What is a unique user? Definition and example

Unique User or Unique Visitor are terms that we use in Web marketing. We count a website’s individual visitor as one visitor over a specific period. It doesn’t matter how many times they visited the website during that period. If one individual visited the site ten times, we still count that person as one visit.

We calculate how many unique visitors a website has had over a period of one day, week, or month.

As the Internet became popular and web analytics entered the scene in the 1990s, several new terms related to website traffic and online behavior emerged, including ‘unique user.’

Unique user vs. hit vs. visit

For most marketing professionals, the number of unique users matters more than how many visits a website gets. The term ‘visit,’ simply tells us how many times a website is visited.

‘Unique user’ also contrasts with the term ‘hit.’ Every time a web server sends a file to a browser, its log file records a hit.

A single visit to a web page may generate many hits if that page has different elements. Videos and graphic images, for example, are elements.

BusinessDictionary.com has the following definition of the term unique user:

“Individual visitor to a website who is counted as a single visitor irrespective of the number of times he or she revisits a site.”

Unique user
The two examples in this image apply to users who use Wi-Fi to go online. When talking to potential advertisers, website owners will provide popularity statistics, including unique user totals.

Unique user – example

If I visit johndoewidgets.com on 1st April, I am one unique visitor. I then visit the website again on 5th April. However, I am still just one unique visitor or unique user.

If I visit again on the 11th, 19th, and 24th of April, I am still just one unique user.

Therefore, does the total number of unique users a site has mean how many different people visited it? Sometimes it does, but not always.

Let’s image you visited that site on 1st April and then the same site again on 5th April. However, the first time you were at home and the second time in your office. On both occasions, you used Wi-Fi to go online. The website will count you as two unique users.

Passwords and cookies

  • Passwords and usernames

However, if I have to log in with a username and password, IP addresses don’t matter.

In that case, the password/username log in determines unique user numbers.

  • Cookies

Many websites use cookies to distinguish unique visitors from a repeat visit by the same user.

Cookies are tiny tracking devices with bits of data that a website’s server sends to your browser’s server. Your computer then deposits it in your hard drive.

Cookies gather information from your computer that helps the website become more effective. Website say that cookies also help improve the user experience.

However, the reliance on cookies for tracking unique users has limitations, as individuals using multiple devices or browsers, or those with strict privacy settings, may not be consistently identified across different sessions.

Emerging technologies and methodologies, such as fingerprinting and machine learning algorithms, are increasingly being utilized to enhance the accuracy of tracking unique users, especially in complex scenarios involving multiple devices and privacy-conscious users.

In 2010, Google became the first company to surpass one billion unique users.

Video – What is a Unique User?

This video presentation, from our sister channel on YouTube – Marketing Business Network, explains what the meaning of ‘Unique User’ is using simple and easy-to-understand language and examples.