What are users in Google Analytics?

In Google Analytics, a user can refer to two different things.

Firstly, it can refer to you: the person who is using Google Analytics. In your settings, you may find a ‘User’ tab where you can edit user settings. This refers to your personal settings and how you want to use Google Analytics. 

The second and more common usage is for people who visit your site. If a unique person browses to your site, and Google Analytics picks that up, they’ll be counted as a user. Users are unique people (as far as Google Analytics can tell), not unique visits. This means that if the same person browses to your site twice on the same device, they’re counted as one user. 

Realistically, the user count in Google Analytics will never be 100% accurate. This is because people share devices, switching between devices may not always be registered, privacy protectors block someone from being registered, et cetera. For the purposes of analysis though, you can consider every unique user shown in Google Analytics a unique person that’s been to your site.

How does Google Analytics count users?

User type overview in Audience > Behaviour

Users in Google Analytics are count as unique people who visit your website. So for example, if two people visit your website, that’s two users. It doesn’t matter if someone visits your website 537 times and the other one only drops by once, they are still two users.

Users are counted and kept track of using a unique identifier, which is sent along by the user’s device with every signal to Google Analytics. This identifier is not directly traceable to the actual person behind the user, but it does allow Google Analytics to keep track of who’s a newcomer and who’s a veteran.

This identifier can take two forms: a single standalone cookie created by Google Analytics, or a User-ID which allows you to track users across devices. You can learn more about that down below.

Are users unique visitors in Google Analytics?

Generally, yes. However, this depends on how you track your users.

If you make use of tracking with the User-ID then users can be tracked between multiple platforms. In this case, all users are often unique visitors. 

If you make use of tracking without the User-ID, and only with the Google Analytics cookie, then a single person may end up appearing as multiple users, for example if they visit the site both on their phone and on their computer. How large this margin of error will be depends heavily on the type of site you’re running.

Also keep in mind that, as with everything, these numbers are rarely 100% accurate. There are always going to be users that are not counted or counted double. However, these are such small numbers that it generally shouldn’t matter for your results decision making.

Remember: tracking users with User-ID impacts your GDPR settings.

Google Analytics User-ID setting

Can Google Analytics identify individual users?

Google Analytics is capable of identifying whether a user is new or returning, to a certain extent. Using the Google Analytics cookie that Google Analytics leaves on the user’s system, it can detect whether a user is returning or brand new. This way, it can distinguish between individual users to a certain extent. If you make use of User-IDs in your tracking, then you can extend this to identifying and tracking an individual user across multiple devices. In this sense, Google Analytics can indeed identify individual users.

However, Google Analytics can not give you any information on a given user’s identity. It can’t give you any personal information on any given user. Any personal data like names, e-mail addresses, IP addresses or anything of that nature is not available. User data in Google Analytics can not be traced back to a specific person in any way.

Google Analytics GEO – location map overview

What is the difference between users and new users in Google Analytics?

In Google Analytics, there are statistics for both ‘users’ and ‘new users’. These are two categories that may initially seem confusing, but they have distinct valuable meanings.

In Google Analytics, a user is defined as a unique visitor to your site within the set timeframe. If a given person visits your site, they are counted as a user. It doesn’t matter if they visited your site multiple times, how they interacted with it or whether they visited before – if they are a unique person that visited your site, they’re a user.

A new user is defined as someone who, within the given timeframe, visited your site for the first time. If Google Analytics is unable to verify that a user that arrives on your site has ever been there before, it will register them as a new user.

This means that all new users are users. In other words, your amount of users should be greater than your amount of new users. Sometimes an exception to this can occur, for example by a session being interrupted and thus the new user being counted twice, but this is an exception to the norm.

So if a New Visitor visited your site twice during the same period they would be counted twice. Both as a New and a Returning Visitor.

So if a New Visitor visited your site twice during the same period they would be counted twice. Both as a New and a Returning Visitor.

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