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! 😉

105 comments on “Unique Visitors – Explained

  1. Hi Hicham Maged

    21 Page Loads – 5 Unique – 3 Returning

    You have 21 page loads that we done by 1-5 individuals, and 3 done by returning individuals. So the number of visitors for that day could be anywhere from 4 to 8. I’ll explain below.

    A returning visitor is deemed so by the presence of a Statcounter cookie. So we know that we have 3 individuals there, the 3 returning.

    Unique individuals are another story. If they do not have a Statcounter cookie they are deemed as Unique. However, if their browser is not accepting cookies, every page load by them is counted as another Unique individual. So for the 5 Unique visitors, it could be 5 different individuals who don’t have the cookie, or it could be just one individual who’s browser is not accepting cookies.

    No other way to do it.

  2. Sebastian,

    of course setting a longer minimum interval will result in a lower statistical figure, but I guess it’s rather difficult to objectively justify ANY interval. Let’s use or own best judgement here.

  3. This is informative indeed but I’ve a question from the example you mentioned (Wednesday: 21 Page Loads – 5 Unique – 3 Returning) which is: how does the counter distinguish between the ‘two’ returning visitors and ‘three’ frist time visitors?

  4. And why don’t you recommend setting the value to 24 hours and up, and instead tell us to set it to 1 to 6 hours? It seems like it would artificially add visits to the count. I think 24 hours is a more sensible value. Or maybe I am getting something wrong. Could you please explain the rationale behind those numbers?

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