication of how popular a web page or blog post is. However, you need to consider other factors to determine whether a certain page is actually popular. Even though a page might have lots of pageviews, it doesn’t necessarily mean the content resonates with your readers. It might simply be a matter of good SEO that generates lots of hits for a specific page. In order to dig deeper, you’ll also need to analyse the bounce rate to see whether the content is being read, and is therefore useful for readers.
How does a pageview differ from a unique pageview?
Unique pageviews refer to the aggregate of pageviews a single user generates during the same session (more on sessions below). Because unique pageviews are calculated per session, if a user loads the same page 10 times, this behaviour only generates one unique pageview. As a result, the number of unique pageviews will always be lower than that of pageviews.
To put it simply, the unique pageviews in Google Analytics shows how many users visited a specific page, whereas the pageviews displays the total number of times any pages were visited, including multiple views from the same user.
How does it differ from a session?
A session refers to the entire time a user spends on a website, and it can include one or more pageviews. Whether a user lands on a page on your website and bounces a few seconds later, or spends two hours reading every post, it still counts as one single session. If the same user leaves the page and comes back later, the second visit counts as a new session, but not as a new user.
In general, the higher the number of pageviews a page gets, the better. However, unique pageviews are a more accurate metric when it comes to determining the true popularity of a page. For example, you may have a page with a list of links to other pages on the website getting lots of views. Just because users click to visit one of the links then return to the main page to navigate to the next link doesn’t mean that the page is particularly “popular”.
If you want to measure how many pages on your website users visit before exiting, you should focus on the pages per session metric.
What Google metrics should you look at?
This depends on the type of website or blog you have, but typically, you should look at all three metrics we’ve discussed: pageviews, unique pageviews, and sessions. Some metrics may be more important than others depending on the purpose of the website.
If your website is monetized via ads, for example, your revenue is tied directly to pageviews and the number of times an ad is seen by a visitor. Ads are displayed when a page loads on the website, and you make money every time an ad displays. Because revenue is tied to pageviews in this case, sessions and users are not very relevant metrics to track.
The number of ads served and viewed by users is the same whether a single user views five pages or five different users view one page each. The end goal of the site is to increase the number of pageviews. You can do this by focusing on getting existing users to click on more pages on the website or bringing in new users.
On the other hand, if you are a website that makes money from traffic, pageviews are a less important metric. Since users can’t sign up twice, the website needs a constant flow of new users to keep making money. This doesn’t mean that pageviews and sessions are not relevant in this case, but they are not as important as in the case of websites that are monetized primarily via ads.
Understanding Google Analytics is not always easy, but once you figure out what the data means, the picture becomes clearer. Having a good understanding of your site’s goals is essential for success.