Blog

Sessions vs. users vs. pageviews in Universal Analytics: an expert guide

|

6 mins

Sessions Vs Users Vs PageViews

Table of Contents

Pageviews (PV) are one of the most basic metrics that you can track in Google Analytics (GA). However, the name is a bit of a misnomer since “pageviews” in GA don’t actually have to be pages nor views on your website – they can be any type of interaction that you want to track.

Aside from understanding and tracking pageviews, it’s also important to understand the difference between pageviews, sessions, and users in GA. Of course, all of these metrics are related, but they each provide different insights into your website traffic.

You need a good grasp of all three if you want to make the most of your GA data. So keep reading as we explain what GA pageviews are and what matters. We’ll also compare them against sessions and users so that you can better understand how they all work together to help you assess how your content is performing.

What are pageviews in Google Analytics?

First, GA pageviews only apply to Universal Analytics (UA), which is the older version of Google Analytics. By July 2023, Google will be sunsetting UA in favor of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which will be the only version of GA going forward.

Until then, however, most digital marketers are still using Universal Analytics to track, measure, and analyze their website data. So it’s still important to understand how pageviews work in UA.

Google Analytics pageviews refer to a view of a page on your website that you’ve tagged with the GA tracking code.

  • In terms of website management and web analytics, pageviews (aka page impressions) are requests to load a single HTML file of an internet site.
  • A pageview (aka a page tracking hit or pageview hit) occurs when a page is loaded or reloaded in a browser.
  • As a metric, pageviews represent the total number of pages viewed, including reloads.

In plain terms, GA pageviews happen when a page on your site (e.g., the About page) is viewed or reloaded in a browser. If someone visits your site and views three different pages, that would count as three pageviews.

One thing to note is that pageviews only count the times a page is loaded in a browser. It won’t tell you how many unique visitors saw that page or how many times someone viewed that page in one session. To get more meaningful insights, you need to contextualize pageviews with other GA metrics such as sessions and users.

In most cases, pageviews are a good thing – they indicate that people are interested in your content and are engaging with your site. However, there can be such a thing as too many pageviews, especially if they’re coming from bots or other automated processes rather than real human visitors. That’s why you need to learn how to interpret your GA pageview data in the context of other data points.

Pageviews vs sessions vs. users

To understand the difference between pageviews, sessions, and users in Universal, it’s helpful to think of them as nested metrics. That is, sessions (and users) are made up of pageviews. Before we go deeper into that concept, let’s first define what sessions and users in UA are:

Sessions

In Universal Analytics, a “session” refers to the period of activity completed by a user, and they’re automatically recorded every single time someone visits your website.

Google Analytics starts recording a session the moment someone opens a page on your site and cookies are activated. If GA doesn’t detect any further activity from that user for 30 minutes (by default), the session will end. If the same user returns to your website after that default period, the activity will be recorded as a new session.

However, if they leave your website but return within that 30-minute window, it will still be considered part of the original session. That’s why you’ll sometimes see “0 minutes” as the duration for a session in your GA reports.

Users

Google Analytics counts a “user” as someone who initiates a session on your website. This means they loaded a page on your site that had the GA tracking code.

The moment a user lands on your page, GA identifies them as a new or returning user based on their browser cookies. Browser cookies work by storing a small amount of data on the user’s computer, which allows GA to track their activity across the internet.

If it’s a new user, they’ll be assigned a unique ID (aka client ID) that will be used to track their future activity on your site. If it’s a returning user, GA will look up their previous activity using the ID stored in their browser cookies.

The Users metric tells you the total of new and returning visitors your site receives within a specified time period. It’s also important to note that one user can actually generate multiple pageviews in one session, such as when they reload a page or view multiple pages in one visit.

Pageviews vs. unique pageviews

Apart from differentiating between pageviews vs. sessions and users, you also need to know the difference between pageviews and unique pageviews.

Unique pageviews tell you how many users visited a specific page on your website. It’s a more accurate representation of how popular a page is since one unique pageview is equal to one user.

On the other hand, pageviews only count how many times a webpage is visited – and that includes all visits from the same user. So, you can have a high pageview but still a low unique pageview count if the same person is visiting the same page multiple times.

