The word “session” in an English dictionary reads something like “a period of time devoted to a particular activity”. For example, this could be a person working on a specific task or goal.
Google Analytics uses the term “session” in a similar way. According to GoogleA session in a Google Analytics report is a group of user interactions with your website that take place over a period of time. … You can think of a session as a container for the actions that a user performs on your site. “
A buyer who visits a brick-and-mortar store is analogous to a session on a website.
When a shopper enters a physical second-hand clothes shop, she initiates a session. She could look at a few products, ask an employee a question or two, and buy something.
All of these actions – browsing, interacting, and buying – take place during their single session.
If she visited other stores for half an hour before going back to the boutique to pick up another item, the buyer would start a second session.
When a visitor arrives at your company’s website, Google Analytics starts a session. This session remains open until one of three things occurs.
- The session expires (session duration).
- A new day is starting.
- The user comes from a new campaign.
When a session is closed, it is counted.
Session duration. By default, Google Analytics leaves a session open for 30 minutes after a user’s last interaction.
When a buyer visits your company’s online store, reads a blog post, clicks on some products, and leaves, that session remains open for 30 minutes after the visitor leaves the company.
If the same user comes back in 22 minutes and starts a chat or surfs a bit more, the session is extended. Any traceable action or event extends the session.
However, if the same user visits (a session starts), exits (the session is inactive), and returns 31 minutes later, Google Analytics can create a new session.
You can change the default session duration. Go to the Admin menu in Google Analytics and look for “Tracking information” under “Properties”. Here you will find “Session Settings”.
You can change the session duration if this makes sense for your company. For example, if your online store contains a lot of video content and a typical video is 40 minutes long, it may make sense to adjust the session time limit. Just make sure you have a good reason to change that.
A new day. In Google Analytics, sessions are limited to one calendar day.
When a buyer arrives at your e-commerce website at 11:50 p.m. and leaves at 12:10 p.m., 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 the settings of your view (Admin> View> Show Settings) to determine when a new day starts.
A new campaign. Google Analytics prioritizes campaign allocation over session duration. Therefore, a new session is started every time a buyer interacts with a new or different campaign.
Here is an example.
Imagine a buyer searching Google for “men’s running shoes”. This buyer clicks an organic link and comes to an e-commerce website that we call “Awesome Shoe Shop”. This visit initiates a new Google Analytics session. There is no campaign associated with this session because the buyer came from organic search.
Next, this buyer will be interrupted. Maybe he’ll get a call. Maybe it’s a Slack notification 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 news is a marketing email from Awesome Shoe Shop. He clicks a link in the email to go to a product detail page.
Although its first session is still open due to its 30-minute duration, Google Analytics will close it and start a new session so that this new (second) session can be properly assigned to the email marketing campaign.
What sessions imply
The Google Analytics method of collecting session information contains clear parameters for the start and end as well as objective presentation of the data.
However, interpreting the importance of a session for your company is subjective and an art. Here are a few things to consider.
- 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 that important
- What events or goals are achieved in the same sessions? Why?
- Do certain interactions of a single user share a single session? Why?
- What percentage of sessions involve a transaction?
- How many products does a visitor see during an average session?
- How many product searches are performed during an average session?
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