Google Analytics changes sessions tracking


A small but potentially quite big change to Google Analytics has been pushed out. It relates to how sessions are handled, which you’ll see in the “visits” metric in Google Analytics.

Most web analytics tools have to work out a “visit” metric to try and give you some idea of people coming to, then leaving, your site. The problem is that the analytics tools don’t get a “goodbye” message when the visitor leaves the site, so they have to use other mechanisms. The traditional way is a timeout of 30 minutes without any activity from the visitor, or if the visitor closes his browser.

This change to Google Analytics introduces the idea of any change to the traffic source value resulting in a new session, that is a new visit. These values are set whenever a visitor arrives from an external site, meaning any new arrival basically, even if it happens within the previous 30 minute time-out bracket.

It’s a pretty sensible change to the way the data is calculated and will affect all reports that include the “Visits” metrics. Any business wants to know how many people come through the front door, and how well they’re converting them into paying
customers. Even people who come through the front door more than once should be
counted in that metric.

Details from Google about the change, including some rather panicky comments from users who are alarmed, can be found on the official Google Analytics blog post about the session tracking recent changes.

Article provided by Christian Bartens, Datalicious and ADMA Data Council Chair.

One thought on “Google Analytics changes sessions tracking

  1. Thanks for sharing this Christian. This is big news about Google shaking up the industry by making small tweaks to how they calculate a “Visit”.
    For those who found the Google Blog post to be a bit too cryptic (don’t worry, myself included), I recommend you head over to Avinash Kaushik’s (@avinash) blog – he has an excellent video (I recommend watching it) as he walks you thorough a typical scenario on how the change will affect measurement of visits which then have a knock-on effect to many other metrics.

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