While individual user data is important, understanding their behavior over various site interactions is more valuable. These powerful insights can enable you to identify trends and evaluate the quality of your content.
Let’s examine the session, and find out how it can aid our analyses.
First, what exactly is a session? Google defines it as “a group of user interactions with your website that take place within a given time frame.” Furthermore, an “engaged session is one that lasts longer than 10 seconds, has a conversion or at least 2 pageviews.” Also, sessions are organizations of user interactions and events, which are associated with a session ID and timestamp by Google in the backend.
Obviously, the essential attribute is time. It is a more nuanced measurement of visitor behavior. For marketers and analysts, tapping into this data goldmine is critical for driving actionable insights and enhancing the user experience.
Users vs. Sessions
It will also be helpful to point out the differences between user and session metrics, as we are championing the merits of the latter. Users are identified as “the number of unique visitors to your site.” These are the actual people visiting your website. But these visits are “unique,” meaning that they are only counted once. Further, users are broken down into new and returning users. Importantly, Google Analytics measures the time a user is active on your site. After 30 minutes of inactivity, a new session is recorded once the user takes a new action.
Sessions are defined as the “total number of visits to your site — including both new and repeat visits.” In GA4 this signifies a group of user interactions on your website that take place within a specific time frame. This includes page views, social media shares, clicks on links, and any other event you’ve defined.
Although knowing the number of users, both new and returning, is useful, the activity generated during a session is far more valuable. This is where the story of a user’s journey is told. By analyzing this information, you can evaluate how well your marketing strategies are working. This will assist you gain insights into understanding the power of the site in terms of engagement and conversions and fine tuning future performance.
Now that we have a better understanding of sessions, their differences from users, and what makes them informative, let’s take a look at how they are displayed in Analytics Reports.
Fundamentals of User Acquisition and Traffic Acquisition
In Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the User Acquisition and Traffic Acquisition reports offer different perspectives and insights on user interaction with your website, but both play a crucial role in understanding the impact of sessions. Here is information on both:
Shared Metrics Include
Users: Indicates how many users visited your site for the first time during a specified period.
Sessions: Total number of individual sessions initiated by all users.
Engaged Sessions: The number of sessions that lasted longer than 10 seconds, had a conversion event, or two or more views.
Engaged Sessions per User: Number of engaged sessions for each visitor.
Engagement Rate: The overall percentage of engaged sessions.
Average Engagement Time: The length of time that the website was the focus of the browser.
The User Acquisition report emphasizes understanding how users are initially engaging with your website. It offers a breakdown of where users come from the first time they visit your site.
Key Session Data:
First-time users: Tracks new users who initiated sessions during a specific timeframe.
User engagement: Measures the level of user engagement by looking at the average engagement time per session, the number of events, and conversion rates.
Acquisition channel: Identifies the specific channels (organic search, direct, referral, social, email, etc.) that are driving new users to the site.
The Traffic Acquisition report provides a comprehensive view of all traffic to the site, not just new users. It highlights how these users are interacting across all their sessions.
Key Session Data:
Sessions: Total number of sessions within the given period, which can indicate the level of user interest and site stickiness.
Engagement: Includes metrics like average session duration and number of sessions per user, which offer a deeper dive into how all users (new and returning) interact with the site over time.
Source/Medium: Shows the origin of traffic in more detail, helping to understand which sources are most effective at driving engaged sessions.
Comparing the Two:
While User Acquisition focuses on where and how new users are coming to your site and how they break out into sessions, Traffic Acquisition zooms out to consider all session data. User Acquisition is about the “first impression” and initial user engagement. In contrast, Traffic Acquisition is about the ongoing relationship, examining how all visitors — not just new ones — interact with your site over time.
By examining the session data from both reports, you can get a full picture of how effectively you’re attracting users, how well you’re maintaining their interest, and how these efforts contribute to your overall website performance.
So, Why Use Sessions?
Now that we have covered the basics of sessions, know the difference from users, and understand the reporting, why should you actually use sessions to measure your website performance? Great question!
Analyzing session metrics in Google Analytics 4 is meaningful for several reasons:
Holistic Understanding of User Behavior: GA4 session metrics offer insights into how users interact with your website. This includes the pages they visit, the content they engage with, and the paths they take through the site in multiple visits. By understanding this behavior, you can optimize user experience and increase the likelihood of conversions.
Traffic Insights: By looking at the number of sessions, you can gauge the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. An increase in sessions could indicate successful campaigns or improved search engine rankings, while a decrease might suggest it’s time to revisit your SEO strategies.
Behavioral Patterns: Analyzing session data allows you to identify patterns in user behavior. For example, if you notice that sessions spike on certain days of the week or during specific hours, you can tailor your content release schedule or promotional activities accordingly.
Identification of Strengths and Weaknesses: Through session metrics, you can identify which pages or pieces of content are most engaging (and thus, effective) and which ones need improvement. This can guide content creation, website design, and user experience (UX) optimizations.
Conversion Tracking: Sessions that lead to conversions are especially valuable. By analyzing the paths taken in these sessions, you can identify the most effective funnels and touchpoints that lead users to take desired actions.
Return on Investment (ROI): Ultimately, analyzing session data can help you allocate your budget more effectively by identifying which areas of your website contribute the most to your bottom line.
Informed Decision Making: Accurate data drives sound marketing and SEO decisions. Without analyzing session metrics, decisions would be based on hunches rather than real user interaction data. Additionally, sessions provide a broader, “big picture” approach to analysis. This can be the difference between a successful marketing campaign and a wasted budget.
Analyzing Session Data
Session data is a treasure trove of insights for website analysis, suggesting what is “good” and what needs improvement. Leveraging this information empowers you to make informed decisions to optimize your website, refine marketing strategies, improve user experience, and boost overall website performance.
Understanding a visitors’ journey on your website is invaluable for making informed marketing decisions. Would you like personalized guidance tailored to your specific analysis needs?Drop us a line; we’re happy to help!
Chris is the Demand Generation Manager at Simple Machines Marketing. He has over 15 years of experience in digital marketing and paid advertising. Hailing from the Bluegrass State, Chris is a fan of good bourbon. He also enjoys horror/sci-fi movies and indie rock.