In most cases, you’ll want to focus on unique pageviews rather than pageviews when analyzing your website’s performance. However, there are certain situations where looking at pageviews can still give you valuable insights. For example, if you’re trying to track how many times a user views a certain piece of content (like a video), then pageviews would be the more accurate metric to look at.

But if you’re trying to identify the most looked at engaging content on your website, then you should focus on unique pageviews. That’s because you want to know how many users are actually viewing the content, rather than just how many times it’s being viewed.

Assessing content performance

Content Performance

So why do you even need to understand what all of these metrics are? Because they all play an important role in assessing the performance of your website’s content.

Are people actually reading the articles you’re publishing? How long are they staying on your site? What pages are they most interested in?

These are all questions that can be answered by looking at your website’s traffic data, and one of the best tools for the job is Google Analytics.

Linking a Google Analytics account to your website will automatically pull data about everything that happens in it, including pageviews, unique pageviews, sessions, and users. Once you have that data in one place, you can then use it to evaluate how effective your marketing campaigns are.

In terms of content performance, no single metric – including pageviews – can tell you the full story. Instead, you’ll need to factor in other content performance assessment metrics such as:

  • Bounce rate: Your bounce rate indicates how many users leave your website after seeing just one page. This shows a number of things, such as whether your content is relevant to what they’re looking for or if your website is easy to navigate. A high bounce rate isn’t necessarily a bad thing (for instance, it naturally occurs for pages like “Contact Us”), but it’s something you should keep an eye on.
  • Time on page: How long are users spending on your website? If they’re only staying for a few minutes, your content may not be engaging for them. Combined with other metrics like unique pageviews, it can show you gaps in your content strategy. Having a lot of unique page views (aka unique visitors) with low time on page may indicate that you’re attracting the wrong audience, for example.
  • Goal completions: Each piece of content you publish should be nudging users down the funnel and towards a goal you’ve set, such as signing up for your email alerts or requesting a free quote. The more effective your content, the more likely users are to take action. You can track goal completions in Google Analytics by setting up conversion tracking.
  • New and returning visitors: Having lots of new visitors isn’t always a positive sign. If you’re noticing that most of your traffic comes from new visitors, but few of them return, this tells you that they don’t find your content worth coming back to – and it’s time to adjust your content strategy.

There’s no magic number for any of these metrics – what counts as a “good” or “bad” number will depend on your specific website and business goals. However, by keeping an eye on them, you can start to get a feel for what content is working well and which isn’t.

How are these different in GA4

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest version of Google Analytics, and it’s a big departure from Universal Analytics (UA). One of the most notable changes is how GA4 deals with sessions, pageviews, and users.

GA4 tracks all of these metrics slightly differently from UA. As all information sent to GA4 is event based, the modeling can produce different information.

Sessions in GA4 are initiated by a session_start event and will generate a session ID.f a user is inactive for 30 minutes, their session will end. Unlike in UA however, sessions don’t restart at midnight.

Pageviews are events based and the information is sent to GA4 when the event page_view is fired There is currently no unique pageview function in GA4.

Users are also tracked differently in GA4. In UA, a user is defined as a unique browser cookie. In GA4, a user is defined as a unique ID that can be assigned to multiple devices. This means that you can get a more accurate picture of how many people are using your website, even if they’re using multiple devices. The primary user metric in GA4 is ‘Active User’. An active user is anyone who has an engaged session. In most reports – this will be the default user view, so the data you look at when comparing GA4 to UA may be different.

Overall, GA4 provides a more accurate picture of how people are using your website. This is important for understanding not just how much traffic you’re getting but also how effective your content is at engaging users and driving conversions.

Wrapping it up

Pageviews are just one of the many useful metrics you can track in Google Analytics. They offer a wealth of information on every aspect of your digital marketing strategy, including your content, campaigns, and website design.

On the other hand, the sheer volume of data that GA produces can be overwhelming. Reporting Ninja’s analytics reporting templates make it super simple to view, filter, and visualize the data you need. You can also use these templates to craft professional and attractive reports to share with your team or clients.

Try Reporting Ninja for free for 15 days and discover how easy it can be to play with GA and all of its powerful features!

Kyle
Post written by