Last updated in October 2022
Returning visitors are users who have been to your website before, based on first-party cookie data.
First-party cookies are added to a user’s browser to track their actions over time and determine whether they’re new or returning visitors. Consequently, if users deny cookie tracking on your website, visit from a different device or browser, or use incognito mode, your analytics system may mistakenly count some returning visitors as new visitors.
A returning user will also count as a first-time visitor if they haven’t been to your website after a period defined by your analytics platform, usually ranging between 30 days and two years.
Such a wide gap points out that accuracy can often be limited when examining user metrics. That said, alongside other data, the returning visitors metric does help build up a clearer picture of your content performance and business health.
What returning visitors tell you about content performance
Measuring returning visitors helps you understand what content fosters loyalty, what causes readers to stay on your site, and why users end up leaving.
Returning visitors are generally more likely to become paying customers, download content, or register for events than new visitors, as users tend to engage with your content multiple times before they convert. So, content with a high returning visitor count can be called “consideration” or “middle of funnel” content.
The optimal ratio of new vs. returning visitors depends on your industry, niche, and business goals. Experts cite a wide range of benchmarks to shoot for. Ultimately, you’ll want to set your own benchmarks, introducing other KPIs to determine content quality and gain deeper insight.
When you identify articles, topics, or stories with a high returning visitor count, add context by cross-referencing metrics that analyze content quality. This will help you understand how returning visitors are engaging with your site. Use that insight to create more effective mid-funnel content.
Why visitors don’t return to your website
There are many reasons why a visitor might not return to a website.
SEO efforts might be targeting the wrong audience. Calls to action (CTAs) and internal links could be missing or misaligned with the reader’s journey. Or the content itself could lack depth or specificity.
Fix these issues and you’re more likely to keep visitors interested in your brand and returning to your site.
How to increase returning visitors
To increase the number of return website visitors, make their first visit to your business positive and guide them toward actions that will bring them back.
It’s not enough to create content that ranks for search. It must offer specific, concrete value to readers. At the end of the day, high website traffic is a waste if people leave right away.
High-level, brand awareness content will bring in new visitors, but you need to offer a unique perspective. Give readers new information to keep them on your site and return later. Otherwise, they’ll just go back to the SERP to find better content.
Once you have visitors on your website, invite them to stay connected by subscribing to your email list.
Use your newsletter to promote valuable content to your audience. With the right email content, you’ll encourage more return visits to your website.
Use social media to stay in touch with your audience. LinkedIn and Twitter are great places to connect with B2B audiences by sharing valuable or relatable content.
Promote your site content on social channels to encourage return visits.
CTAs and internal linking
When you create new content, add a call to action to encourage website visitors to read another piece or engage further with your website. Note: it has to be the right CTA, based on content they’re reading and where they’re coming from. If visitors get the wrong call to action, they won’t pick up.
For example, say you sell HR software. If visitors are researching a topic related to your product, like how to craft a time-off policy, they might not be ready for a product demo. So, to keep them around, invite them to read about related topics or join your email list.
But if visitors land on your website because they’re researching the specific solutions you offer, e.g., “the best people management software,” it will be wiser to invite them to sign up for a demo or start a trial.
Show personalized ads across social media and display ad channels to encourage users who have visited your website to return.
Ads served to those who have visited your website before should be different from ads served to audiences who are new to your brand. For visitors familiar with you, create ads that answer questions they typically have or introduce specific features of your product.
Measure the quality of your visitors’ experience
New and returning visitor metrics give you a high-level view of your content performance and site traffic. But you need to dig deeper to determine if your visitors are actually engaging with your content.
Use a content analytics platform like Parse.ly to seamlessly cross-reference visitor and engagement metrics to get a deep understanding of how users are interacting with your content. You’ll be able to uncover the insights you need to promote your best content and optimize your content marketing strategy for the future.
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