Whats the difference?! The instinctive thing to do is to think of New vs Returning as new people who have never seen the site before, visiting for the first time and returning as people who have visited before, visiting again. What makes that incorrect is that “New vs Returning” counts the visits and not the people.
When you see a count that tells you 3 new and 40 returning. It doesn’t mean that 43 people visited. It is possible that all 40 of those returning visits came for just 3 people and perhaps none of them came from the same 3 people that gave you the new visits. Returning visits simply counts the number of hits from people who have visited the site at least once before. It is completely possible to have zero new visits and have 40 visits from people or a person that had already visited the site in the past.
New visits can be correlated with the number of people who have visited your site for the first time.In other words, these are unique and new. This number reflects a specific kind of unique visitor that has never visited the site before.
In order to determine the number of people who visited during a period of time both new and returning you use the “Absolute Unique Visitors” count. This tells us how many unique individuals visited the site during a given time period.
Here is a great example I found at: http://analytics.blogspot.com
Assume the date range is May 1-31.
User A visits http://www.domain.com for the 1st time on May 5th and then returns to the website on 12th and 17th of May.
User B visits http://www.domain.com on April 8th and then again on May 5th and 12th.
In Absolute Unique Visitors: User A will be counted as a First Time (New) Unique Visitor on May 5th, and User B will be counted as Prior (Returning) Unique Visitor. User A and User B will not be counted as a Unique Visitor (either first time or prior) for any subsequent visits (May 12 and 17th).
In New vs. Returning: The visit on May 5th from User A gets counted as a visit from a “New” visitor. Subsequent visits from User A (May 12 and 17th) get counted as visits from a “returning” visitor. All of User B’s visits are counted as visits from a returning visitor.
so in short:
How many people visited my site in may? = Absolute Unique Visitors
How many visits were from people that had never been there before? = New Visits
How many visits were made to the site from people who have already checked us out? = Return visits.