If you’re using Google Analytics, you've probably seen some similar-looking metrics called sessions and entrances. If you've exited GA and viewed nearly any other analytics tool, you've probably seen visits, but no mention of sessions. You return to Google Analytics and find that there’s no such thing as visits. So what gives? Here, I’ll attempt to demystify confusion around metrics that seem like they should be the same, but aren’t.
Understanding Sessions vs. Entrances
Before untangling sessions and entrances, it's important to talk briefly about hits. According to the documentation, a hit is any “interaction that results in data being sent to Google Analytics.” Hits determine the start of a session in GA. Hit types include pageviews, events and social interactions. Unless you have a custom implementation of Google Analytics, the first hit of a session should be a pageview.
What is a Session?
So viewing a page starts a session, but what is a session? A session is the set of interactions that occur within a single trip to a website. This is why in standard reports, sessions is shown alongside metrics like pages/session, and avg. session duration.
The first pageview of a session is called an entrance. In the all pages report, its value indicates how many times someone entered the site on a particular page. And because the first hit of a session is a pageview by default, the values of sessions and entrances are equal.
So What Are Visits?
The difference between website visits and sessions is mainly a naming convention. As long as you don’t have a custom setup, visits are the same as sessions.
Clicks vs. Sessions
If you’ve connected your Google Ads account to Google Analytics, you may have noticed that the clicks column differs from sessions column. It’s easy to think that these are the same; you click an ad, you’re sent to the website, and that’s it, right?
It’s important to realize that a single click, can lead to many sessions. For example, if someone clicks an ad and is brought to your site, if they come back later directly, the ad they had previously clicked will still get credit. Additionally, if users are able to click to call straight from an ad, these clicks will not become sessions.
What Are Pageviews Again?
A metric that doesn’t get as much attention in the Google Analytics discourse are pageviews. This metric is mostly self-explained, but it can be confusing when shown with unique pageviews in the all pages report. Simply put, the pageview count is the number of times a page has been seen. If a page is seen more than once in a single session, only one unique pageview hit is attributed to it. As an example, if I start my visit on a site’s homepage, go to the contact page, and then hit the back button, that counts as 2 pageviews for the homepage and 1 unique pageview for the home page.
In Summary, there's a general way to think about all these metrics, as long as you have a standard implementation of Google Analytics.
Pageviews > Unique Pageviews > Sessions = Entrances = Visits
Now that some of the confusion has been cleared, you can start using these measurements to your benefit. These metrics are common in most Google Analytics reports, and there are many more that can be used to help improve your site's performance. Check out this article: Bounce Rate vs Average Session Duration.