10 years ago I had my first contact with Google Analytics. I remember being amazed by so much information available and I left by clicking on all the available tabs. I was so euphoric that I didn't even notice the many terms that were presented to me: sessions, users, pageviews, bounce rate and so on. At the time, I didn't think about what those terms really mean. And this is very important! Without knowing the definition of the term in Google Analytics, you can draw wrong conclusions. In this post I will discuss an important term in Google Analytics: the session.
What are sessions in Google Analytics
What do you think a session means? For me, a session is something that happens in a certain amount of time. See if your session definition is equal to GA session definition:
The session is a group of user interactions with your website that occur over a given period.
Cool, so far my definition matches the Google session definition and it helps me understand what I'm seeing in GA.
I'll go over it a little more. If a visitor or user enters your site, a session will be initiated. Google Analytics records and collects data from the beginning. In this session, a user can do many things on your website, such as displaying pages, buying products, filling out forms, and so on.
Read too: "What are pageviews in Google Analytics“
Read too: "Bounce rate in Google Analytics“
When does a session end?
Looking at the definition, we see that a session has a certain period of time. This implies that it can end after a certain period and that you can adjust when the session should end. A session may end for one of the following three reasons:
- After 30 minutes of inactivity;
- At midnight;
- When the user’s campaign source is changed.
After 30 minutes of inactivity
By default, a session ends after 30 minutes of inactivity. For example, if a user visits the website, reads an article and takes no action for 30 minutes, the session ends. On the other hand, if he takes any action at 29 minutes, such as clicking on a link, the session is extended for another 30 minutes. So basically each interaction the session is extended for another 30 minutes.
There are cases however that 30 minutes may not be enough. Very long articles that require more than 30 minutes to read or videos (or even classes) that are longer than this time may require adjustments to be made to the settings for the duration of a session. Fortunately you can adjust session length in GA.
Time to adjust the length of a session in GA: 1 minute.
How to adjust a session length in Google Analytics
- Access the administrative area of your Google Analytics account
At the property level, access the option “Tracking Info”> “Session Settings”
- Enter the desired duration of the session
Report from 1 minute to 4 hours. Then save the change.
If you want to get an idea of how long an average session lasts on your site, go to the “Audience” tab, click on “Overview” and you will see a summary with some statistics among them the average session duration:
Although it is possible to change this setting in 99% of the cases it is better to leave the default setting (30 minutes).
The second reason why a session can end is simply because a new day is starting. If a user is on your site and reads a post at 23:58, for example, that session will end at 23:59:59 and a new session will start at 0:00.
When the campaign source is changed
Users come to your site from different sources, such as Google, Facebook or email. Sometimes, they arrive at your site following a specific campaign link, for example, if you are running a Google Ads campaign or have added a utm_campaign parameter to a URL in your newsletter. Let’s say a visitor arrives at your site with a certain paid Ads keyword and Google Analytics stores that campaign in their data. But if the same user accesses your site through a different campaign, the first session will end and a new session will start.
I already know what a session in GA is. And now?
Knowing how many sessions you've had is not interesting in itself. It gets interesting when you compare it to something. For example, if you compare last month’s sessions with the previous month. Did the number of sessions increase or decrease? And if you see a spike in sessions, do you know what caused that spike? You can also compare sources, which source brings the most sessions to your site? And how many pages per session does each source have? What is your best source of traffic when it comes to sessions? You can ask many questions. A tip: ask the question first. Only then open Google Analytics and try to find the answer.
Read too: "What are users in Google Analytics?”
If you want to analyze your Google Analytics data, you need to understand exactly what the variables in this tool mean. A session is a group of a user's actions over a given period of time. It starts when a user enters the site and ends after a certain period of inactivity, at midnight or after a campaign change. You can also adjust the GA session length if necessary.
Take a look at your sessions! Do you see something interesting?
Keep reading: “Dimensions and metrics in Google Analytics”
Keep reading: "Digital Marketing Metrics: Which Are Important?“