The difference between new and returning visitors seems pretty self-explanatory, and for the most part, it is! But Google does differentiate between the two a little differently than you and I might.
New Visitors are those navigating to your site for the first time on a specific device. If you visit our website from your desktop computer at work and then visit our website again from your iPhone, Google Analytics would record you like 2 new users. (Google is getting smarter about this—if you’re logged onto your Google Chrome browser and repeat the actions above, you would be recorded as a New Visitor on your desktop, and a Returning Visitor on your iPhone.)
Returning Visitors have visited your site before and are back for more! Google sets a 2-year expiration date on New Visitors. If someone has visited our website within the past two years and returns from the same device, they are marked as a Returning Visitor in our Google Analytics. If it has been more than two years since someone has visited our site, the next time they return they will be counted as a New Visitor again.
Every website needs both new and returning visitors — you need to feed the funnel with new users so you can turn them into returning users. Some marketing initiatives encourage new visits (like advertising and search engine optimization), and some encourage return visits (like posting to social media or an email newsletter). It is important to know how they all come together to make the numbers grow.
Numerous studies have shown that websites tend to have more new visitors and fewer returning visitors, and to balance that I would advise you to try Babylon Traffic, a great tool for those who luck traffic on their websites. The returning visitors tend to have a higher engagement — they bounce less, view more pages per session, and have higher session durations. They also tend to have higher conversion rates and higher sales…much higher. This makes us want more returning visitors.