Marketing

New vs. Returning Visitors: What’s the Right Balance & Does It Even Matter?

What’s the right balance of new vs. returning visitors? What can we do with the information gathered from this metric? 34 marketers share their insights.

Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik on June 24, 2020 (last modified on June 23, 2020) • 23 minute read

What percentage of your site traffic should be new visitors?

How much weight should you be put on new vs. returning visitor metrics?

Should you even track these metrics at all?

New vs. returning visitors is one of the first metrics you see when viewing your audience overview in Google Analytics. I mean, have a look…

new-vs-returning-visitors-in-google-analytics

However, depending on who you talk to, the amount of importance marketers place on these metrics varies wildly. 

In this post, we’re going to examine the following, including: 

What are New Visitors? 

Google Analytics defines a new visitor as anyone who has never been on your website before, according to their tracking snippet. 

The last part is key because this is based on website cookies, as there are plenty of use cases where a returning visitor could be classified as a new visitor, including:

  • If a person is on your website in incognito or private browsing mode
  • If a person visits your site initially from their laptop and then browses it later on their smartphone. If they are not logged into Chrome on both devices, then when they view your site again on their smartphone, they’ll be counted as a new visitor. 
  • If a person visits your site once and then comes back a second time 3 years later. Google tracking snippets account for a 2-year time period. 
  • If a person visits your site, and then clears their browser cache before viewing it again.

According to our survey of marketers,  we found that the average percentage of new visitors on a site is 68%. 

What are Returning Visitors? 

Returning visitors, on the other hand, is anyone who visits your website more than once, according to Google’s tracking snippet. 

As we indicated above, this number could be lower than the actual number of repeat visitors since there are many use cases where returning visitors could be “accidentally” classified as new visitors in Google Analytics. 

How Do You Track New vs. Returning Visitors in Google Analytics?

The simplest way to track new vs. returning visitors in Google Analytics is through the New vs. Returning Visitors Reports. 

Simply go to Audience → Behavior → New v. Returning. 

Then, you’ll be able to see the number of new and returning visitors alongside other key metrics like pages per session, average session duration, bounce rate, and goal completions. 

We recommend filtering by source/medium as a secondary dimension so that you can see which sources drive the newest and returning visitors.

For example, you might be able to see that organic searches from Google are driving the most new visitors, whereas your weekly newsletter is bringing in the most returning visitors.  

Editor’s Note: Use this New Users Organic Traffic Dashboard to get an activity snapshot of new users from Google.  

organic search traffic dashboard

How to Visualize New vs. Returning Visitors in Databox

If you are looking for an easy way to quickly process and visualize all of your new and returning visitor data, here are some recommendations for how you do this through Databox. 

New Users

You can see the number of new visitors during a specified date range, such as the 7 days, 30 days, month, or month-to-date. 

Using a line graph, you can see daily fluctuations. This will help you spot any trends and gauge the effectiveness of any marketing campaigns or initiatives you may be running. 

You can also visualize the cumulative number of new users in a specific date range. 

Returning Users 

Just like with new users, you can also visualize the number of returning visitors in the last 7 days, 30 days, month, or month-to-date. 

Using the table view, you can see the number of returning users to individual blog posts. This can be an indicator of how sticky a piece of content is. For example, if you have 2,000+ people coming back to a specific blog post, this means they are likely referencing it later and sharing it with their friends and colleagues.

Sessions by New Vs. Returning Users

This is the number of sessions during a specified date range split up by new vs. returning users. 

Pro Tip: You can take this a step further by monitoring average sessions per user too.

Luke Fitzgerald of RightFitz Consulting says, “One universal metrics webmasters should be keeping an eye on however, is the average sessions per user metric.

Regardless of whether they’re new or returning, trend data that shows that the average online purchaser requires approximately 2.5x as many clicks as the average website visitor before making a purchase.

From this, it’s clear there is more value in creating extra visits from existing users than a first click with a new user to your site and the best-performing websites tend to be ones that can attract that user back time and time again, increasing their average number of sessions per user.

Insights around your customer’s path to purchase are the most important insights you can uncover. Our correlation analysis validates this with higher Average Sessions per User a key differentiator of the high-performance websites.

