You will find the terms 'visitor' and 'visit' a lot in your reporting. This describes how to make sense of the two.
Visits vs Visitors
When an anonymous visitor comes to your site for the very first time we drop a cookie into their browser. Cookies allow us to determine if that particular browser has been used to visit your site before. We are NOT looking at IPs for your reporting.
With every visit that occurs to the site, we begin tracking that particular visitor by creating what is called a 'session'. Each session has a unique ID and lasts until 30 minutes of inactivity are observed. We figure that by then they have left your site and are doing something else. Within the 30 minutes, they could visit the site multiple times. If that happens, the count towards your visits will only receive a +1 from the initial visit. If they come back later and 30 minutes have passed, we will count that as another +1 for your visits while the visitor number only received a +1 overall.
This means that in theory your amount of visits will ALWAYS be higher than your amount of visitors. It also means that the same person can contribute multiple counts to your visit’s number over the course of a day/week/month. If someone visits your site in the morning, at lunch and again in the afternoon in the same browser, they contribute +1 count to the visitor number and +3 to the visits. This happens because we start a new session for each visit with at least 30 minutes in-between.
This is the rule, but as always there are quite a few exceptions. The above does NOT necessarily apply if your visitor:
- Is a registered participant and logged in. In that case, we know who they are and it does not matter where they visit from.
- Has cookies disabled in their browsers (most people have them enabled).
- Deletes their browser’s history and/or cookies after having visited the site.
- Visits the site from different browsers on the same machine.
- Visits the site from different devices altogether. A visitor could be looking at your site from a computer at home, at work, from their tablet and from their phone. This would contribute at least +4 to your visitor’s count.
As you can see there are quite a few variables that can affect your visitor number, contributing to more than +1 even if it is the same person (or the opposite, when people share computers). This is why the visitor number should NEVER be interpreted as a count for unique individuals looking at your site, but only as an approximation.
While this is a lot to consider when you start analysing your numbers, be sure not to overthink this either. Over time, you will be able to interpret the data better and use it to gauge how much interest your projects have generated, rather than trying to determine individual visits. You will also be able to use relative numbers to compare projects with each other, for example by comparing the rate of Engaged participants, defining your own benchmarks.
NOTE - Admin visits to the site (when logged in) is not counted.
Also, read the article on What are page views to understand the difference between a visit and a page view in reporting.