GA: When Visits Are Lower Than Absolute Unique Visitors

October 31, 2011 - Posted by to web design, marketing

Google Analytics is a powerful, web stats application that helps many webmasters, search marketers and executives visualize and monitor the impact of their website.  Although, there are quirks with most in-depth applications and Google Analytics definitely isn't immune.

google analytics absolute unique visitors
Understanding visits vs. absolute unique visitors in Google Analytics

Many Google Analytics users begin questioning its accuracy when two important variables seem to conflict with each other -- "visits" and "absolute unique visitors."  It seems quite natural to assume that visits will never be lower than absolute unique visitors, yet this sometimes occurs.

Visits
The number of visits your site receives in the selected date range.

Absolute Unique Visitors
The number of visitors your site receives in the selected date range. Visitors who have returned are only counted once.

Ok, here is our opinion of what is going on, since we have not found any official documentation.  (We have tested this theory and it does seem to be true.)  Absolute unique visitors includes everyone, even those referrals or IPs which are filtered out.   At first, this might seem strange and upsetting.  After all, you wanted Google Analytics to filter this particular traffic from your stats. So why did Google ignore the rules and include all visitors?  They likely believe providing an absolute or total count is useful at times and in our opinion, we agree.  Once you realize otherwise filtered traffic is included in "absolute unique visitors," you can easily see how "visits," a filtered number, can fall well below. 

Also notice that the absolute figure is based on the selected date range.  A visitor that shows up on both Monday and Tuesday will be counted only once for a report on either day, but a report for both days will still only count that same visitor once -- not twice.

For more helpful advice, subscribe to the Lexcio Blog or find us on Twitter and Facebook.