How Does Google Analytics Know Who's On My Site ‑ LunaTV Ep. 16 ‑ Google Analytics

August 29, 2012

LunaTV is a weekly Q&A Show shot right here in the LunaMetrics offices with our team of experts. Send us questions @LunaMetrics on Twitter or right here in the comments below and we’ll answer them!

This weeks episode is about Google Analytics and how it is that Google Analytics knows who is on your site and what they are doing.

Phil: Hi this is Phil Anderson.
Jim: And I’m Jim Gianoglio
Phil: You’re watching LunaTV where we answer your question from around the web.
Jim: This weeks’ episode is about Google Analytics and we have a couple of questions that are related to how Google Analytics identifies a visitor, who’s a new visitor. So you can learn more about Google Analytics and questions like this on our industry blog that publishes three times a week, or you can become a real expert. Phil, how would they become a real expert?

Phil: Well I would recommend going to our trainings. We travel around the country. We’re going to be in a city near you! See when we’re coming at the URL below!

Jim: So back to this week’s question. this was actually a question that came to us from Quora. The question is, “How does Google Analytics know how many users are on the site?” “To elaborate when a user visits the page I understand that it contributes some actions elevating the numbers shown on Google Analytics. But how does Google Analytics actually know when that person is no longer on a particular page or on the pages of that domain?”

Phil: I’m assuming that Google just has like bugs that are in our heads and they’re seeing where we are at all times, is that not right?

Jim: Actually I think that they use these video cameras that are made out of Nano bods that crawl across… actually no. So the way that Google Analytics knows how many visitors are on your site or who’s on your site right now is a thing called the UTMA Cookie. So when you visit a site that has Google Analytics It sets certain cookies on your browser. Well that is that UTMA Cookie the visitor identifier. So it’s basically a string of numbers. So if you ever look at your UTMA Cookies, you’ll see just a string of a bunch of numbers. But with some of those numbers, there is one that is a visitor ID that’s made up a Random Unique ID, plus the time of the initial visit. So every time that you load a page that UTMA Cookie gets updated with the start of that session, plus the time stamp before that, plus the time of the initial visit. And this is a two year Cookie. So it lasts as long as you visit that site within two years. It has you pegged as visitor 12345.12345 … whatever the number is. So it doesn’t know when you’ve left a site particular until there’s been inactivity for 30 minutes and then you visit that site again. It knows that you are there as a new session.
Phil: Man I’m getting hungry just thinking about these cookies! So a similar question we all sort of see is,
“How does percentage of New Visits work?” And you may wonder, “How does this relate to what Jim was just talking about?” Well, New Visits are also stored in a cookie. This one’s a UTMB Cookie. If you know how to look at your cookies, you can actually investigate these things in Firefox or Chrome.
So the way Google knows if you’re new users is if you have this UTMB Cookie. Essentially what it does is it looks if you’ve been on the site before. This person particular persons’ question said “I’m getting 70% new visits direct traffic.” That seems kind of unusual right? We should have a lot of occurring visitors, and all of that being direct definitely sounds suspicious to me.
But keep in mind that nowadays, Jim actually wrote a great blog post about this, I’m firing up on my computer; I’m going on my mobile phone, then I’m at home. Each time I’m a new visitor. Now direct, it could be that you do email marketing, maybe I came from an email that wasn’t tagged, maybe I came from an App, and there could be a bunch of other reasons. Or it could just be a problem with the code, we see that all the time.

Jim: Certainly Apps can be really problematic especially depending on what industry you’re in. If you get a lot of traffic from Pinterest, which has become the number one referrer for a lot of sites, If you’re in the Women’s Fashion industry and you’re getting 60% of traffic, from Pinterest I think Pinterest traffic from the mobile device is very high.
So if you’re getting a lot of traffic from Pinterest There’s a good chance that they’re coming from a mobile device and again that’s going to show up as a direct visit, if they’re using the Pinterest App. Great, well you can visit or Pinterest page if you want to know more about Pinterest. Or if more about these Cookies, we teach this in the Google Analytics 301 class and then you can get a whole foundation in our 201 and 101. Again were going all around the country, check out our blog, check out our classes to learn about this stuff! See you next time!