As such, making Average Users per Session one of your priority KPIs makes sense and is well worth monitoring and reporting on regularly to give your online business a competitive edge when it comes to mining the right kind of data that’ll impact the bottom line.”

% of New and Returning Sessions 

This is the percentage of sessions that are created by new and returning users during a specified date range.  

For example, using this a pie graph visualization, you can quickly see the percentage of new vs. returning sessions in a given time period. Use this information to gauge whether or not your audience is growing over time.

Goal Completions by New vs. Returning  

This is the number of conversions during a specified date range segmented by new vs. returning users. 

Using a pie chart, you can gauge how many completions were new and returning users. This can be particularly helpful if you are looking to track the number of new email subscribers, lead magnet downloads, demo requests, etc.

Goal Value by New Vs. Returning Users

This is the value produced by goal conversions on your site during the specified date range segmented by New vs. Returning users.

For example, if you have assigned the value for a new lead at $20 in Google Analytics, you can monitor not only the total goal value but also see conversion rates based on just new users. 

New v. Returning Visitors Benchmarks 

There are no universal benchmarks for new vs. returning visitors. You can’t say that every site should strive for a 50:50 balance. 

Instead, you need to consider a variety of different factors and how they apply to your business, including but not limited to the type of website, how long it has been around, the traffic source, and the primary business goals and objectives.

To provide more clarity into how you should think about your website’s balance of new vs. returning visitors, we asked 34 marketers to share their insights.

Site Lifecycle and Business Maturity  

“It’s important to have both new and returning website visitors,” says Bruce Hogan of SoftwarePundit. “The ideal ratio will change over time as a business matures.

Rather than thinking about a ratio between new vs. returning visitors, it’s best to measure both metrics and monitor how they change over time. Ideally, companies see both new and returning visitor volumes increase over time. At some point as a business matures, there won’t be as many new visitors for it to capture. Longer-term, it’s critical that the volume of returning visitors to a website increases. Any decrease in returning visitor volume indicates that customers are churning, and the business is at risk of shrinking.”

Sarah Petrova of Techtestreport adds, “The new vs. returning visitors debate might not have one right answer. The metric is actually changing over the lifecycle of a website and can only be interpreted in combination with other metrics.

A new site will have 80-90% new users, of course. Over time though, if the content is of good quality, more and more users start coming back, and the share of recurring users rises if the incoming stream of new users stays the same. That is actually a good thing because you are getting less dependent on Google or other traffic sources to generate more traffic for your website.

However, an ever-rising share of recurring users can also be a bad thing. If the number of new users coming in from Google or other traffic sources gets smaller, you might not grow as fast as you did before.

A healthy balance of new users, to introduce new visitors to your website and brand which can be turned into regular (recurring) users, and recurring users, to gain independence from third party traffic sources, might be the best mix. How this mix gets realized depends on the goals and strategy of the webmaster. Metrics that influence the optimal mix of new and recurring users are growth targets, risk affinity (How dependent do I want to be on third parties?), and what type of website do I operate (blog-community site is different from an industry-magazine or news site.)” 

Type of website  

“When thinking about the balance of new vs. returning website visitors, it depends on the kind of website your company has,” says Andrew Ruditser of Maxburst. “If you are more of an informative, or a one-time purchase type company, then new visitors will be more beneficial to you. This is because an increase in website traffic will allow you to gain more leads, as your returning visitors might have already completed your desired action. If your website is more of an eCommerce-based website, then returning visitors/loyal customers may be more beneficial as you know they already take an interest in your brand and will make a purchase. Although new visitors can help increase your recognition and growth as well. This is why it is important to know your companies’ goals and the type of website you want to have in order to find the right balance for your company.”

Alejandro Rioja of So Influential agrees, “If it’s an informative site, the returning traffic is most likely to be less, and the new traffic will be comparatively more on this ratio. Similarly, if it’s an eCommerce site, the returning traffic will be quite higher as compared to the former. So, the marketers have to direct their efforts keeping in view what the website is actually selling.”

Or, if you have a subscription business, you might want to double down on returning visitors.

