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Exciting Changes to Google Analytics Session Tracking Methods

By | August 12, 2011

As an analytics nerd, I’ve always got my ear to the ground about new and upcoming features in my favorite analytics suite. Any change that provides me with more accurate and actionable data really gets me pumped up.

So yesterday, when Google announced a small change to the way visitor sessions are calculated in Google Analytics, I couldn’t wait to dive in and find out more!

Accurate analytics data is a vital component of any successful online marketing campaign, and understanding the way visits are interpreted by your analytics engine can provide a clearer understanding of how visitors interact with your site.

So what does that mean?

Essentially, this change allows Google Analytics to track attribution data more accurately. With the recent addition of Multi-Channel Funnels, which allow you to track the attribution of a conversion from the first-click source to the last-click source, more accurate attribution data means a more effective model of your users’ engagement with your site.

What actually changed?

To understand what any of this means, you need to know how Google Analytics used to track sessions compared to how they are tracking them going forward.

Before today, Google Analytics ended a session:

  • When more than 30 minutes elapsed between pageviews
  • At the end of the day
  • When a visitor closed his or her browser

If the visitor returned to the site after one of those events occurred, a new session would begin.

Starting today, the following changes have been made to session tracking:

  • A session is no longer ended when a visitor closes his or her browser window (which means a visitor can leave and come back within 30 minutes on a given day, and their session will continue)
  • A session will now end when the traffic source for the user changes. This means that if an organic search visitor leaves the site and comes back through a Pay-Per-Click ad, his or her previous session will be ended and a new one will start.
  • As before, the end of a day, or the passage of more than 30 minutes between pageviews, will cause a session to end.

Google has stated that this change may slightly increase the number of visits tracked to a site, but based on their research, “most users will see less than a 1% change”.

If you’ve seen any surprising changes in your analytics data since this change was implemented, please leave us a comment, or drop me a tweet @CliffyKOnline. I’d love to hear about how your data has been affected!

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About Cliff Karklin

Cliff Karklin is a Senior Online Marketing Strategist and Senior Account Executive at Fathom with nearly 5 years of online marketing experience with an SEO focus. His degree in Video Production has also provided him a deeper insight into online video marketing. When Cliff isn't at the office developing creative strategies and digging far too deeply into analytics, you can usually find him still connected to the online world, pouring over the latest industry news and testing new tools and processes. Follow Cliff on Twitter @CliffyKOnline

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