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. Viešbučių: I agree that we should use our best judgment, but there is no explanation about what criteria should guide that judgment. We are operating in a vacuum here, because StatCounter doesn’t explain why short intervals are preferable to one-day intervals. I mean, the stats are daily, so… shorter periods don’t make much sense, in my opinion. I asked for an explanation of why I’m wrong.

  2. I quote myself, “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.”

    Their is NO absolute way to determine how many actual “visitors” a web site gets! You need to distinguish one visitor from another. This can only be done by IP or cookies. IP’s are not reliable, AOL for example gives a new IP for every page load by it’s customers, so that doesn’t work. Cookies are not reliable because people can delete or refuse cookies. SO we are left with cookies as an “approximate” means to use. They are used to determine returning visitors, but still have their limitations.

    As far as the summary information goes, if a visitor first comes to your site on Monday, then returns on Tuesday, if they are not refusing cookies, and still have the first cookie, they are BOTH Unique & Returning. One is not subtracted from the other. If they have no cookie on Tuesday, they are Unique again because we cannot be sure if they have been to your site before.

    The forum is a much better place to get your questions answered.

  3. Thank you for the explanation, but there is something I still can’t grasp:

    If a person visits my website one day, he is counted as a first-time visitor, and when he visits the next day, he is registered as a returning visitor. Correct? So when I look at the stats for that week/month/year and look at my unique visitors, this person is counted twice – once as a first-time visitor and once as a returning visitor?

    Or does it subtract one from the first-time visitors when a returning visitor is registered?

    The bottom line: how do I see the total amount of visitors to my website; that is, all the individuals who have visited my site since I started using Statcounter?

    I thought it would be by looking at unique visitors, but I am confused now. Is it by looking at first-time visitors (the rationale being that EVERY visitor was a first-time visitor at one point)?

    I really hope someone can be helpful in this regard. Thanks.

  4. It would be fantastic to have the option to show the “Unique Visitors” stat on the Projects Summary page when you log in instead of the “Page Views” total. Uniques are what it’s all about when measuring site popularity and building traffic. The Page Views statistic is a secondary concern for me. I have 50 or so projects and drilling into every single project to log the Uniques every day costs me an hour I could better use elsewhere. I se the upgraded Statcounter and it is a fantastic service apart from this one very frustrating aspect.

    Would it be possible to change this, or even have a “Setting” that allows a user to switch the Project Summary view to show either Uniques OR Page Views?


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