Greg Brookes of Kettlebell Workouts says, “When you have customers who subscribe to a service, it’s extremely important to see return visitors, as this means that they’re actually utilizing the service for which they’re paying. Too many times, especially in the fitness industry, we see customers who are very enthusiastic in the beginning but taper down as time goes by. What’s good to see is a steady stream of return visitors watching videos, reading your blog, and even sharing your content on social media channels.”

Andrea Loubier of Mailbird adds, “The right balance is a portion of each, but it’s good to see returning visitors, which means that, even after making a purchase or signing up for a service, that visitor still finds it beneficial to access your content for how-to guides or other data. Plus, repeat visits can lead to additional sales or signups.” 

For example, Kenny Trinh of Netbooknews says, “I run a tech website, and that means that I’ll be having a lot of people come and go. I’m planning to focus more on returning visitors since I have more new visitors based on Google Analytics. I also want more returning visitors because I want them to click on my affiliate links and buy the products that are linked to Amazon.” 

On the other hand, if you have a news site or blog, you may want to prioritize attracting more new visitors. 

“The balance depends on the type of content creator,” says Janice Wald of Mostly Blogging. “For example, I know a news blogger who only has new visitors. He doesn’t have returning visitors. People come when they’re interested in the news story he publishes.

If, on the other hand, a recipe blogger only publishes gluten-free recipes, I’d expect a high return rate from people who can only eat gluten-free food.

I am in the blogging tips niche. My rate is 1 to 5. 20% of my visitors are returning. 80% of my visitors are new. I checked these stats at Google Analytics for the month and the previous week, and the results stayed the same. I believe this is a good balance. Since many of my readers come from Google, I’d expect a high number of visitors are new. They come when they are interested in my article topic. This is by my design. I study and practice search engine marketing techniques to keep this high rate of visitors continually coming from search engines.”

Business Strategy and Goals 

“Whether a business should focus on new vs. returning website visitors is one of those things that depends on goals,” says Lily Ugbaja of FindingBalance.Mom. “From my experience, returning visitors are the lifeblood of business. They are the ones who stay longer on the website, engage, and even buy from you. But we should not also forget about the importance of marketing to new people, that’s how we scale.

The right balance for this should depend on the stage of growth a business is in. If a business is new and still starting out, the goal should be awareness i.e get more NEW website visitors. With more qualified traffic, they are able to finetune their marketing, understand what their audience really wants. But they should also try to retain some of those visitors too.

With more established sites, it’s expected that the main goal should be to get more returning visitors.”

Allison Chaney of Boot Camp Digital says, “The right balance of new vs. returning visitors depends on the purpose of the site and the overall strategy. If a website’s purpose is lead generation from new users entering the marketing funnel, then the target percentage of new visitors should be higher than a website aimed at driving repeat customers. A high percentage of new users might be good for one site but not so good for another. In order to understand what good looks like, we need relevant benchmarks. What is your current balance of new vs. returning, and can you improve it? What is natural for others in your category or industry? Asking these questions can help you set benchmarks to optimize against.” 

Paula Glynn of Pixelstorm adds, “With most marketing, if lead generation is what you are wanting, then new visitors are likely your key performance indicator. However, it comes down to, ‘What is your objective?’

Let’s take a transport company, for example. When we did a case study, we found 85% of their traffic was returning visitors, and from those, the number of people who placed an inquiry was very low. Digging deeper, those returning visitors were after tracking my order. Therefore, the benchmark was set that 85% was an acceptable level of return visitors for this website. And the focus was on NEW customers and increased conversion rates for those. The right balance is determined by the content and how much of a business tool your website is. All analytical work on these metrics should separate out new vs. returning, which often have different purposes, as shown in this example.”

Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts agrees, “I think this varies depending on the business and the sales cycle. For example, for us, we have a lot of folks who sit in our funnel for a while, through the process of writing a book, etc. So our mix of return is higher than maybe on other sites. If you’re pushing people for an instant buy, your return visitors might be lower – unless it’s something that needs to be replenished/replaced, etc.”

Context  

Chris Wilks of BrandExtract says, “Marketers should really think about this on an individual basis. The first question you should ask yourself is, ‘What’s most important to my business?’

If you have a news site, you want to build up a loyal following so you may not care as much about new users, but you want your core users to come back over and over.

