Knowing how your audience behaves on your website is arguably more important than measuring how much traffic you receive. Since SEO tactics are designed to boost website traffic, you’ll want to understand not only the number of visits but also the overall size of your audience.
This is why unique visitors are a critically important metric for measuring your SEO and marketing efforts. To be successful, you’ll need to have a clear understanding of your audience, and the best place to start is by understanding how many different individuals are coming to your site.
What are website unique visitors?
Your website’s unique visitors represent the total number of distinct individuals who access your site during a given reporting period. It’s measured separately from visits, which is just the number of times anyone arrives at your site — for the first time or on return visits.
Why it’s important to track unique visitors
Whether you run an eCommerce site or a blog, your marketing and outreach efforts depend on the quality of your content. When you invest time and money developing and delivering content — such as doing on-page SEO, link building, etc — you need to track and analyze how well these efforts are paying off.
Unique visitors tell you about your audience size
When your website is ranking well in the search results, tracking your unique visitors will give you an idea of the actual audience size you’re attracting. By drilling down into your traffic data and parsing out new visitors from recurring visitors, you’ll be able to see how your sales and marketing channels are working.
Let’s say a marketing campaign delivers 100 visits to your site. They could all be unique visitors, or those visits could represent one unique visitor returning 100 times. If you sell goods or services, you’ll have a much better chance of making a sale with 100 unique visitors vs fewer visitors making repeat visits.
Similarly, tracking unique visitors vs returning visitors can help with retargeting campaigns, since you’ll know which percentage of your potential customers are kicking the tires over. But regardless of your conversion goals, having a complete data set on your website traffic is vital.
How do I find unique visitors to my website?
There are a variety of websites and tools that can help you unmask your unique visitors. Some offer limited data points, while others offer a deeper amount of insight. The cost (free vs paid) will depend on a number of factors.
Unless you operate an SEO agency or enterprise-level eCommerce site, chances are you won’t need to invest in expensive website analytics software. Sites like Visitor Queue and BounceX can charge hundreds of dollars per month and typically cater to intricate B2B sales channels across multiple platforms.
But even the big players still rely on the one critical piece of website analysis software you can’t do without: Google Analytics. Over half of all websites in existence use GA for traffic insight, with some industry watchers estimating it drives traffic analysis for as many as 15.6 million websites.
Until the past few years, website owners were more focused on traffic numbers instead of counting individuals. When Google released its Analytics tool in 2005, it revolutionized the way traffic data was reported, which only makes sense given that Google collects all that data itself. Until that point, it was essentially an educated guessing game.
Let’s take a look at how to find and analyze your website’s unique visitors using Google Analytics.
How to track unique visitors in Google Analytics
Google Analytics is by far the most powerful, robust, and widely-used web traffic analysis tool available. Not only is it completely free to use, but it uses Google’s own data to provide you with a complete picture of your site’s performance.
But before you use it for traffic analysis, you have to understand how it collects data and how to interpret it.
Understanding unique visitors in Google Analytics
You won’t actually find any data labeled as “unique visitors”. Since 2014, Google Analytics has defined the metric as users. In 2017, they shifted away from a strictly cookie-based and IP-address approach to a more complex system that generates a random ID based on a variety of metrics offering a much more accurate data set. Google describes user collection this way:
“In order for Google Analytics to determine which traffic belongs to which user, a unique identifier associated with each user is sent with each hit. This identifier can be a single, first-party cookie named _ga that stores a Google Analytics client ID, or you can use the User-ID feature in conjunction with the client ID to more accurately identify users across all the devices they use to access your site or app.”
Each User-ID is, in essence, a new browser instance, and unfortunately, it’s not foolproof. Google assumes that most users will only use one main browser, and if you have, for example, Chrome and Firefox installed on your computer, and browse a site from each one, it will count it as two unique visitors. Still, it should give you a fairly accurate account of your audience size.
You’ll find your visitors’ summary including your unique visitors in the Audience tab.
Another point to keep in mind, however, is that most visitor data in Google Analytics is anonymous. It wasn’t always the case; Google was fairly transparent with user demographics in the past until it became a privacy issue. So while you won’t be able to get individualized data (for the most part), it will still give you a solid picture of your users.
Other audience metrics in Google Analytics
Analytics provides a number of reporting tools to let you drill down into your unique visitor data. Let’s take a look at some of the other terminology you’ll need to know to get an accurate picture of your audience.
Users vs new users
Next to the users box, Analytics shows the number of new users. So, what’s the difference?
In Analytics, users refers to “users who have initiated at least one session during the date range,” while new users are “the number of first-time users during the selected date range.”
Therefore, your users are the total number of website unique visitors, while new users are the subset of unique visitors visiting for the first time in your reporting period.
Pageviews vs unique visitors
Pageviews (or page views in Analytics) simply means the number of times that pages on your site were accessed. You can also think of these colloquially as “hits”. So the difference between hits and unique visitors boils down to how many people read a web page vs how many unique visitors your entire site has received. Since one visitor can access many pages, your pageviews will generally be higher than your unique visitors.
Unique visitors vs visits
For the most part, Google uses unique visitors and visits interchangeably. A Google Analytics support thread explains it like this:
“Visitor and user tend to be used interchangeably when talking about websites, but GA uses ‘user’ in the interface but also ‘visitor’ in the actual dimension (this is also relevant when using the API or creating advanced segments). They are both the same thing. A user, or visitor, is a person or, more accurately, a unique browser.”
Depending on the report you generate, you’ll likely find the different terms are used. However, it should be noted that the number of visits won’t add up to the total number of visitors. This is because Google is counting browser sessions, not necessarily actual visitors.
Daily unique visitors/monthly unique visitors
You can easily check the frequency of your daily or monthly unique visitors in Google Analytics. Simply select your preference among the Hourly, Day, Week, or Month tabs along the top right of the graph area.
How to find the conversion rate for unique visitors
Google Analytics lets you set up conversion goals and then track them. For example, you can set up a measurement for a download, or a form submission — virtually any action a user can take, including conversions involving unique visitors. The data can then be used to figure out, for example, how many unique visitors per month you’ll need to make money.
Once the goal is established, you can track it under the Conversions > Goals section.
Don’t overlook your website’s unique visitors
Tracking unique visitors with Google Analytics is quick, easy, and is the foundation of your traffic analysis. By paying attention to this critical metric, you’ll be able to understand the size of your audience, and then use the data to drive your digital strategy.
For over 12 years, Miromind’s experienced multinational team of SEO experts has helped businesses around the world expand their digital reach. Whether you’re trying to make sense of your existing website data, or want to boost your website traffic, we can design a tailor-made strategy to help you meet your business goals. Contact us today to learn how we can work together.