While investigating the retention rate of a website, I find conflicting numbers on Google Analytics:

1) Cohort Analysis shows extremely poor retention rate (in last 3 months):

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My understanding is that only 3% of the August cohort are returning on/after 3rd month.

2) New vs Returning shows 86% of the sessions are from returning visitors (in last 3 months too)

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How can the cohort rentention be so low (3% ~ 10%) yet the returning visitors is high (86%)?

Is it possible that even though the site only retained 3% users from each cohort - but as the site has been running for years, multiple cohorts of 3% fans adds up over years and therefore the average returning visitors is still quite high?

Can someone help me understand the situation on this site?

2 Answers 2


There's a lot of factors in play:

User scope only covers a maximum of 90 days no matter what. Beyond that, it'll count as a new user. The cohort analysis covers 1 Month intervals. If you're not stitching sessions (see extended privacy agreement check in your Admin panel) then Google won't be able to tell you when a session comes from the same User.

With all that in mind, the stats you're looking at in Cohorts are Users alone. The second is showing Sessions initiated by Users.

If you had 10 users, all started 2 sessions each in the first month, you'd see 0% on the 1 month Cohort. But 50/50 on the returning user sessions. Now 1 of those users came back after 1 month. You'll now get higher returning stats (52/48) and 10% on the 1 month cohort. The stats you're showing mean that a larger number of users are using the site a few times in the first month then leaving.


From your ratio of new to returning visitors, it appears that your users visit your site on average seven times.

By default Google Analytics ends a visit after half an our of inactivity. Subsequent activity (even the same day) would be counted as a new visit. New visits are also triggered when users come into your site a second time from an external referrer (like Google search).

It doesn't seem unreasonable that all 7 visits could happen within a month. Users return to your site several times when they initially find it, but don't typically stick around for several months.

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