Google Analytics Sessions - Part II
Last week, I talked about sessions and why it’s important understand how Google Analytics tracks a session (or visit) and how you can modify this to better capture users coming to your site. This week I want to go into a deeper definition of sessions that revolves around where users are coming from campaign sources. I'm going to also be explaining what are the different campaign sources.
Before getting into it, I want to point out a simple way to get information from Google Analytics when you are viewing a specific reporting area, without browsing away from the tool. It’s what I call the geeky “Graduation hat” in the top right corner, just under the Date Range.
When you click on the hat:
Not only does it give you easy access to information but it’s specifically relating to what you are viewing in that moment. There is almost always a video and there is a breakout of the information on the left if you are looking for something specific.
I know we are all busy people and I tend to skim this quick resource when I'm looking for guidance on a specific report that I've never looked at before.
Getting into the updated definition of Sessions, let’s refresh our minds, into the original definition:
Session – is a series of pages or interactions that happens on your site. Let’s be more specific: when a user opens your website and stays viewing until midnight, that is one session. Alternatively, if a user opens your website and doesn’t interact for 30 min, a session is counted.
And now we are going to add to this definition:
If a user comes to your site via a new campaign source (search engine, referring site, social platform), it is considered a new visit.
Ah! Okay, stay with me! First, let’s talk about the term “Campaign Source”. These are the different ways users can find or come to our site. If you go to left side menu: Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels, you will find these. Go now and check them out!
Let me quickly define these:
Direct - users who type in our site url, copy/past it into the browser, or click a bookmark in their browser.
Referral - users who came from other sites.
Social - (I bet you can guess this one :)) users who come from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all your social networks!
Organic Search - users who search and click a non-paid link campaign from Search Engines like Google, Yahoo, etc.
Paid Search - opposite to the above, users who search and click a paid search campaign coming from Google, Yahoo, etc.
Other Advertising - this is a kind of miscellaneous bucket created, that can include users other marketing campaign, for example videos.
Display - users who click a display ad to arrive to your site.
Email - Users clicking through an email they received.
Going back to the updated definition of a session, when a user searches for our site and clicks a non-paid search option in Google, that is considered one session or visit. Then if the same user goes to Facebook, finds your profile and clicks to your site, the first session from Google Paid Search is closed, and a new session is started.
There is one exception to this and that is when the user comes from Direct (remember, this might be typing in the URL, or copying and pasting it in the browser). If we review the example above again, if a user first comes to your site via Non-Paid Search and then retypes your site URL in the browser (which is considered Direct) then the same session continues. There is no new session when a user switches to a Direct visit.
So, you might be asking, how does this impact my site? Why should I care?
I think it’s important to understand how Google Analytics decides to attribute each session or visit and that in order to get clear reporting, new sessions are started when a user changes where they are coming from.
The key word here is attribution and this is something that Google Analytics helps us better understand where we need to spend our time.
At the end of the day, trusting the tool and understanding how it works will help you better read the reporting and make better decisions.
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