Will Session Ever Stop Being Confusing? A Quick Guide to Website Sessions

| Google Analytics

Session is possibly the most important metric you can pull on Google Analytics, yet many are confused on what it really means. Is it something that tells the real status of a website? Or a metric that is there only to make you feel good about how your SEO campaign is going? Let’s take a closer look at what session is all about.


Google Analytics defined a session as a group of user interactions with a website that takes place within a given time frame. Basically, a session is every instance a user is actively using a website.

What does user interactions mean?

Interactions are what the users are doing on a website. These may include but are not limited to page views, events, social interactions, transactions. Clicking buttons, downloading resources and submitting forms are other good examples of user interactions.

Interaction in a given time frame? What does it mean?

Google Analytics records every interaction in a given time frame. If no interaction occurred within a given period, the session will end. Thirty (30) minutes is the default session timeout but can be adjusted from a few minutes to several hours.

Longer session timescale might be beneficial for websites that offer videos and sound clips.

Can a single user open multiple sessions?

A single user can open multiple sessions and these can occur on the same day, the next day, next week or even next month. As soon as one session ends, there is an opportunity to start a new session.

How can a session end?

By default, a session can end after 30 minutes of inactivity, at midnight, and if a campaign changes.

End after 30 minutes of inactivity

If a user visits a website, Google Analytics starts running the clock. If 30 minutes (default session time) pass without any user interactions, the session ends. However, if the user interacts with any given elements (clicks, events, social interactions), Google Analytics resets the expiration time by adding on additional 30 minutes from the time of interaction.

If a user, after the 30 minutes of inactivity, assuming that the website still loaded on a browser, interacts with the website again, then a new session begins. This is another session, a new one, not a continuation of the previous session.

Automatically expires at midnight

If a user is browsing a website since 11:50 pm, his session will automatically expire at 11:59:59 pm and a new session will start at 12 midnight. This is true even if he’s actively using the website in the said time frame.

Campaign change

A session ends when a user arrives in a website via one campaign, leaves, and then comes back via a different campaign. This means that every time a user’s campaign source changes, a new session opens.

In conclusion, a session is when users are actively using a website, i.e. clicking buttons and links, filling out and submitting forms, or browsing pages within a given time frame. A session starts when users arrive on a website and end in different ways – after 30 minutes of inactivity (default session timeout), at midnight, or when campaign source changes. From these, sessions metrics can be a unified way to report “Visits” and “Active Users”. Sessions can also give a good estimate of the number of times people use a website and have carried out activities.

Possibly the most important metric, the session can show the real status of a website.

Let the confusion about session come to an end! Spread the news now!