Google Analytics Glossary: A Guide to Understanding Various Google Analytics Terms, Definitions, Metrics, and More

Last updated: August 16th, 2020

Note: This guide will stick to explanations pertaining to Google Analytics for websites; not apps.

Being one of the most commonly used Analytics platforms, Google Analytics provides a ton of information about your site visitors such as, how they interact, how much time they spend, where they come from, etc. Not only that, they allow you to customize your report in myriad ways.

With so many possibilities, details, reports, sections, and more, it’s natural to either get confused, or wonder about their exact meaning or purpose. Questions like what is a session, or what are real-time users, or how do I only look at the organic channel, etc. will likely come to your mind. Understanding the correct definitions & purposes of everything you’re looking at, and knowing how to leverage the tool in its entirety, will come in handy when you’re reporting your sites’ performance to your higher-ups.

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What Is a “Bounce Rate” in Google Analytics?

Specifically, when it comes to Google Analytics, a bounce is defined as a session that triggers only 1 request to your GA server. Precisely, the chain of events that leads to a bounce is as follows:

  1. A user comes to your site, thereby triggering a session — because a request to the GA server was made.
  2. A user views the page (whatever page they came to), and does nothing else/a.k.a, no other GA server requests are made.
  3. Then, the user exits your site.

A good rule of thumb to remember here is that a bounce is always defined as a single page session with only 1 pageview and 1 GA server request.

Bounce rate, therefore, is the percentage of all single-page sessions (as the provided definition) in a given time-frame. More Precisely, its formula is:

Bounce Rate [in a given time-frame] = (All single-page sessions/All sessions) * 100

Other FAQs About Bounce/Bounce Rate

Why Does GA Thinks That All Bounce Sessions Have a Duration of Zero (0) Seconds?

The answer to this question lies within the definition itself. Since a bounce is described as an event with a single pageview, single GA server request, without any further interactions, GA doesn’t have the chance to calculate the duration.

Does Having a High Bounce Rate an Indicator of Bad Performance?

Not necessarily. It depends on your industry, and the use case for your site. If your site is a content-machine like mine, it’s natural to expect a high bounce rate because typically, the user finds & reads the information they were looking for, and exits the site. However, if you’re a B2B organization that thrives on leads, a towering bounce rate might isn’t a positive sign, or a website whose primary goal is to generate as many pageviews as possible, it isn’t a beneficial indicator.

What Is Considered as a Healthy Bounce Rate?

According to Search Engine Journal, most websites will experience a bounce rate in the range of 26% to 70%. Again, treat this information with a grain of salt since, as discussed, it really depends on the type of site you are, what industry you belong to, and the use case. Nevertheless, if you consistently witness something over 70%, it’s recommended that you put efforts into improving your bounce rate. If anything, aim for 60% if you’re a blog. Aiming for 70% will likely end up being more, which isn’t a great sign. Plus, you should never set the threshold at the borderline.

How Can You Access the “Bounce Rate” Report?

Bounce rate belongs to the main “audience” section of reporting in GA. To get your hands on this metric, simply go to Audience > Overview.

How Can You Access the “Bounce Rate” Report
Bounce Rate Metric is by default classified under the main “Audience” report.

Who Are “New Users” in Google Analytics?

A new user can be defined as someone who triggers a unique GA tracking client ID, when they visit your website/a.k.a first-time visitors. However, this is a slightly flawed system, but this is the best you can get at the moment for better or worse. The reason I said flawed, is because the GA tracking ecosystem is based on a cookie methodology — which can vary depending on a combination of the user device, browser, whether or not they’re exploring your site in private mode/incognito mode, and if they have cleared their cookies and browser history before revisiting your website, etc.

Long story short (and all things being the same), when a user with the same Client ID visits your website, they are counted as returning users. When GA notices that a user does not have a client ID/GA tracking cookie associated, and if GA can attach one, that user will be counted as a new user. Why? Because according to GA, this user has never been to your site as when they ran the cookie check, it was absent.

In summary, a new user is technically nothing but a newly attached GA cookie, which, as briefly discussed, can be inaccurate.

How Can You Access the “New Users” Report?

This report is categorized under the Audience > Overview section.

How Can You Access the New Users Report in Google Analytics
As seen, this report is grouped inside the Audience > Overview section.

What Are “Number of Sessions per User”?

As the name implies, the number of sessions per user is the aggregate count of sessions that a user usually generates.

