Understanding the Terminology - Basics

Last Updated: 08 November 2017

The world of Google Analytics and web analytics more broadly is filled with terminology that is distinct to the field, and often far from intuitive. For those beginners looking to better understand some of the terminology used, let's go through some of the commonly used terms and acronyms, and explain what they mean.


A user is a person who has used or is using a website, app or any piece of software. When using Google Analytics, the term 'user' refers to someone who has used, or is currently using, your website or app. The difficulty when tracking 'users' is that the same person can use multiple devices to access your website/app, and many people can all use the one shared device to access your website/app. In that sense, the way Google Analytics tracks users means it is probably more accurate to describe 'users' as 'devices'. In practice, this will probably not make too much difference to your overall statistics, but it is worth keeping in mind.

Another difficulty for Google Analytics when it tries to determine whether a device has been on your website/app previously is if someone has deleted the cookies or is using software to block cookies. In that case, the device will look like a new device/user to Google Analytics.


A session is continuous period of time in which a user is on your website/app. A single user can have multiple sessions, even in a single day, but a single session cannot be attributed to multiple users. Because users can come back to a website multiple times, with different periods of times between those visits, a rule has to be made when a session is classified as having concluded or expired. In Google Analytics, there are two ways a session can be classed as expired:

  1. Time-based expiration:
    • A session is classed as expired if there is 30 minutes of inactivity
    • If the time reaches midnight (a session cannot run over two days)
  2. Campaign change:
    • If a user arrives via one campaign, leaves, and then comes back via a different campaign

For further explanation of the definition of a session, please see the Google Documentation.


A pageview occurs when a user visits a page. If the same user navigates away and comes back, a new pageview is registered. If the user refreshes the page, a new pageview is also registered. A session will typically result in multiple pageviews.

Landing Page

The page that registers the first pageview during a session is called the landing page. Understanding which pages are most often the landing page for your users is important as it is the first impression your site is making on those users. If this first page is not well presented and/or does not have simple navigation to get to other pages, users are more likely to simply leave your website again.


The process of getting users to visit your website. On your Google Analytics dashboard, there is an acquisition subsection which is dedicated to helping you better understand how your users got to your website/app. The Visual Analytics Acquisition dashboard is similarly designed to help you understand how users got to your website/app.


As there are many different ways for a user to find your website, each specific origin point is referred to as a 'source'. This can include anything from a specific website referring traffic to your website, to an email, or a specific social network, such as Facebook.com.


The various sources of traffic are grouped into 'mediums'. For example, imagine you had two different websites, example.com and something.com, referring traffic to your website. In your Google Analytics data, these two websites would be classed as two different sources, 'example.com' and 'something.com', but both would have the same 'medium' of 'referral'. The same is true for traffic from Twitter and Facebook. The sources would be 'twitter.com' and 'facebook.com', however the medium in both cases should be 'social'.


Similar to the concept of a medium, a channel is a grouping of sources, and in many cases the channel and medium will be the same. However, there are some differences between the two groupings. For example, in many cases, social media traffic that does not come from the default twitter.com or facebook.com (e.g. it comes from t.co or m.facebook.com) will have a medium of 'referral', but a channel of 'Social'. In other cases, several mediums will be grouped into one channel. For a full breakdown on the differences between mediums and channels, check out this handy table.

For a better understanding of what the various channels are, take a look at our channel terminology guide.


A general term referring to a potential client or customer that you have some contact information for. Many marketing strategies will focus on 'lead generation', or obtaining the contact information (usually an email address) for a large number of people. These leads can then be followed up in order to try convert that lead into an actual customer - something referred to as a 'conversion', with the number of conversions from a pool of leads referred to as the 'conversion ratio'. Obviously, leads with high conversion ratios are preferred, but are more difficult to obtain as it requires targeting smaller and more specific groups of people who are more likely to interested in your product or service.


Shorthand for advertising campaign or promotion campaign. A campaign is a specific effort to generate leads, revenue or some other tangible benefit for your website/app. In Google Analytics, there are methods (such as adding UTM Tracking to your links) that can help you track the traffic generated by a campaign, allowing you to compare it to your 'regular' traffic and to previous campaigns to gauge its success.


An acronym standing for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is the process of improving how your website ranks in searches (primarily on Google). SEO targets a number of areas, typically looking to ensure that:

  • the keywords you want each page to rank highly for appear regularly on those pages
  • there is high quality content and that it is relevant to the keywords
  • the content on the website is regularly updated and added to
  • the correct meta tags are included on each page
  • page load times are low, and
  • a responsive (mobile friendly) version of each page is available.

SEO also often involves a substantial element of 'link building' - convincing other websites to provide links to your website. Links from more popular websites are one of the key factors taken into account in Google's search algorithm. Links from other websites to your website are referred to as 'backlinks'.