There are two Google Analytics filters that get confused more than any other two. It’s the difference between “new” visitors and “unique” visitors. There’s a difference, but before we get into that – why should you care? From a marketing perspective, it’s important if you’re trying to measure the impact of a campaign. If you select the wrong filter, you’ll potentially get a dramatically different answer. Or, if you want to understand visitor recency (related to last week’s post on How to Create an Early Warning System to Protect Your Business), the wrong choice will give you misinformation. Visitor recency is important for websites that function like an app (e.g. banking, billing, etc.), where routine usage is a measure of business health.

Here’s The Difference

Unique visitors are the actual visitors that visited your website during a specific time frame – like October 10th to November 9th. New visitors, on the other hand, have never been to your website within a specified time frame or before (now they may have removed their cookies – which jacks with the data, but most don’t). It’s easiest with an example:


If Visitor 1 arrived to your website on Date A and again on Date B, she would be a “new visitor” on Date A, and a “returning unique visitor” on Date B (as Date B falls within the selected date range represented by brackets). If Visitor 2 has a first visit on Date B, and then returns on Date C – he would be a “new unique visitor” on Date B and a “returning visitor” on Date C. And, to drive the point home, if Visitor 3 visits your website for the first time on Date C – then he is both a “new visitor” and a “unique visitor”.

How To Apply These Filters

Marketing Campaign Analysis
If you wrongly assume that a “new visitor” is the same as a “unique visitor”, and you’re studying the impact of a market campaign which dropped just before the date range above, you might underestimate. If gauging success by the number of “new visitors” arriving afterward, for example, you would miss Visitor 1 above, and only count Visitors 2 and 3. Whereas if you gauged success by “unique visitors”, you would include all three visitors in your count.

Recency Analysis
If you’re trying to perform a recency analysis to determine the health of an app-based website, it’s usually carried out over the course of five months (referred to as buckets), where the fifth bucket is a catch-all (as in 5+ months). For the first bucket, it’s possible to have a mix of new visitors and reactivated visitors (those that haven’t visited for more than a month). To determine the the number of visitors that arrived in the preceding 30 days, you should use “unique visitors”, otherwise you’ll miss the reactivated visitors. However, you’ll want to look at “new visitors” for the same period to understand the ratio of new to reactivated. When looking for visitors who arrived between 31 and 60 days ago; 61 and 90; or 91 and 120 use “unique visitors”. For the fifth bucket, you can use either “new visitors” or “unique visitors” – as a catch-all they’ll yield the same result.

If you need help implementing the concepts discussed within this blog post – as always you can reach out to us at The SEO keyword for this post is: Google Analytics Filters.
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Top 2 Most Commonly Confused Google Analytics Filters by John-Scott Dixon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.