Do you know your returning users?

February 21, 2024

One of the key metrics that people look at is New vs Returning users. This very simple metric lets you understand a great deal about your business and allows you run personalisation, acquisition and analysis about your business. Problem is the reporting is wrong.

What is a new user In Google Analytics 4, a new user is someone who’s visiting your site for the first time. This is logged as a ‘first_visit’ or ‘first_open’ event.

View your new user metrics by clicking on Reports > Acquisition. You’ll see an overview that provides you with an at-a-glance understanding of how many new visitors your site’s attracting.

What is a returning user

The only thing that’s better than new users are ones who return to your site again and again. Why? It’s not only that retention costs less than acquisition. It’s also a great sign that your users are satisfied—delighted, even—and well on their way to loyalty.

In Google Analytics 4, returning users are people who have previously visited your website or app. If they stopped by at least once before—even if they didn’t engage during that session—they are returning users. To access an overview of your returning users, click on Reports > Retention. Then, start by comparing new vs. returning users within a specific time period.

Why is New vs Returning incorrect

The problem that we are having within the industry is that this key metric is reliant on third-party cookies (and they have been phased out first by Safari and now by Chrome) or cookies set from JavaScript that have a limited lifespan of 7 days (on some browsers/soon all). To solve this key metrics clients need to move to a first-party ID solution like AdFixus. In most western economies with a large Apple / Safari penetration we have noticed (and proven) that this key metric has been mis-represented for businesses large and small. 

ACME Corp – Google Analytics report – Safari users New vs Returning

Working with our consulting partners at Civic Data we found across several partners a similar trend.

You can see in the above sample report for ACME Corp that when comparing the GA data vs the data when AdFixus is deployed is though similar in trend line the actual numbers represented is very different.

Even more alarming is when we plot the same data below by the daily difference you can start to see where this error in this important metric is causing businesses a considerable issue

ACME Corp – Google Analytics report – Safari users New vs Returning – Daily Uplift

The reason behind this is that for browsers that are filtering out third-party cookies - they are reseeding the ID every 7 days.  

Simple example:

  • A user on Safari visits on day one – cookie ID is created – new user
  • The same user on Safari visits eight days later – cookie ID is created – new user

Why is New vs Returning a big issue for your business

Working with our partners and clients we have seen several benefits been derived after we have implemented AdFixus Identity across their websites.

  1. Doubling their addressable audience – as shown in the charts above our partners have reclaimed their lost visibility on non-Chrome browsers and they have doubled their addressable audiences.
  1. Increase in personalisation results – being able to identify a returning user correctly our partners have deployed different personalised experiences to their customers that has increased the performance of their sites.  
  1. Decrease number of identities – as our clients are not having their ID’s recreated every 7 days, we have seen a significant reduction in the number of IDs – greatly cleaning up downstream applications, and in some instances a cost reduction in these applications
  1. Conversion rate optimisation – like personalisation the effectiveness of our partners CRO programs have been improved as they can address the returning user differently that a new user.  
  1. Cost per acquisition – our partners have substantially altered their media campaign targeting. With a better understanding of New vs Returning our clients are realising a substantial saving in the acquisition costs.  
  1. Attribution – like the above with this data correction our partners can now attribute their media campaigns to actual business performance, which in turn has optimised their media spend.  

In summary

Understanding your New vs Returning users seems like a simple analysis in most cases this is being mis-represented in your analytics tool set. With the deprecation of third-party cookies, the data you report on is having a significant impact to your business across several business-critical areas. A true first-party durable ID, like AdFixus, is an investment you can’t afford to ignore.  

To learn more please Contact Us for a discussion

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