Google Analytics Basics – Activity

Google Analytics is a powerful and free tool by Google that you can use to learn more about your website traffic. Out of the box it can do a lot. However, the real power is unleashed when you start diving into the advanced features. If you’ve never used it, there are quite a bit of arcane sounding terms and many foreign concepts. Today we will look into some of the terminology related to activity.


Google Analytics activity is tracked using a first party cookie. In order to generate these cookies, you must add the following snippet to your website, which contains a tracking code.

<!– Google Analytics –>
(i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),

ga(‘create’, ‘UA-XXXXX-Y’, ‘auto’);
ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);
<!– End Google Analytics –>

The line below is where you would add your unique tracking code.

//Replace "UA-XXXXX-Y" with the unique code that Google give you.
ga(‘create’, ‘UA-XXXXX-Y’, ‘auto’);

If you are using WordPress, there are also many plugins out there that can be used to automatically add this script.

Google states in their documentation:

When you add either of these tracking snippets to your website, you send a pageview for each page your users visit. Google Analytics processes this data and can infer a great deal of information including:

The total time a user spends on your site.
The time a user spends on each page and in what order those pages were visited.
What internal links were clicked (based on the URL of the next pageview).
In addition, the IP address, user agent string, and initial page inspection analytics.js does when creating a new tracker is used to determine things like the following:

The geographic location of the user.
What browser and operating system are being used.
Screen size and whether Flash or Java is installed.
The referring site.

Activity Hierarchy

Activity can be broken down into the the following hierarchy.

  1. Hits
  2. Sessions
  3. Users

Hits are the smallest unit of activity in Google Analytics. They can come in many different forms. Some of the more common forms of hits are:

  • pageviews
  • events
  • ecommerce transactions
  • social interactions

Sessions represent collection of hits from a given user over a period of time. A session will stay active as long as the user is not idle for longer then the session timeout time or they leave the page. By default, this timeout lasts for 30 minutes, but it can be changed. Sessions are assigned to a user, who can have multiple sessions.


A user is a unique visitor to your site. Each time this visitor comes to your site, a new session is opened up and associated with the user. A user is identified with unique id. While users can be tracked across sessions, they cannot be tracked across devices or browsers. In other words, if you visit a site using Google Analytics with Chrome, and then visit again with Firefox, two different users in Google Analytics will be created.

google analytics users, sessions and hits

Understanding Google Analytics activity is not so complex, but knowing the basics can go a long way in making sense of the information that your dashboard reports are telling you. In the next installment, we will dive deeper into Google Analytics and learn about segments.

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