Web Sessions – How Do They Work? Google Analytics Guide

Web Sessions – How Do They Work? Google Analytics Guide
24 September 2019
Sessions, users, pageviews… feeling lost because of all the terms defining your website traffic? As it’s sometimes difficult to find a difference between the abovementioned elements, we’re here to help you. Today we’re going to focus on web sessions as they’re responsible for the greatest confusion in the Google Analytics glossary.
The Google Analytics tab is open in the browser and accompanies SEO professionals almost all the time. This is a basic tool providing both specialists and their clients with an overview with the results of the work. When it comes to companies running their own online business, Google Analytics is the cornerstone for analyzing activities, making strategic decisions or monitoring and reporting on business activity. For all these reasons, it’s extremely important to understand what is a session in Google Analytics.

When is your visit counted as a web session in Google Analytics?

To put it simply, a web session is a visit of a user to a website during which they somewhat interact with the site. In the course of these visits people can generate multiple pageviews (visits to individual subpages), events (e.g. clicks on the “buy now” button) or transactions. One such visit to a website equals one web session. If the same user decides to revisit your site after a few days, he or she will generate another session and pageviews, however, the number of visitors won’t change. Google Analytics Session So now you’re probably wondering what’s so complicated about it? The described method is the easiest way to generate a web session, nevertheless, in some situations things turn out to be much more complex.

When does a session expire?

1. How long does a session last?

The default session in Google Analytics lasts 30 minutes. But does it mean that a user spending 1.5 hours on a website generates 3 sessions? No. Google Analytics counts the duration of the session by the intervals between interactions. If a user enters a website and leaves it after 10 minutes, GA won’t record any interaction and it’ll report that the user has spent 0 seconds on the site. If the user doesn’t perform any activity on the website for 30 minutes, then Google Analytics ends the session. However, if the user enters another subpage after 32 minutes on the website, Google Analytics will record it as 2 sessions and a self-referral will be the source of the second one. On the other hand, if the user leaves the page and comes back within 30 minutes, the previous session will be continued even if the website is closed earlier. How long does a session last? You can change how long the session lasts, however, it’s not a common practice. For example, it can be useful when it comes to websites with movies that are longer than 30 minutes - users deliberately don’t interact for more than half an hour and in order to prevent errors in reports, you can change the length of the session. Note: if a user spends 1 hour on a website but keeps interacting all the time then only one session is generated. The session expires after 30 minutes without any user activity.

2. When the midnight comes

If you’re a night owl using the Internet late at night and the clock strikes midnight, then Google Analytics will divide your visit to the site into 2 separate sessions. It’s all due to a simple reason - one session can’t have two dates in Google Analytics. And again, a self-referral will be the source of the second session.

3. When the source of the entry changes

If a user enters a page from one source and then from another, a new session is created. And it’ll happen even if there has been less than 30 minutes from the first visit. A campaign is updated if you enter the site from an organic search source (search engine), from a backlink or from a tagged Google Ads campaign. Direct traffic visits are the only exception which don’t update the campaign source. Change of input source in GA

Comparing sessions, users and pageviews - how can it be helpful?

Knowing how the sessions function, you can analyze the available data. Is it better to monitor users or sessions? Or maybe you should focus solely on keeping an eye on your pageviews? The truth is that depending on what you want to know, you can make use of various data and compare them. Sessions vs. pageviews
  • do you involve the users sufficiently enough so that they visit more than one subpage during a session?
Sessions vs. users
  • do the users come back to your website? Do you increase their trust and make them revisit your site for more products or information?
  • what is the effectiveness of your marketing activities intended to make the users come back to your website?
The percentage of new users
  • what is the effectiveness of your marketing activities intended to attract new visitors to the site?
Remember that right after implementing Google Analytics to your website, all visitors will be marked as new users. In order to analyze the data you need to wait a little bit longer so that the available information is sufficient and reliable enough.
Kasia Zielosko Marketing Delante
Kasia Zielosko

Marketing Team Leader


She is responsible for the company’s marketing. She specializes in lead generation, international marketing, content marketing and analytics. Privately, she is a dog mom, saxophonist, macramé braider and travel lover.

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