Gus Kroustalis

Four Ways that a Google Analytics Session Could Break

Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

Google Analytics provides great tools for data collection and reporting. One of the critical aspects of analytics for your business, though, is ensuring that you have clean data.

An issue that I come across occasionally is a lack of session continuity. This means that a visitor’s session on your website is split into two or more website sessions. When this happens, your website session totals, site usage metrics, and traffic source attribution are all filled with incorrect data.

Beyond those reporting metrics, eCommerce websites rely on data analysis that includes Multi-Channel attribution models, total sessions per transaction, and assisted conversions. Broken sessions makes this reporting unusable. This can hurt eCommerce website marketing, because so much is dependent on proper traffic source attribution. Picture this: A new visitor comes to an eCommerce website and begins shopping. At some point, the website session being captured by Google Analytics breaks, and a new session begins during the visitor’s same shopping visit. Once a purchase is made, the marketing channel that brought the visitor will be considered an assisting source, not the actual source. Depending on the website’s attribution model, this could hurt analysis that will lead to marketing budget decisions.

If you are not confident that your visitors’ website sessions are maintained from beginning to end, then you have some work to do.

Here four ways that a Google Analytics session could break:

1) Session Timeout

There is a 30 minute session timeout, by default. Once that mark is hit, the session ends. If a user kept a tab open in their browser with your website, and resumes activity in the browser, then a new session will begin. Google Analytics will note that it is the same user with a new session. You have the option of adjusting the timeout marker, anywhere from one minute to four hours. This can be done in the Session Settings section of Tracking Info configurations for your Google Analytics property (see screenshot below).

google-analytics-session-settings

2) Missing Google Analytics Tracking Code

Every now and then, I come across a website that has not applied consistent Google Analytics tracking code across the entire site. Google Analytics data collection is based on its JavaScript being installed and readable. If a page on your website is loaded, and the JavaScript is not present, then there will be no data capture. Consequently, the previous pageview will mark the end of a user’s session. If the user clicks from the non-tracked page to a page with the Google Analytics JavaScript, then a new session will begin. Just like with the session timeout, your data will show one user with two sessions.

missing-google-analytics-tracking-code

The best way to avoid missing code is to apply the Google Analytics JavaScript in your website template. Every time a new page is created with your template, the Google Analytics code will automatically be in place. If you use multiple templates on your website, be sure to apply the Google Analytics JavaScript to each template.

3) Cross-Domain Tracking Error

Anyone who intends to set up cross-domain tracking knows that the most valuable aspect of the setup is maintaining session continuity between the two domains.

The industry I most frequently see cross-domain tracking is Higher Education. Many institutions utilize multiple domains, and there is an obvious relationship between the content across those domains. Perhaps from the institution’s standpoint, content, data collection, and reporting are segregated by departments. However, the website visitors have a unified experience across all of the content during their website sessions.

Cross-domain tracking with Google Analytics can be tricky, which is why even Google recommends using the linker plugin to make life easier. Validate your tracking code setup in a test environment. If at all possible, never use your live environment to test your tracking code. If, while testing, you notice that the source/medium changes when clicking to the second domain, then there is an issue with the tracking code.

4) Conflicts with Other Scripts

A very talented JavaScript developer once explained to me that, with the broader use of scripts on websites these days, there is potential for some scripts to conflict with each other and cause one or both to break. The best way to catch this is to validate your tracking code setup in a test environment. Not only should you make sure that the Google Analytics reports are showing data, but you should also verify the appropriate Google Analytics cookies, and use your browser’s developer tools to check for any script errors.

Get More Reliable Data

Guarding against the above issues helps ensure that your website’s Google Analytics tracking is as accurate as possible. More specifically, these issues skew website session totals and sometimes source/medium attribution, which then skew conversion rates and other helpful KPIs. The goal of analytics is to make informed decisions that improve your business. Make sure your data is reliable, for that purpose.