Hi there friends,

Today we’re going to talk about the notions of new/returning visitors. If you’re familiar with Google Analytics, I guess you already know the answer to this puzzle, smart as you are. Just the same, the approach to these variables differs slightly with ATinternet and SiteCatalyst, the two competitors on the medium/large accounts market (13% market share internationally, 3% in France)

Google Analytics

Let’s start with a quick refresher on Google Analytics. New/Returning visitors is accessible via audience > behavior > new vs. returning.


The report presents the number of visits per type of visitor during a defined time period. In concrete terms, what is a “new visitor” and what is a “returning visitor”? For GA, a returning visitor is a visitor that’s already been identified during a previous session. Identification is made via cookies stocked in the browser, or more specifically the __utma. In short, it’s a chain of digital characters which isn’t simply composed of a visitor ID, but with other complimentary information:

  • Domaine hash (identifies the domain visited)
  • Visitor ID
  • Date & time of the first domain connection (as a timestamp, or “Unix time” – a unit of measurement invented by huge, old-school geeks for an audience of… well… geeks).
  • Date & time of the last connection
  • Date & time of the current connection
  • Number of total visits by that user on the site

I’ll insist then on this point: in Google Analytics, the type of new/returning visitor is expressed by default in visits. If you’d like to know the number of new/returning visitors in absolute terms over a given period, you’ll have to create segments. To do this, you’ll have to open the segments and activate segments present by default in GA “returning visitors” and “new visitors”. Then, head on over to Audience > Overview. The zone “unique visitors” will then guide you to your wildest dreams:



(Ex- “Xiti” for readers born before 1956)

In ATinternet Analyzer, the approach is a little different. Whereas Google Analytics works in Visitor Visits, Analyser only uses the notion of a visitor. Reports can be found under Traffic > Unique Visitors.

The notion of a visitor


Like with GA, identifying visitors happens through cookies, but not only so. That’s what makes Analyzer different from GA. You can see in the reporting above lines “with cookie” and “without cookie”. “With cookie” references a classic way of identifying visitors, and “without cookie” corresponds to browsers that don’t accept cookies. There’s another way of tagging these users based on their IP address and the User Agent; information that isn’t as reliable as a cookie.

You can also see the difference between a visitor and a unique visitor. The notion of a unique visitor is simpler than in Google Analytics. Focus for a second as I explain: if a visitor comes to my site once on a Monday, three times on Tuesday and twice on Wednesday, Analyzer will count one unique visitor. On the contrary, the notion of a visitor alone is puzzling, if not useless. To go back to my example just before, Analyzer will count three visitors because the notions of a visitor, to cite the official documentation, “are the unique daily visitors”. Anyway, I’ve never understood the interest.


The Acquisition/Loyalty report enables you to view the distribution of new/returning visitors (called here, “loyal visitors”). The metric used here is the unique visitor defined only using cookies. On the screen below, I have 1,280,720 unique visitors, and not 1,280,720 unique visitor visits (as Google proposes by default.)



SiteCatalyst is the tool which goes the furthest in terms of analyzing visitor profiles, namely by proposing reports about the type of visitor AND the types of visitor’s visits (are you still with me?  J) Reports can be accessed under the tab “Visitor Retention”.

The tool doesn’t propose a default new VS returning, but a simple “Return visits” report which simply presents the number of returning visitors over a selected period. To know the number of new visitors, you have to get out your old Casio calculator and do a little bit of subtraction, which is clearly not ideal.


Return Frequency


The report Return Frequency details recurrent visits and gives you an idea about visitor loyalty and, to a certain level, their attachment to your brand or your site. The report answers this question: when a returning visitor comes back to my site, how often does he come back? Is it every three days, or once a month?

Anyway, the Daily Return Visits report presents the volume of visits of returning visitors day by day (you can vary the analysis by hour, month, etc.). Simple in appearance, this report sheds some light on the cycle effects (micro-seasonality) and answers questions like:  at what moment during the week do I have the most loyal visitors?


And finally, the last report, “Customer Loyalty” goes in-depth on the dichotomy of new/returning visitors by proposing a consultation of all segmented metrics: New customers/return customers/loyal customers, with this view requiring the creation of a specific segment in Google Analytics.

Camille Thery

International Group Account Director

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