In Google Analytics, there are two “visit” metrics – an absolute unique visit and a “regular” visit. Google Analytics uses cookies to help track visitors to your site and the use of these cookies is crucial in incrementing visit and absolute unique visit counts. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference was and how they’re counted, you’ll be pleased to know the answer is quite simple.

Absolute Unique Visit

Google Analytics, using javascript, will deliver a cookie to your browser that helps establish a session. For the purposes of unique visits, __utma is used. The __utma cookie expires in two years, meaning someone who visits the site every single day for two years will only be counted as one absolute unique visitor.

In reality, he or she will probably visit from several browsers (each maintains their own cookies) and will probably clear cookies several times over the next two years (or their anti-spyware apps will do it for them), but theoretically the above could hold true.


A visit is merely a “user session” and that is stored as __utmb, which has an expiration of thirty minutes. If a user visits your site and then does nothing for more than thirty minutes, then the cookie expires. The next time they load the page, Analytics will see that it has expired and write a new one, thus incrementing your visits by one.

It’s unclear how the two metrics are affected if users block the setting of cookies. I tried looking online but couldn’t find a definite answer but intuition would lead me to believe that a user who blocks cookies would always be counted as a unique visitor (and thus a visitor). You would lose tracking of their behavior, since there’s no session cookie to tell Analytics where they’ve been, but you’d have correct-ish visit counts. Fortunately the number of people rejecting cookies is fairly small.

Here is a detailed discussion of Cookies and Google Analytics, which should answer pretty much any question you could possibly have, and a fantastic primer on cookies and tracking overall.

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2 Responses to “Google Analytics Visit vs. Absolute Unique Visit”

  1. Nathan Decker Says:

    Thanks for the post. Do you what the difference between an “Absolute Unique Visitor” and a “Visitor” is? I have been unable to find any information that describes the difference in how these two are calculated in Google Analytics.

    Likely a basic question but your help is appreciated.



  2. jim Says:

    I think the same rules apply as in the case of Absolutely Unique Visitor and absolute unique visit.

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