On the flip side, if you manage a site that doesn’t offer new content regularly (i.e. a blog), but you sell annual subscriptions, it’s going to be important to get lots of new users in there regularly. In that case, you won’t care as much about returning visitors.

So, overall, it’s important to identify what’s important to you and know your users and how they interact with your site. That’s more important than striving for an arbitrary number.”

“It depends on the strategies that are in the works at that moment,” explains Ben Johnston of Sagefrog Marketing Group. “Did one of your content pieces just start ranking at the tops of the SERPs or in a featured snippet for a keyword you were targeting? Then, there will most likely be a spike in new users. As far as balance, the answer is contextual to tactics. Are you engaging with your existing user base, or are you targeting new users to bring them to your site? Typically, we see about a 25/75 split between new users vs. returning.” 

Niche/Vertical 

“It depends a lot on your niche and how strong your brand is,” says Tom Walsh of Kingpin Private Browser. “As a basic rule, I would like to see 1/3 of the website visitors as returning. The returning visitors often have lower bounce rates, higher avg. session duration and pages per session (in comparison with the new visitors). When you are in a B2B business, it is certainly a great thing as you need to have more touches of your brand with your potential customers until they make the decision.” 

Your Offer 

“I think it depends on what your website is offering,” says Michael Stahl of SERVPRO. “If you have a healthy percentage of new visitors who come to your page and take action by purchasing a product or service or, in the case of SERVPRO, contacting our Customer Care Center to schedule a service, then that is a positive for any company. Likewise, returning visitors may be more engaged with your website and the content or information within it, which is why they continue to return to the site. This is why it’s important to have information available that encourages return visits and ideally, return business.”

Source/Medium 

“If we compare this stat in isolation, without time or another metric – source, campaign, etc. to compare it against, this doesn’t really provide much value,” says Abhishek Joshi of Dog with Blog. “When we apply some filters like segmentation, source of acquisition – paid/organic/social then we find actionable insights.” 

Erin Barr of Kiwi Creative says, “Just looking at the pie chart for new and returning users on your Audience Overview page won’t bring much value to your strategy. Instead, use that metric to track the success of your outreach channels. For example, let’s say you launch a paid Google Ads remarketing campaign to drive new users to your website. If you look at the pie chart and there are more returning users than new users, then that tactic probably didn’t work. Use the pie chart and these two metrics to drive optimizations to your marketing strategy to pinpoint what works!”

Savannah Little of WRAL Digital Solutions adds, “Marketers should think of the balance of new vs. returning website users in terms of their organizational goals and through the lens of what channels they’re marketing through. In my experience, we see more new users through paid advertising channels—Google Ads, social media advertising, and the like. When it comes to unpaid channels, such as direct and organic, we tend to see those numbers skew in favor of returning users.

Because these channels can vary in purchasing intent, there really is no right balance between new and returning users—it’s whatever meets your company goals!” 

Marc Andre of Vital Dollar agrees, “I don’t believe there is a set percentage or balance that should be a universal goal. The sources that send traffic to your site can have a big influence on the percentage of your visitors that are new. If you get a lot of search traffic, most of those visitors are probably going to be new. If you don’t get that much search traffic and you rely heavily on your email list for traffic, you’re probably going to have a much higher percentage of repeat visitors.

The ideal balance can also be impacted by the way that you monetize your site. If you’re selling your own products or offering a service, repeat visitors will be extremely important because people are unlikely to buy from you or hire you on their first visit. As they get more familiar and more comfortable with you, they’ll be more likely to buy. But if you’re primarily monetizing your site with display ads or affiliate links, repeat visitors aren’t as critical.

Any way you look at it, reaching new visitors is important, and converting as many of those new visitors as possible into repeat visitors is going to help you to build a stronger brand and loyal followers.” 

Create your own benchmarks  

“It depends on the site you run,” says Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles. “For a brochure site like our own, a 25% return to 75% new is totally acceptable as we’re looking for new leads more often than not. So our remarketing and lead magnets will be pulling in the majority of our returning. For an e-commerce store, I’d like to see a higher percentage of returning visitors as that indicates you have regular customers returning to shop, that your remarketing and email campaigns are engaging and drawing users back. So, in short, it depends on the nature of your site and the sales funnel process you have in place. There’s no absolute number. It should be outcome led.” 

