Unique Visitors – Explained

On the support desk at StatCounter, we receive a lot of queries about Unique Visitors. This concept can be a little difficult to understand, particularly if you are new to web stats, so we’re going to try explain it here in very simple terms.

What is a Unique Visitor?
A Unique Visitor is a separate/individual/distinct visitor.

Each Unique Visitor to your site will be EITHER a first time OR a returning visitor.

How are Unique Visitors and Pageloads related?
Firstly let’s be clear on what we mean by a pageload. A pageload is a “hit” or “page view” on a site.

When one page of your site is loaded into a browser, one pageload is generated. Clicking the refresh button generates another pageload. Visiting another page on the site will generate a further pageload.

All the pageloads on your site are generated by your Unique Visitors.

Let’s imagine you have 10 pageloads on your site. This could be the result of:

    >> 10 Unique Visitors – each one visited your site once


    >> OR 1 Unique Visitor – who visited your site 10 times


    >> OR 5 Unique Visitors – each one visited your site twice


Can you explain Unique Visitors in the Summary Stats?

Let’s look at the Summary Stats below.

On Wednesday, there were 21 pageloads. This means there were 21 hits on the site. In other words, pages on the site were loaded in browsers 21 times.

These 21 pageloads were generated by 5 Unique Visitors. This means 5 distinct/separate individuals e.g. Mark, Paul, Tom, Joe and Simon.

Of the 5 Unique Visitors who viewed the site, three of them are Returning Visitors. This means that three of the five visitors have visited the site before and returned to view it again. The remaining two Unique Visitors are therefore First Time Visitors.


How are Unique Visitors in the Summary Stats calculated?
In the Summary Stats, Unique Visitors are calculated by the use of a “cookie”. A “cookie” is a small text file that we use at StatCounter to determine whether a visitor has been to your site in the recent past.

When a visitor first looks at a page on your site, a StatCounter cookie is placed in their browser (if allowed). Then, as the visitor browses your site, the cookie tells us that this is NOT a new/distinct/separate visitor visiting your site. Instead, it’s the same visitor looking at several different pages.

You should note that it IS possible for a visitor to disable all cookies in their browser.

When a visitor has cookies disabled, cookies cannot be used to determine whether the they are a Unique Visitor or not. If a visitor has cookies disabled, then each page of your site that he views will be considered to be a pageload by a Unique Visitor. Obviously, this is not strictly correct, so the Unique Visitor count is an imperfect measure. It does, however, give you a reasonably accurate overview of your Unique Visitors.

We hope this post is helpful – if anyone has any further queries or comments, please post below! Thanks! πŸ˜‰


  1. Excellent explanation of the differences. Thanks for clearing up the confustion there.

  2. O boy, I wish I could edit this blog!

    I DID have it worded correctly in my first post,….

    β€œIf they ARE being counted as a Unique Visitor with each page load, it’s because their browser is not accepting cookies.”

  3. Hi Chris

    Sorry about a typo in my post to you, it will certainly confuse anyone now LOL

    It SHOULD read “If they are NOT being counted as a Unique Visitor with each page load, it’s because their browser is not accepting cookies.”

    Every page load by a visitor who’s browser is NOT accepting cookies will be counted as a Unique Visitor for EACH page load.

  4. Hi Lumberjack33

    How far back for returning visitors? If they still have a Statcounter cookie, then anytime they visit they will be shown as a Returning Visitor. Now if their IP is still the same, and their last visit is still within your log quota (500 for free account), then their current visit will be grouped by IP as shown in Visitor Paths.

    If their last visit is not in your current log then you will only see the pages they have recently loaded but they will still be identified as a Returning Visitor, if they still have a cookie.

  5. Hi Chris

    AOL does assign a new IP to most of it’s customers with each page load, but that does not determine if they are Unique or not. It’s only the presence of a cookie that Statcounter set that determines a Unique Visitor. If they are being counted as a Unique Visitor with each page load, it’s because their browser is not accepting cookies.

  6. Thanks for this information. It’s been very helpful.
    Also some of the comments were enlightening.
    Andrew Walker

  7. Thank you for a very detailed explaination pertaining to this topic. Your and your staff’s hard work is much appreciated.

    Best wishes,

    Jack Robinson
    GySgt., U.S. Marine Corps, Ret.
    Director of operations-Resurrection Mission

  8. For the people asking about “no referring link”, I think that means that the visitor visited your website by typing the URL in the address bar, i.e. they weren’t ‘referred’ to it via a hyperlink. I think that’s correct, that’s what I’ve been assuming anyway!

  9. How far back are ‘returning visitors’ kept for? It is anyone who’s ever visited my site, ever, or just the people responsible for my last 500 pageviews (or whatever my quota is)?

  10. I have noticed that some ISPs (notably AOL) send visitors via a different route for each page that they visit. So the same (“unique”) visitor gets listed as a new visitor for each page that they visit, because StatCounter sees them as coming from a different IP address. Presumably there’s nothing that StatCounter can do about that?

  11. Thanks for the information, it clears up many doubts. I wish everyone explained computing stuff in a simple way and with graphics and examples, like you have done.

  12. Thanks for the information, it is a great for helping me understand my statistics better

  13. Thanks for explaining Unique Visitors, I knew what it was but some may not.

    In my stats, I see “No Referring Link” a lot. I for one would like more information on why we see it.

    Otherwise keep up the good work!

  14. Thank you. Indeed, that was a big help.

    Next, if time allows, I would like to see a similar detailed explanation of what “No Referring Link” means – as well as a way to combat it (if one exists).

  15. Not everyone would have been bothered to put down in simple terms for us “Thickies”. So thank you for taking the time.

  16. I have wanted to know this information for sometime now. Just never got around to looking it up. Thank so much for explaining it. Knowing more about stats and your site gives me more info as to whether I should upgrade or not.

  17. Depends on your Maximum Visit Length setting for the site/project.

    Maximum Visit Length
    Used to calculate your unique and returning visitors from a cookie. If this amount of time or more has elapsed since a visitor last visited a page on your website, then that visitor is considered unique. We recommend setting it between 1 and 6 hours. We don’t recommend setting it to 24 hours and above.

  18. Does it mean if a particular visitor has viewed my site for 10 times within a day will have the same statistic if he/she has viewed it for 10 times within a month? I believe Google Adsense only counts the page views of one particular viewer (with the same IP address) once in a day regardless of how many hits. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Your answer will really be much appreciated.

    Thank you very much.

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