How can unique visitors be higher than visits?

Let us be clear about it.
Unique visitors are individual users who have had at least one session on your website within the given period (we have discussed it previously).
Visits are individual sessions on site started by all the users within the period. One user can start one, two, three or more sessions. If the user has had zero sessions, he/she will not be counted in the report at all.
Logic suggests that the number of visits within a period can be equal or above the number of users within the same period.
However, puzzling enough, at times Google Analytics shows website owners that their Unique Visitors have been greater than Visits!
The question is, how can that be?!

How this happens

First of all, this happens when you study a short-term report, normally day-long. For longer periods, the difference can only be kept if each user visits your website no more than once.
Second, the probability to observe this phenomenon is higher when you study a page-level or content report. All in all, the smaller the frame, the higher the chances to face this irregularity.
To understand the mechanism at work here, consider the difference between the three basic entities used by Google Analytics:

  • User;
  • Session;
  • Pageview.

They are counted each by its own rules and for its own purposes, although they are naturally connected.
The most common reason is the way Google registers the session-level 'visits'. Google counts “pageviews” for each page and “users” while they are on site, but only registers one “visit” for the landing page.
If a session has started before the beginning of the period (say, before midnight) and ended after it, this session is not counted as a Visit belonging to the latter period (only the first entry page hit was registered as the previous period’s Visit). Each pageview within this visit is added to the date when it was actually hit, but the session as a whole contributes to the Unique Visitors of the period that started during the session. This is how you get now new “visits”, although the number of “pageviews” keeps growing and the number of “users” is also increased by 1.
If you still want to check the number of visits that involved a particular page, use the “unique pageviews” metric that counts each pageview only once per visit.

Now, how do you think, can it be that a page that has been viewed multiple times is still attributed zero visits?
Definitely Yes!
The reason is the same - the attribution model used by Google Analytics. To see all the pages that have been entry pages for unique visits, add a secondary dimension and segment the report by “Landing Page”.

To sum it up, unique visitors can be higher than visits because visitors are counted per pageview and visits (sessions) per landing page. It does not mean your Google Analytics is broken, it only means your visitors happily navigate through your website instead of leaving it right after hitting the landing page, which is great!