It is ultimately about striking the right balance for your business. 

Carrie McKeegan of Greenback Expat Tax Services says, “All sites need a good balance, but when you see even a small percentage of one-time customers, it’s imperative to see a good portion of new visitors to your site. If not, you probably won’t see the type of new customer growth for which you’re hoping.” 

Angela Hope of livin3 adds, “It’s a great idea to try to maintain a mixture of both old and new site visitors, but new visitors are what keeps your site fresh, innovative and alive. “While returning site visitors illustrate that you’re doing something right in the way of content, new visitors confirm that your company is visible and attracting visitors from new audiences and demographics. Isn’t that exciting?”

“For most use cases, new visitors are more valuable, but the devil is in the details,” says Corey Northcutt of Northcutt. “Our own site gets ~90% new and ~10% returning. I can think of a lot of new visitors that are fairly useless: spam requests or prospecting, poorly targeted visitors, bounce-inducing UX. The same is true for returning visitors: employees double-checking things, clients confused about something, those repeatedly using free tools/calculators, and so on. Both categories of anonymous data contain a lot of positive and negative experiences, and it really sways based on what the content seeks to accomplish.” 

And, Bryan Ng of Bryan Digital adds, “I would say a good range will be 60-70% of new visitors. Here’s why: From the traditional marketing aspect – obtaining new customers are more valuable than serving existing customers

With the new visitor traffic on your site, you can do retargeting, and eventually, they become returning visitors and then conversions.

You always need new visitors if you want to increase brand awareness. A brand reinforcement for returning website visitors.”

However, Alexandra Zamolo of Beekeeper says, “When the scales tip, what can it mean for your company’s growth? Returning visitors mean that your customers are doing one of two things: they’re coming back to read how-to-guides or your blog posts, or they’re signing up for additional services or products. Either way, this is the type of interaction that you want to see from current customers.” 

Chris Gadek of AdQuick agrees, “Returning visitors can be the most profitable because this typically means that those users will sign up for additional services, or that they are seeking information to better utilize the services that they are currently using. Primarily, it illustrates that they have an interest in your site, which means that you should be sure to provide informative content to keep it that way!” 

Nikola Roza of Nikola Roza- SEO for the Poor and Determined adds, “The right balance is the one that’s steady, while your actual traffic numbers grow month-over-month, quarter over quarter.

What I mean is, it’s not good to have a huge percentage of first-time visitors and almost no returning traffic.

This means your content is not good enough, and people see it once and then decide not to see it again.

So it’s feedback that you must seriously improve content quality.

It’s also not ideal to have a huge percentage of repeat visitors compared to new ones coming in.

This means that your content is excellent, but your traffic has plateaued, and returning visitors are coming back and giving you the illusion of growth and success.

Instead, you always want to focus on conquering new keywords and gaining more traffic

Because even if the percentage of repeat visitors remains the same, the actual number will rise as your traffic increases.”

Consider ignoring this metric altogether 

“I recommend ignoring this metric,” says Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media Studios. “It’s one of the least useful in all of Analytics. In 15 years using GA, I’ve never been able to use it to make a good decision. The problem is that you can always read it in two different ways:

• If returning visits are high, you’re doing a bad job attracting new users

• If new visits are high, you’re doing a bad job bringing old visitors back.

It’s a number that people read and react to, but then don’t act on. And it’s not very accurate. A visitor is a device, not a person.

The only hope of getting insight from new/returning is to combine it with other dimensions (source, medium, etc.)” 

While new vs. returning visitors is one of the easiest metrics to obtain in Google Analytics, it is not the most actionable metric in its own right. 

With so many contributing factors, it is impossible to create any universal benchmarks.  

The best insights come from analyzing your site’s new vs. returning visitors over time and then setting your own site-specific benchmarks based on what makes the most for your business.

About the author
Jessica Malnik
Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik is a content strategist and copywriter for SaaS and productized service businesses. Her writing has appeared on The Next Web, Social Media Examiner, SEMRush, CMX, Help Scout, Convince & Convert, and many other sites.
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