posted this in Google Analytics, Reporting on February 20th, 2012

When Visits Aren't Visits

Most people want dashboards so that they can just see their slice of the business without navigating through all the other reports.  This makes sense, and for the most part Google Analytics is great at letting users slice and segment their data to do exactly that.  So I was surprised the first time I discovered that that the dashboards in the new version of Google Analytics don’t have segments anymore.

dashboard comparison

While you can’t limit the data set with segments, each dashboard module lets you apply filters.  Those should work. Right?

Sort of.   To track how many visits I got to a blog section of the site,  I viewed visits as my metric in a segment (using the criteria “Page containing /blog”) and then in a dashboard module (also using the criteria “Page containing/blog”).  Finding that they didn’t match at all revealed an interesting piece of information about the page dimension:

In Google Analytics, the visit metric gets incremented each time a user hits the site for the first time.  The visit is ONLY associated with the landing page.   This means that if you are viewing the pages dimension with visits as a metric, these “visits” actually correspond to entrances.   They aren’t visits at all!

This means you can’t make dashboards like this:

and you can’t make custom reports like this:

do not combine pages and visits in a custom report

Yikes! What do you do?

1) If you really need visits to a site section, always use advanced segments.  Segments apply to the entire visit, so making a segment on a page works with the visits metric.

2) Whenever possible, choose visitors or unique pageviews rather than visits in your dashboard module.

This explains why the Content reports only show page views and unique page views, rather than visits.  It also explains why any page-level custom variable is completely understated in the default report — it is really just counting up the number of entrances to that page.

UPDATE: As of June, 2012, GA has acknowledged the issue with “visits” in the page-level custom variable report by replacing it with a new metric called Visit Starts.

9 comments to When Visits Aren’t Visits

  • kathy

    This is very helpful. Great post – thank you!

  • Maria Soderberg

    Hi Ana,
    I was wondering about what you mean by “Segments apply to the entire visit, so making a segment on a page works with the visits metric”.
    That if I make a segment for page = “dogs.html” the visits count show how many visits that saw that page, not just the ones that landed on dogs.html?

    In that case, am I right that “The visit is ONLY associated with the landing page” does not apply to segments?

  • Hey Maria,
    Exactly, if you make a segment for page = dogs.html, and then navigate to Audience > Overview, the visits count will show all visits that saw that page, not just the ones that landed on it. That’s why it’s better to use segments in the case that you want to see total visits (or other visit-related metrics like orders, revenue, etc), NOT filters.

  • Maria Soderberg

    Thanks for replying so quickly!
    Do you have any official Google source for this beside your own reports? Couldn’t find anything this specific in the Google help pages.
    Do you know if this applies to (advanced) filters for entire profiles as well? Or do they use “the segment way”?

    • ha, I just checked and also couldn’t find anything in the help pages that clearly addresses this. However, you can verify that this is the case by making 2 custom reports: one with Page as the dimension and Visits as the metric, and the other with Landing Page as the dimension and Visits as the metric. They will be exactly the same. Also note that the default Content > Site Content > All Pages report doesn’t use Visits as a metric (it uses Unique Pageviews) so this only becomes an issue when you start customizing certain reports/dashboards.

      If you make a profile that filters out traffic except for on certain pages, the overall visit count will reflect normally (i.e. it will show visits that passed through the page, not just landed on the page). Hope that helps :)

      1/10/13 UPDATE: I don’t know if this is new or I just didn’t find it before, but I came across some documentation here: http://support.google.com/analytics/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2934985&topic=2524483&ctx=topic. It says:
      If you build a custom report that has page level dimensions (like Page, Page Title, or a page level custom variable) Unique Visitors might appear greater than Visits. This may occur when viewing the visits metric against any sort of page level dimension because visits are incremented on, and therefore associated with, the first hit of the session.

  • Maria Soderberg

    Thanks a bunch, you seem to really know your stuff!

  • Chun Wong

    Hi Ana,

    Have you seen this issue affect conversion rate data in the dashboards too? I’m seeing some discrepancies for conversion rates between what’s on the dashboard and in the Standard Reports while using the Page filter.. possibly because visits are used as part of the calculation?

  • Yes exactly. You can’t use page filters with any visit-related metric, which include visits, revenue, conversion rates. etc. Basically if it’s not a metric available on the Content > Site Content > All Pages report, it’s not available when you’re using a page filter.

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