Some people who are not very experienced with Google Analytics may get confused between two similar metrics displayed in Site Statistics: a Page View and a Unique page view. The confusion is even bigger when you build custom reports with these metrics.
I hope that this short post will clarify the definitions and the main differences between these two terms.
What is a Session (a.k.a. Visit)?
I’ll start with a short explanation of the metric “Session”, because the concept of a session is important to understand the difference between page views and unique page views.
The shortest explanation of session (a.k.a. Visit) is:
one single visit to a website, including all pages viewed.
For example, if a user opens your website, visits several different pages and then leaves your website by closing his/her web browser, this is a one session.
Google Analytics sets sessions to expire after 30 minutes of inactivity. But the session length can be modified in the Google Analytics Admin panel by modifying the session cookie expiration time from anywhere between one minute to four hours.
Session = a group of interactions that take place on your website within a given time frame.
What is a Page View ?
In simple words the “Page View” metric refers to:
the total number of single viewings of a specific page.
A single view is recorded every time when the page is loaded in user’s browser within a single session. This means that every time when the users refreshes or returns to the page, Google Analytics records a new page view. If a user visits the same page multiple times within a single session, each viewing of the page will add to its page view count.
For example, if a user views the same page five times as part of a single session, Google Analytics will count 5 Page View. In an opposite situation, you could have 5 users visit that visit this same page independently. In this case, Google Analytics will also count 5 Page View of the page.
For this reason, page views are sometimes seen as being of limited significance.
Page View -> Repeat viewers get counted each time they visit your site. A single session can contain multiple page views of the same page.
What is a Unique Page view ?
Unique page view refers to:
the number of individual visitors who have looked at your pages.
In the unique page views metric, Google eliminates the factor of multiple views of the same page within a single session. If a user views the same page more than once in a session, this will only count as one unique page view.
For this reason, unique views can be understood as user sessions per page, with each session potentially representing multiple views of the page but a minimum of one view per session.
Unique Page View -> Repeat viewers will only be counted once. A single session can contain only one unique page view of the same page.
Because Unique page views is a subset of the total page views, the number of Unique page views will tend to be lower than the number of total page views:
- Page A: 3 Pageviews, 1 Session, 1 Unique Pageview,
- Page B: 1 Pageviews, 0 Session, 1 Unique Pageviews,
- Page C: 1 Pageview, 0 Session, 1 Unique Pageview,
- Totals: 6 Pageviews, 1 Session, 3 Unique Pageviews,
How to use Page view and Unique Page view in custom reports?
Now, after we’ve learned the differences between Page Views and Unique Page Views, let’s have a look at this Google Analytics custom report:
At a first glance, a lot of people would say that this can’t be right, because the number of unique page views is higher than the number of sessions.
However this is quite normal and it’s due to GA’s data model. We saw that Sessions (or Visits) are counted once per visit and represent a group of interactions (including page views and unique page views) that take place on the website within a given time frame. But a single Session can rack up many unique pageviews since each page visited increases the number of unique pageviews by 1.
If your custom report is looking at multiple pages, a single session can result in multiple unique pageviews if that user viewed multiple pages that match your filter. In fact you’ll havea similar situation every time you’re building a custom report that has page level dimensions (such as Page, Page Title, etc.).
Example: A visitor comes to your site on Page A – Google Analytics will count this as both a session and a unique pageview.
Then the same visitor views pages B, C and D. This will still be count as a single Session (or Visit), but with 4 unique pageviews.
And if you create a custom report that only shows data for pages C and D, the report would still show two unique pageviews while the site would still show a single Session overall.
So, if you’re looking for the number of visitors who viewed a particular page, you’d want to use ‘Users’ in place of ‘Unique Pageviews’.
In fact, very often the reason you’re seeing the discrepancy between metrics in your Google Analytics custom reports is that you’re not using them correctly.
Hope that helps!