What do users mean in Google Analytics

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Google Analytics is that Web analytics tool of choicewhen it comes to finding out how many visitors a website has, where they are from and how they interact with the website. In addition to the free use, the large range of functions and the many interfaces to other Google services such as Google AdWords speak in favor of this web analysis service.

But that one large range of functionswhich is reflected, among other things, in numerous metrics that are initially rather confusing for beginners, offers a lot of space for a wide variety of interpretations of the data. The translations from English into German, which often seem very "imprecise" in Google Analytics, do the rest.

It is no coincidence that there are always misunderstandings at the beginning, as I know from my work with customers. I will therefore pull the teeth out of three of these misunderstandings in my article.

Misconception # 1: Sessions and Users

Two measured values ​​are among the most frequently accessed in Google Analytics. This is the number of sessions and the number of users on a website. But what is the difference here anyway? Are sessions = visits = users? Or what was that like?

Definition of "meetings":
A session is a group of interactions that take place on a website over a period of time. For example, a single session can include many screen or page views, events, social interactions, and e-commerce transactions. (Source: Google)

Definition of "user":
The measured values ​​“users” and “active users” indicate how many users have accessed or interacted with a website or app. (Source: Google) The question of the difference between sessions and users is therefore quite easy to answer if the technology behind the analysis is understood. A few more facts:

  • A session lasts at least 30 minutes (session is terminated when inactive) and is extended accordingly with each interaction.
  • Each session ends no later than the end of the day at midnight.
  • A user who leaves the website and comes back to the website via another campaign creates a new session.

A So user can several Create sessionsif, for example, he visits the same website several times a day. The Number of sessions is therefore at least as large as the number of users - with a high regular readership often even many times larger, as shown here as an example:

Incidentally, the user can be recorded as part of Universal Analytics across all devices, provided that an analysis basis is created for this (for example: user ID).

Misconception # 2: The average session length

Many website operators, especially blog operators, are surprised at the surprisingly low values ​​for the average session duration. Many Analytics users are initially unaware that the average session length often does not correspond to reality.

Definition of "average session duration":
The duration of a single session is calculated differently depending on whether there was any interaction on the last page of the session. (Source: Google)

You read that right. The prerequisite for the correct recording of the session duration by Google Analytics is that the visitor interacts with the website. Especially with readers of blogs or online magazines, the point of "interaction" is often in short supply. Why? Because the articles are (hopefully) read with enthusiasm - but with WordPress, for example, reading itself does not initially constitute an interaction! That is why there is a plugin called WP Scroll Depthwhich in principle does nothing other than trigger an event every few seconds (freely definable) that leads to an interaction taking place without the visitor taking any action. This action will continue until the visitor finally leaves the page. This brings you much closer to the real session duration. The plugin can be downloaded from WordPress.

The plug-in was tested with great success on the IT system salesman's IT blog. The following graphic shows the average session length using the plugin (until October 2015) and without plugin (from November 2015):

The differences are clearly visible: If the average session duration scratched the ten-minute mark using the plug-in, it has dropped to an average of one minute without the plug-in, although the latter number is not particularly valid for the reasons mentioned. The difference is therefore very serious and sometimes leads to significant misinterpretations of the data. It is definitely worth taking a closer look at the circumstances.

Misconception # 3: the bounce rate

The bounce rate in Google Analytics is similar to the average session duration.

Definition of "bounce rate":
The bounce rate is the percentage of visits to a single page - i. H. Sessions in which the user left a website on the entry page without interacting with the page. (Source: Google)

It is also absolutely necessary for the visitor to interact with the website in order to record the jumps. Conversely, this means that a visitor who does not initiate any interaction and leaves the website after x seconds is counted as a jump. Depending on the goals pursued by a website, such visitor behavior is not necessarily to be equated with a jump. By activating the WP Scroll Depth plugin in WordPress, extremely low bounce rates can be corrected in Google Analytics. Not to beautify the numbers, but to actually record those visitors who have spent a long time on the website.

The following graphic shows the Development of the bounce rate on the IT system salesman's IT blog with an activated plugin (July to October 2015) and without a plugin (from October 2015):

The difference is also very clear here. The bounce rate is clearer for online shops, at least at the product page level. The situation is different on content pages that offer a lot of reading material and few opportunities for interaction, such as blogs and magazines.

Jump, duration, session ... Pretty confusing, this Google Analytics. Here are the solutions! TWEET


The points listed show that some of the data in Google Analytics should be treated with caution. It is up to the Google Analytics users to evaluate and question the data in a targeted manner. It is often advisable to try different analysis techniques, to play a little with the event function and to try to map the data as precisely as possible. For example, via event tracking.

One thing is clear, however: Web analysis is never free from errors and, due to different analysis methods, the results vary from software to software. Google Analytics users certainly have the advantage of being able to benefit from the large community and the many training opportunities. All of this is definitely worth it to avoid misunderstandings.

Article picture: Martin Mummel / GRVTY

What other typical misunderstandings when evaluating the data in Google Analytics do you know? With a comment below this post, you can help the "analysis beginners" in our community to avoid one or the other misinterpretation in the future.
Google Analytics: Three common misunderstandings in data interpretation
Rating: 4.69 votes
  1. Hello Thomas,

    Thanks for the positive feedback. Yes, I can recommend the book “Google Analytics - a comprehensive manual” by Heike Lück and Markus Vollmert. Very extensive and ideally suited as a reference work. Definitely very suitable for learning the basics.


        1. Hi René,

          That's it. The traffic data have different meaningfulness, depending on the type of traffic, type of application (portal, shop, app, ...) and target orientation.