Many of us website owners like lots of traffic. Meaning a lot of people visiting our website. More traffic usually means higher conversion. Maybe people buy your product or service or click on the ads you place on your blog or find the information you publish. To measure this traffic Google Analytics makes a difference between the sessions metric and the users metric. In this post I will show you the difference between the two so you can use it to your advantage for your statistics and make the right decisions to improve your conversion rates and/or to improve the user experience whilst browsing your website.
What happens when a user visits your website?
When a user visits your website and you have the Google Analytics tag implemented on the page that this user visits, Google Analytics creates a cookie on his machine. This cookie is called _ga and contains an unique identifier for this user. This identifier is anonymous and consists of a number. The visitor is considered a user as he makes use of your website.
The cookie placed by Google Analytics is a first party cookie which means that it is created under the same domain name as where it is created. So if a user visits example.com the cookie will be created with domain example.com. Almost all browsers will allow the creation of a first party cookie. The cookie has an expiration time of two years.
So what is a session?
When a user interacts with your website, the total of these interactions is called a session. Now let me explain this more in depth. The interactions of user with a website are called hits. An example of a hit is a pageview or a screenview for mobile devices. If you have defined events in your analytics configuration every time a user performs an event it is also called as a hit. This might be a click on a button for example. There are many types of hits but the bottom line is that if we measure an interaction of the user with your website it will extend its session.
So how can it be that in my statistics I observe more sessions than users? Well by default after 30 minutes after a user stops interacting with your website the session is considered finished. When a user later returns to your website, a new session is started. Also when passing midnight entering a new day, a new session is started. So if a user enters your website at 11:30 pm. and leaves at 00:15 am his visit will be counted as two sessions.
So in short a user is somebody that visits your website and a session is a collection of interactions, called hits, of this user with your website. A session can end and when a user returns, a new session is counted.