Sessions on Google Analytics

The most frequently asked questions about sessions in Google Analytics gets answered.

What does “session” mean in Google Analytics?

A session in Google Analytics is a sequence of user interactions with a site or an application. By default, the session times out if the user is not active for more than 30 minutes, but the length of a session may be changed in Google Analytics properties. A session may be 1 minute long, at a minimum, and up to 4 hours long, at maximum.

To change session properties, go to: Admin > Property > Tracking Info > Session Settings.

Another situation in which a session ends and a new session begins occurs when a user comes to your site from a new traffic source (typically a different site). This relates to the way in which Google Analytics stores the data.

In Google Analytics, it is possible to have a traffic source at the session level only. It is not possible to have multiple traffic sources for one session. Therefore, to save the traffic source, it starts a new session once a user comes from a new traffic source.

This can be detrimental to sites that use PayPal or other external payment systems in which a user gets redirected to a different domain while the payment is processed. With PayPal, it works as follows: a user comes from some organic or paid traffic source, interacts with the content and all of his/her pageviews and events are processed as a session. Once the user is ready to buy something, he/she is redirected to PayPal’s site to process the payment. After the payment is made, the user is redirected back to the thank you page of the website from which he/she has made a purchase and where the conversion is registered. However, because he/she comes to the thank you page from PayPal, Google Analytics logs this as a new session beginning on the thank you page, and the conversion is attributed to PayPal and not the original traffic source!

Fortunately, such a scenario can be avoided. You can add (or another payment-processing site) to the referral exclusion list in Google Analytics, and it will not log users arriving from the listed domains as a new session. To add a domain to the Referral Exclusion List, go to: Admin > Property > Tracking Info >  Referral Exclusion List

The third situation in which a new session begins occurs when it becomes midnight (00:00) in the timezone in question. This has to do with Google Analytics’ data processing functionality. Its data storage does not allow it to continue the session into the next day, so all active sessions are cut off at 00:00.

Note that one user may have multiple sessions, and each session will typically have multiple pageviews and events (assuming it is not a bounce session).

How can I have more sessions than people?

For some reports, you may see more sessions than users. Typically you can observe such situations in reports that use page-level dimensions combined with metrics about users and sessions. Here is an example:

The same is true if you use “Page Title” as the dimension, as this is also page-level:

This occurs because of the way in which Google Analytics displays metrics relating to users and sessions for these dimensions.

Users is displayed +1 for each pagepath that the user has visited and session is counted +1 for the pagepath only if the session started at that page. So the number of entrances will always match the number of sessions, but the number of users may be greater than the number of sessions for the pages that are not landing pages (few users enter the site with those pages).

In the first example, you can see that the number of users for the page /faq is much greater than the number of sessions. This happens because most of users enter the site from some other pages and navigate to the /faq page later while looking for some content on the site.

A similar situation takes place if you use hour dimension for such a report. +1 session is counted only for the hour at which the session has started, and +1 user is counted for each hour during which the user was active. So the number of sessions matches the number of entrances, but may be less than the number of users if some users were active during multiple hours.

More information about this issue can be found in Google Analytics help here .

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