Unique Visitor Nirvana? Will All Be Smiles if There is One Definition and the Number is Accurate?

Unique Visitor Nirvana? Will All Be Smiles if There is One Definition and the Number is Accurate?

Much digital ink has been has been expended this month about the co-existence of multiple (i.e. two or more) unique visitor definitions and continued deployments. I have found the discussion transparency useful (even though the tension was a bit distracting) and I think it has been valuable for the community to be exposed to how difficult and complex the process has been. We are certainly all much more informed about the many sides of the issue.

To traverse the discussion, if you haven’t had the chance to immerse yourself in the discussion, follow all the links (and read all the comments for all the posts) in Angie Brown’s post Unique Visitors suck. That’s why we shouldn’t change the definition. Then also read Judith Pascual’s Visitors…A new definition? and Neil Mason’s When Is a Visitor not a Visitor?.

Your head will ache.

But if you are a web analyst, you should not despair or become paralyzed.

Should the lack of a single agreed upon unique visitor definition prevent you from optimizing campaigns and improving performance?


Practicing web analysts should just deal with it (and take the time to repeatedly clarify when necessary) and get on with the tougher work of optimizing.

Really, when dealing with web analytics data, don’t we often have to clarify that what is shown is not always absolutely correct? Such as:

    • A “page” is not the same as a “web page”.
  • We’ve chosen to track downloads and submit button clicks as “pages” and not “events” so the clickstream before and after the valued event is visible.
  • By doing this, we achieve insight into fallout and missed loyalty opportunities, and can take action to improve online value.

So, let’s move on.

Not to stoke the dying embers and rouse another firestorm, and I’m not suggesting that we dismiss discussion on the unique visitor definition, but let’s think ahead. “Unique Visitor Nirvana? Will All Be Smiles if There is One Definition and the Number is Accurate?”

Most likely not.

Advertisers say they want accurate Unique Visitor counts so that planners can compare the number of people visiting sites they are evaluating for ad placement. Being able to associate Unique Visitors to people counts is like the Holy Grail.*

Yes, it’s useful, but is it really the Holy Grail? Will an accurate Unique Visitor count that directly correlates to people guarantee success?

Why would we think this when not all Unique Visitors are equal in value, and not all Unique Visitors will respond equally to creative?

And we know that past behaviour may not be fully replicated in the future.

Web analysts – you can help.

    • Help the ad planner run tests, particularly if the ad planner decides to hedge their bets and split their media placements.
  • Put your testing expertise to work and help them collect ad impressions, clickthroughs, landing page conversion and outcomes, segmented by content property, ad placement location and creative.


  • Analyze for placement insights that the ad planner can use to productively evaluate their placement decision, and move forward.


Not perfect, but perhaps more productive.

Your thoughts?

* comScore’s new methodology behind online audience measurement, an enhanced panel-centric hybrid methodology launched as a beta test in Canada in 2008, and described this past Monday at eMetrics Toronto by comScore’s Pat Pelligrini bio certainly seems to be a step in the right direction.

June Li

By |2023-02-27T12:18:15-05:00March 31, 2009|2 Comments


  1. angie 2009-04-01 at 06:36 - Reply

    Nice summary June, and thank you for chiming in. The Unique Visitors discussion is mainly about “counting stuff,” while so much of the value of web analytics is in optimization, both of the user’s experience and of the marketer’s success. Thank you for that reminder.

    Your comment about “page” vs “web page” was interesting, and that was a nice, clear way to put it. I also use “page views” to represent content or activity that’s technically not a page, but I want to have it reflected in path reports. I’ve read some feedback suggesting that perhaps the “page view” metric has outlived its usefulness and should be changed to “action” or something similar, to better reflect the way we’re all using that metric. That’s another topic definitely worth exploring.

  2. June Li 2009-04-01 at 09:33 - Reply

    I know you and the passionate folks who have weighed in on this discussion are very focused on optimization.

    And it is also great to see that everyone has their customer service hat on and does not want to burden busy execs with having to keep definitions for the same word straight.

    But I am sure that when necessary, execs can “get” the difference. They’re smart folks. And web analytics is not the first practice that’s had to clarify terms (e.g. lack of agreement about the definition of a sale can cause problems in Business Intelligence clarity). We analysts have to be really good at explaining the difference concisely, clearly and relevantly every time.

    Each evolution of the WAA Standards committee definitions document has been a hugely useful resource in educating folks new to web analytics practice. It productively focuses discussion. So a big thank you to you and the numerous folks who have worked on this effort.

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