The formula is:

Number of sessions per user [in a given time-frame] = (Sessions/users)

Google Analytics tends to round-off the value to limit the display to two decimal places.

number of sessions per user is equal to sessions divided by users
As you can see in this screen capture, the number of sessions = sessions/users. In other words, 1.98 (rounded off) = 281/142.

How Can You Access the “Number of Sessions per User” Report?

The image above already, partially, demonstrates how the report looks like. To retrieve the data, you’d have to enter into the “Audience” > “Overview” report in Google Analytics.


What Are “Pages per Session”? (Pages / Session)

Pages per session is a rough estimate of an average number of pageviews a session generates.

The formula is:

Pages per session (pages / session) = Pageviews/Sessions
what are pages per session in google analytics
As visible from this snapshot, pages/sessions come out to 1.60, which is a result of pageviews divided by sessions.

How Can You Access This Report?

Since this metric also reflects a brief synopsis of your audience, the report is ready to be viewed under the “Audience” > Overview part of the GA reporting ecosystem.


What Are “Pageviews” in Google Analytics?

What Are “Pageviews” in Google Analytics

In summary, as the metric name suggests, pageviews are the sum of all pages that are viewed in a given time-frame — and yes, repeat reloads of the same page are counted as well.

Note that this is nothing but pure & raw pageviews. You could very well have a case where a single user viewed 100 pages, while 10 users only viewed 20 pages.

Therefore, pageviews by itself isn’t a great indicator of anything (well, sort of) but, when analyzed within the context of other metrics such as unique pageviews, or even evaluating the same within other distinctive segments, it can tell a better story.

How Can You Access the “Pageviews” Report?

Pageviews are a part of the primary “Audience” report. To get to this metric, you’d have to head over to the overview section. Screenshot below for reference.

How Can You Access the “Pageviews” Report?
Head over to Audiences > Overview, to access your “Pageviews.”

What Are “Sessions” in Google Analytics?

A single session is defined as a fixed period of window (more below) in which, a user can have several interactions with your site. For example, he or she may view different pages, browse around, play videos, or even have an e-commerce transaction.

Further, note that one user can have multiple sessions throughout the day.

How Long Do Sessions Last in Google Analytics?

Sessions expire in three ways:

  1. Time-based: By default, each session lasts for 30-minutes. After 30 minutes of complete non-interaction, Google Analytics will count the next hit as another session.
  2. A subset of time-based, (at midnight): Regardless of what happens throughout the day, a new session begins at midnight. This also holds true for an existing session that has been active before midnight. For example, say, a session began at 11:59 PM. As soon as the clock strikes midnight, a new session will start. Technically, according to Google, the first session will end at 11:59:59 PM.
  3. Campaign based: When a user’s campaign source changes (even if it’s the same user and the same session), a new session will launch. For example, say a user came organically and initiated the first session. Now, let’s say that 10 minutes have passed, and the same user comes back to your site with a paid keyword. When this happens, a new session will be triggered.

How Can You Access the “Sessions” Report?

The easiest way to view the number of sessions to your site is by navigating to “Audience” > “Overview.” Here you’ll see a couple of site metrics, with sessions being one of them.

How Can You Access the “Sessions” Report
Sessions, along with a few other metrics, are viewable under “Audience” > “Overview.”

Who Are “Users” in Google Analytics?

Google Analytics defines users as visitors in a given time-frame, who have triggered at the minimum, 1 session for your website.

How Does Google Analytics Decide Who Is a New User and Who Is a Returning One?

By default, all first-time users start as new users. The way GA knows that is because it would be looking for the GA cookie. After running the check, it would realize that the cookie is absent, in which case, as soon as they hit your site, it would be attached to their browser/device with a unique number/identifier appended. For easy understanding, say it’s “123.”

By this logic, user’s 123 foremost visit would convert him or her into a new user. Now, when 123 visits again, he or she will be translated into a returning user because at this point, Google knows that 123 is not “new” anymore.

Having that stated, there are three common scenarios for when a returning user can be counted as new:

  1. When they visit for the first time from a different device. As mentioned, a cookie is set per-device-per-browser.
  2. When they clear their browser cache and cookies of your site.
  3. When they’re revisiting your website in private/incognito mode.

How Can You Access the “Users” Report?

The most typical way to access this report is under the main “Audience” Section > and then Click on “overview.”

how to access users report in google analytics
Your site users will be available under the main “Audience” report. The information about new users will also be accessible here.
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