Q&A: Why Google Analytics shows more users than sessions and other discrepancies

Updated on July 30, 2020

From time to time, we get questions related to various discrepancies between Google Analytics metrics which seem unusual at first, but upon further investigation, there is almost always a reason for the mismatch.

So in this post, we have collected all questions we got regarding discrepancy between number of users, sessions, pageviews and new users and provided our answers to them, in a hope that users facing similar questions will find their answer.

Contents:

  1. Why sometimes Google Analytics shows more users than sessions?
  2. Why Google Analytics shows less pageviews than users?
  3. Why the sum of New Visitors and Returning Visitors is greater than the Users metric?
  4. Number of users is smaller than the number of new users. What is the reason for this?
  5. I have set up event tracking on my website but I am not seeing the event in Real Time reports. Can you please help me?
  6. Google Analytics is reporting a big drop in traffic. Is this real or a bug?
  7. Why is Google Analytics always showing the number of users as 1 while all the other metrics like sessions, pageviews, bounce rate are much higher, in the normal range?
  8. Why are users, new users and sessions showing the same exact number?

Q1: Why sometimes Google Analytics shows more users than sessions?

There are several reasons why Google Analytics reports more users than sessions, although based on our experience, the most common one is sending non-interaction events.

Usually, this happens when a third-party tool like a CRM, eCommerce platform, monitoring app, etc. sends data to your Google Analytics property via the measurement protocol.

Most of the time, events sent by these third-party tools are set to non-interaction in order not to initiate a new session or affect the bounce rate (or any other session-based metric) of the current session. As a downside of this practice is that it inflates the number of users.

Google Analytics more users than sessions

As a best practice, when sending non-interaction events via the measurement protocol, mark the source of these hits in a custom dimension.

For this, create a custom dimension in Google Analytics, named “Non Interaction events” and ask the third party tool to add some data to it every time they send a non-interaction event. Something like “True” or “Interaction event”. Or anything that will allow you to know that hits are coming from an non-interaction event.

By doing so, you will be able to create a segment in Google Analytics to exclude this traffic and analyze your data without it.

Another reason for more users than sessions is using the Page , Page Title or Hour dimension in a custom report. When combining these dimensions with the Session metric, the custom report might report more users than sessions.

To prevent this, when creating custom reports, make sure you use the “Unique Pageviews” metric instead of the Sessions metric. In this way, you’ll be able to see the number of sessions in which a given page was viewed without getting more users reported.

Q2: Why Google Analytics shows less pageviews than users?

While there can be many causes why you are seeing more users than pageviews, most of the time this happens because on some of your pages, the pageview hits are not sent while the event hits are, thus registering that user and session in Google Analytics without any pageviews.

To fix this, we would recommend to check all your pages to see if there are some instances where the pageview hit is not sent.

Alternatively, you can create a segment which includes only sessions where no pageview hit was sent and to go to “Top Events” report and set Page as the secondary dimension. Then you could check those pages to see if the pageview hit is firing correctly on them.

Sessions with no pageview event

Q3: Why the sum of New Visitors and Returning Visitors is greater than the Users metric?

The sum of “New Visitors” and “Returning Visitors” will rarely match with the Users metric because in a given time period, a user can be both a “New Visitor” and a “Returning Visitor” while the Users metric will still be 1 during those sessions.
Returning visitors in Google Analytics

For example, if the user visited the site on Monday, for that session, Google Analytics will count that user as a “New Visitor” and if he visited the site again on Thursday, GA will mark that user as a “Returning Visitor” during that session.

So for this timeframe, GA will report this user as both “New Visitor” and “Returning Visitor” while the “Users” metric will still be 1.

Because of this, when performing any analysis, you should not add the number of new visitors with the returning visitors as this will not show the total number of visitors and will not match the Users metric.

Q4: Number of users is smaller than the number of new users. What is the reason for this?

At midnight, Google Analytics restarts all active sessions for the new day, so if a new user was viewing the site just before midnight, GA will count it as a “New User” session on the first day and if he continues to view the site after midnight, Google Analytics will initiate a new session and still count it as a “New User” session, but from the same user.

And when the number of “New Users” is totaled, you would see 2 for it, while for the “Users” metric count, you will see 1.

Usually this is not an issue for websites that get the bulk of their traffic before midnight, but if you have many users who browse your site during midnight and create 2 sessions, then you may see the number of “New Users” being higher than the “Users” metric.

In any case, the “Users” metric is the most accurate one so you should aim to use it while reporting, as the “New Users” metric contains a few duplicates of users who browsed the site during midnight.

Q5: I have set up event tracking on my website but I am not seeing the event in Real Time reports. Can you please help me?

If your events are set as non-interaction, then Google Analytics will not show them in the default “Active Users” section from the Real Time Events report, but will show it in the “Events (Last 30 min)” and “Events per second” sections instead.
Google Analytics real time events

Q6: Google Analytics is reporting a big drop in traffic. Is this real or a bug?

The drop in traffic reported by GA can be both due to a genuine decrease in traffic or due to a tracking error. Without an analytics expert reviewing how your site’s tracking is installed, it might be hard to know for sure if the drop in traffic is caused by a tracking error, but there are still some things you can check for yourself.

You could start by investigating the source/medium report and see if the decrease in traffic comes from all traffic sources or just some of them. If only some traffic sources are reporting a decrease in traffic, then traffic drop could be a genuine decrease in traffic from those sources but if all of your traffic sources are reporting a decrease, then this might be pointing to a tracking issue.

You could also check the “Landing Page” report to see if the decrease is on all landing pages or just on some of them, and later investigate those pages.

Another report to analyze is the “Page Timings” report to see if a particular page is loading slower than usual, as this might cause users to exit the page before Google Analytics tracking script loads, thus not counting them in GA.

Q7: Why is Google Analytics always showing the number of users as 1 while all the other metrics like sessions, pageviews, bounce rate are much higher, in the normal range?

While we can’t know the real reason of this issue without taking a look at how the tracking is implemented, a possible reason is incorrect implementation of user id tracking. If you are sending the same user id in all of your sessions, for all users, then the end result will be exactly how you describe it – one user with lots of sessions, pageviews and a normal bounce rate.

Q8: Why are users, new users and sessions showing the same exact number?

This really depends on the audience of your website, as if your users visit your site only one time without returning, you will get these results.

Another reason could be a misconfiguration of the “Session timeout” settings. If you have set a session timeout of 4 hours, you could also get these results (assuming that your users do not get back to your site on other days).

To view your session timeout settings, you need to go to Admin section and from the Property column, go to “Tracking Info” / “Session Settings”.

Google Analytics session settings

Although users have a lot more questions regarding users, sessions, new users and pageviews metrics, these are the most common ones which we received, so we hope that this post brought some clarity on them. If you still have questions regarding these metrics, feel free to ask us in the comments below.

If you are experiencing some discrepancy and you are suspecting it might be because of a tracking issue, we are offering an in-depth, analytics audit in which our experts will check if your Google Analytics is installed and configured correctly.

2 Comments Leave a reply

  1. I have added event tracking to one of the CTA from my site but I do not see the event neither in the “Active users” or “Events last 30 minutes” tabs from Real time report. Can you help me debug this?

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    1. There could be 2 reasons why you are not seeing the events in the Real Time report. 1. Event tracking is not installed correctly 2. There is a filter in Google Analytics which is preventing the event from registering in that view.

      To see if events are firing correctly from the page, you could use the Google Analytics debug Chrome extension.

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