The word "session" in an English dictionary reads something like "a period of time devoted to a particular activity." For example, it may be a person working on a specific task or goal.
Google Analytics uses the term "session" in a similar way. According to Google, a session in a Google Analytics report "is a group of user interactions with your site that occur within a certain timeframe. … You can think of a session as the container for the actions a user takes on your site."
A shopper visiting a brick shop is analogous to a session on a website.
When a shopper enters a physically used clothing store, she initiates a session. She might look at some products, ask a clerk a question or two, and buy something.
All of these actions – browsing, interacting and buying – occur during her single session.
If she visited other stores for half an hour before returning to the store to retrieve another item, the shopper would start a second session.
When a visitor arrives at your company's website, Google Analytics begins a session. That session will remain open until one of three things happens.
- The session ends (session duration).
- A new day begins.
- The user comes from a new campaign.
When a session is closed, it counts.
The duration of the session. By default, Google Analytics leaves a session open for 30 minutes after the user's last interaction.
If a shopper visits your company's online store, reads a blog post, clicks on some products and departs, that session will be open for 30 minutes after the visitor leaves.
If the same user comes back in 22 minutes and starts a chat or scrolls a little more, the session is extended. Each traceable action or event extends the session.
However, if the same user visited (a session starts), left (the session is inactive) and returned 31 minutes later, Google Analytics could create a new session.
You can change the duration of the default session. In Google Analytics, go to the Admin menu and look for "Tracking Information" under "Property." Here you will find "Session Settings."
You can change the duration of the session if it makes sense for your business. For example, if your online store has a lot of video content and a typical video is 40 minutes, it may make sense to adjust the session timeout. Just make sure you have a good reason to change it.
Another day. In Google Analytics, sessions are limited to one calendar day.
If a shopper arrives at your e-commerce site at. 11:50:00 and leaves at 12:10:00 two sessions would have been recorded. The first session would have ended at 11:59:59 p.m. The second session would have started a second later.
Analytics uses the time zone defined in your view settings (Administrator> View> View Settings) to determine when a new day begins.
A new campaign. Google Analytics prioritizes campaign allocation over the duration of the session. So a new session is started each time a shopper interacts with a new or different campaign.
Here is an example.
Imagine a shopper searching on Google for "men's running shoes." This shopper clicks on an organic link and arrives at an e-commerce site that we will call the "Awesome Shoe Shop." This visit opens a new Google Analytics session. There is no promotion associated with this session because the shopper came via organic search.
Then the shopper is interrupted. Maybe he'll get a phone call. Maybe it's a Slack message or something from Facebook Messenger. But he stops shopping for five minutes, and instead of returning, he opens Gmail and starts reading messages.
One of the messages is a marketing announcement from the Awesome Shoe Shop. He clicks on a link in the email to visit a product information page.
Although his first session is still open based on the 30-minute duration, Google Analytics will close it and start a new session so that it can attribute the new (second) session to the email marketing campaign.
Which sessions suggest
The Google Analytics method of collecting session information has clear parameters for when it starts and ends and objective ways of presenting the information.
But understanding what a session means to your business is subjective and something of an art. Here are some things to keep in mind.
- What percentage of sessions come from paid campaigns?
- What percentage of sessions come from organic search?
- Which channels generate the most sessions? Why?
- Which channels generate the highest conversion sessions? Why?
- What percentage of sessions are new users? Is this important?
- What events or goals are completed during the same sessions? Why?
- Do certain interactions from a single user share a single session? Why?
- What percentage of sessions includes a transaction?
- How many products does a visitor show during an average session?
- How many product searches are done during an average session?