Google Analytics Changing How Sessions Are Defined

By , Senior Account Manager at Hanapin Marketing


Google announced that they will be changing the definition of a session in Google Analytics. Currently, a session is ended when one of the following actions occur:

  • It’s the end of a day.
  • The visitor has closed their browser window.
  • It’s been longer than 30 minutes between pageviews for a single visitor.

With the changes happening in Analytics, the first and last bullet up there will still apply, but that middle one is changing:

  • When any traffic source value for the user changes. This includes: utm_source, utm_medium, utm_term, utm_content, utm_id, utm_campaign, and gclid.

Google Analytics, always ch-ch-ch-changing to bring you the most quality data.


This change takes place immediately, so it’s already happening in your account!

But, what’s it even mean for your account? Here’s the skinny: from now on, instead of recording a session as just a set amount of time having passed between pageviews, Google is getting more accurate about it. They’re recording it based on the traffic source code, which means if a visitor clicks on your red tennis shoes page, then look at your shoestrings, then clicks to your sock collection, and then clicks on another link for your red tennis shoes—it’s going to count that as another session.

This change is going to help you see more accurate information about what visitors are doing on your site, which is in line with the introduction of multi-channel funnels.


Google is warning that this change will increase the number of visits slightly, and they’re estimating the change at about 1%. So, don’t sweat it! It doesn’t seem like it’s going to affect your account metrics enough to cause an issue. It’s just more changes from Google to make Analytics more precise and provide more information about your visitors and their actions in your website.  (see below)


As always, thanks for reading and stay tuned for more updates from PPC Hero!

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10 thoughts on “Google Analytics Changing How Sessions Are Defined

  1. Pingback: Google Analytics Changing How Sessions Are Defined | Iuvo

  2. Anonymous

    It resulted in a 20% drop in pages/visit for me, a bump up in visits, and a big bump in return visits. The change was so radical that it prompted me to search and see if they just changed the algorithm. So maybe in aggregate it was 1%, but it probably depends on the site. I don’t know how to track the data now, it seems like I need to wait a few weeks to see how it shakes out before I can trust it again. Which sucks.

    1. Amanda West-Bookwalter

      Hi there, dumbfounder! Thanks for reading and sharing your experience of
      this update.  I do think this change will provide more accurate data,
      and especially if you’re using it with multi-channel funnels–but it’s
      not without its growing pains! Hang in there, and I’m sure it’ll get easier to recognize how this change will ultimately affect your account and how you interpret your data.

      1. Anonymous

        Did they change it back? My stats went back to the way they were before… either their change coincided with a very rare blip in my stats, or they changed their algorithm back. My total pageviews and unique users are normal, but returning visitors, pages per user, and total visits all wacky between Aug 11 and 16. Today and yesterday they are back to normal.

        1. Amanda West-Bookwalter

          Hi again! I’m not finding anything that’s saying they changed it back. And, I doubt they did. Most likely scenario is they fixed some kinks with the new sessions, and your account is going more towards that tiny, 1% change they were striving for. Though–it’s always possible it was a rare blip in your stats. Either way, it’s glad to hear you’re back on track, even if it’s frustrating to not know for sure why you were off to begin with!

  3. Fred

    I have the same 20%+ impact on visits on my web site without understanding why.
    The most unexplainable is why the impact is mostly (only?) on trafic coming from Google and how I now get figures of PPC visits that are the double of the number of Clicks I see in Adwords.
    How could one click lead to two visits from that source?
    I have a hard time trusting it’s all perfect.

  4. Darren

    We’re seeing problems with the new Session tracking across several accounts. For one, traffic from Google Adwords is being counted as 2 sessions the moment the site visitor clicks on a 2nd page. The first visit is counted as a bounce, which I’m hoping isn’t picked up by Adwords!!! As a result, we’re seeing a lot higher Return Visitor rates, much higher Bounce rates and much lower Ave Time on Site. This isn’t just a new way of looking at data, it’s a bug.


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