Reality Blog: New vs. Returning Visitors, Does It Even Matter?

A woman at her laptop

During the last Reality Blog interview with Heather Robson, I raised the issue of New vs. Returning Visitors on our Money-Making Website, Top Wire Traveller.

My concern was with the high proportion of new visitors compared to returning visitors, at around 85:15.

To me, this number looked out of balance… possibly meaning our content wasn’t good enough to draw users back to the site.

Since then, I’ve dug further into the new vs. returning visitor debate and discovered some interesting insights.

It may not be as important as we first thought…

But first we need to understand how Google Analytics defines new visitors and returning visitors.

What’s a New Visitor?

A new visitor is a user who lands on your site and doesn’t have what’s called a tracking snippet. This is a piece of code Google embeds into a user’s browser cookie… it’s a unique tag.

If they don’t have one, they’re counted as a new visitor.

The thing is, a browser cookie is unique to one browser on one device. So, a returning visitor will be flagged as a new visitor if they use:

  • A different browser on the same device. For example, Chrome instead of Safari on their MacBook Pro.

  • A different device… phone, tablet, or a desktop computer instead of their laptop, for example.

  • A cookie blocker or if they regularly clear out cookies.

  • The same browser in Private or Incognito mode.

What’s a Returning Visitor?

A returning visitor is someone who has a tracking snippet in their browser cookie.

As you can see, there’s plenty of room for error in the new vs. returning visitor numbers. It’s important to understand this.

Okay. So we know the figures are rubbery. But the big question is, do the numbers actually matter or is tracking this figure meaningless?

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Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray

Andrew has traded the daily grind for a life on the road. He loves the lure of Australia’s wide-open spaces, solitude and isolation. Andrew and his wife Peta are experienced remote travelers, living the simple life on the road. They travel, work and live in their 4x4 truck camper. Andrew plans to build his Money-Making Website Top Wire Traveller to the point where it provides a regular income... enough to sustain their lifestyle on the road.


  • Thanks for pointing this out, Andrew. I think new/returning visitor numbers and bounce rate are two of the most misunderstood elements of analytics.

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