What is a Session in Web Analytics? - Definition & Length

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

What makes up a web session? The number of pages you visit? The links you click? How about the time you're active on the page? In this lesson, we'll explore the concept and length of session in web analytics.

Getting In a Gym Session

How much time do you spend in the gym? Thirty minutes? An hour? Two hours? If you're like most people, it hovers somewhere near an hour, during which time you take advantage of a variety of free weights, treadmills, bicycles and maybe even a gym class. But here's a question for you to consider: would you tell some you had spent 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes and 25 minutes at the gym? Of course not. Your gym session lasted an hour and included all of the activities you took part in while you were there.

A piece of equipment being used at the gym is just one part of the workout routine
gym workout equipment

A session in web analytics functions in largely the same way. Let's take a closer look.

What is a Session in Web Analytics?

Think of the last website you went to (before this one, of course). Maybe you were browsing for a new computer or looking for answers to a particular study question. How long did you spend on that website? Five minutes, maybe ten? In web analytics, all those numbers that help you break down the traffic coming to your website, a session is defined as all the interactions a user takes on a site in a specific period of time.

So, in your mind, you can liken a web session to a gym session. Instead of lifting weights and running on a treadmill, your web session includes all the things you've read, links you've clicked on, and pages you've visited inside of your visit to that website.

How Is the Length of a Session Determined?

From the time you launch a web page, Google Analytics and other tools like it start a timer. A session, according to Google's analytics program and the overall industry standard, clocks in at 30 minutes in length. But, it's not quite that black and white. If someone logs on to you website, but then leaves the page open and goes out to eat, or arrives at your website from one link and then re-appears on your site coming from another link, Google says both of those scenarios are grounds for the end of a session. After 30 minutes of inactivity or a user leaving and re-appearing under a different campaign, the timer gets reset. Conversely, if you are actively participating on a website, each web page or action you take, resets the 30-minute timer, giving you more time.

So, if you check out a movie review on a review site on Friday evening, and then re-visit the site Saturday afternoon to get showtimes, that counts as two sessions--even if you left the webpage open in between. If you read multiple movie reviews and watch a few trailers, staying active on the site, your session extends beyond that 30-minute threshold. The same goes for visiting your Facebook page which, given the statistics that we've begun to see about how often we all access social media, you probably do multiple times during the week.

Every time you check your profile on Facebook, it counts as multiple uses according to web session analytics
facebook user page

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