Segmenting Unique Visitors in Google Analytics

Google Analytics now has the ability to EASILY segment Unique Visitors. Some of you may be yawning, but I can hear many, many people saying, “That’s fuc*ing AWESOME!”

Google Analytics can now segment Unique Visitors.

Unique visitors is a critical metric especially in the advertising industry. But it’s also a really hard metric to measure because it take a lot of data processing power. Why? Because of the way unique visitors are identified and measured.

Google Analytics defines a unique visitor as a cookie. For all you nerds it’s the __utma cookie.

Every time a visitor visits a site GA checks for the cookie. If the cookie exists then GA knows the visitor has been to the site before. If the cookie does not exist GA sets the cookie and increases the unique visitor count.

The challenge is that every time you want to view a report that contains unique visitors GA has to literally count all of those cookies collected to find how many are unique. That’s why there was only one GA report with Unique Visitors (Visitors > Visitor Trending >Absolute Unique Visitors report).

But Google figured out some way to effectively count all of the cookies in real time. Now the unique visitors metric that can be added to any custom report.

You can easily add Unique Visitors to any Google Analytics Custom Report.

If you need to segment unique visitors you can simple create a custom report and include this metric.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re running a branding campaign for an upcoming movie. You want to measure how many actual people visit your website. You can create a custom report with the campaign dimension and the Unique Visitor metric.

There is one technical limitation. Google Analytics will sample data when a date range for the custom report contains more than 200,000 visits.

Still, I’m completely amazed that they figured out how to make this happen.

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    1. says

      Hi, Justin!
      I keep reading your blog a time ago. And Google Analytics Update is a good news.
      I have a question about unique visitors. I have created a custom report with two metrics: visitors and unique visitors, and dimension month. And this report shows the number of unique visitors(141533) more than number of visitors(141077). How can that be?

      • says

        Hi Daniil,

        Thanks for reading the blog for a long time! As for your question, I’m guessing that you are referring to the ‘visits’ metric and not the ‘visitors’ metric? Visitors should be disabled in the custom report when using Unique Visitors.

        I did a few checks and created a report with Unique Visitors and Visits. When applied to a bunch of profiles I also got more visits than Unique visitors. Which, as you point out, is the way it should work. When GA calculates the number of Unique Visitors its actually counting the number of cookies and applying some additional logic to insure that there is a unique count of people. So there is a lot of logic that goes into the calculation.


    2. says

      Thanks for answer, Justin!

      But, when I created Custom Report all three metrics have been avaliable: Visits, Visitors and Unique Visitors. Generally strange that last two metrics exist together. And they are still avaliable in my Custom Reports.

      Here is all data for that case:
      Visits 322055,
      Visitors 141077,
      Unique Visiotrs 141533.

      • Justin says

        @Carl: that sounds like a data processing issue. My guess is that there is some issue with the intra-day processing by Google. While they do process the data multiple times a day, it can be a bit wacky when you look at the current day only.

        @ Mackenzie: Link tagging is used to identify traffic sources. Conversions are measured using goals. You need to use both in order to see conversions by different marketing campaign. You don’t need to create different pages for each campaign, but you do need to tag the links in your different marketing activities differently.

        @Peter: No, I have never tried to inject a different userID into the GA tracking cookie. But if you’re trying to identify uniques by members/non-members then you should check out custom variables. It’s exactly what you need. Yes, it is cookie based, but it’s the best way to solve the problem you’re looking for.

        @ Shailendra: No. Google Analytics does not have the traditional path analysis report that you’re looking for. Remember, different people will navigate the site differently. It’s unlikely that everyone will take the same path. However, if you have a defined path that people should follow then use a Funnel to measure the performance.

        @Danill: It may be a sampling issue or, perhaps, if you’re including data from the current day, some processing issue.

    3. says

      Hi Justin,

      I have question

      Can i get the series of pages which are visited in a single visit.

      For example, A user land on page x.html then goes to b.html then c.html & so on & exits from x.html.

      Can i get the funnel of all these visited pages starts from a.html

    4. says

      Thanks for the post. Simple and straightforward explanation. The way Analytics should be explained. Your ” __utma ” comment aside – ;-)

    5. says

      Hi Justin,

      Thanks for a great blog. I wonder if you would mind answering a question which I’ve searched for again and again but haven’t found a solution to.

      For sites that track logged on users over cycles of months or more years (like our company which offers an online website builder) it’s hard to use google’s unique visitors metric since it’s cookie based and of course the cookies aren’t cross machine and have a relatively short half-life.

      Is it possible to either override Google’s UserID with a custom one or have you ever tried storing the assigned Google UserID in your own user table and then forceably injecting it back into the Google cookie when the user logs in?

      Doing this accurately allows you to track funnels that may be months long (customer lifecycle) and would be super-valuable to subscription services like ours.

      Thank you in advance for your help,

    6. says

      Is it possible to use the link tagging feature to measure conversions? That way, I can see how many conversions I get from the campaign? Do I need a seperate thank you page for each c campaign?

    7. Carl says

      Hi Justin

      I’ve noticed when running a custom report for one day’s worth of data, with Visits and Unique visitors as the metrics, the “visits” almost doubles… as does the unique visits compared to what is shown in the normal visitors report.

      Any idea why this is happening?



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