Sessions and Campaigns with Google Universal Analytics

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Google Analytics is great, but it was designed for an earlier era of web use. Before people worked in the cloud, spent day and night shopping for clothes on their tablets, and hooked themselves intravenously to Facebook and Twitter, web use was a somewhat predictable affair.

You visited a web site for a few minutes, found what you wanted, and left.
Once in a while you came across a new site, which you were happy to find, but you didn’t have the daily churn of Buzzfeed and Reddit to keep you constantly on the look for new material.

If you, or one of your clients, was tracking analytics, they just needed to keep watch of two big data points, sessions, or how long a typical user spent on a site, and campaigns, or how well their mixture of paid and free advertising was working. But, as web users spend more and more of their free time online, it’s time for a new approach. Google Universal Analytics allows you to modify sessions and campaigns to make them more effective. Here are a few tips about how to use Google UA’s new features to help your business.

Time Your Sessions Correctly

A session is the amount of time a user spends on your site. Under Google Analytics, sessions timed out after 30 minutes by default, which meant that you risked overcounting or undercounting site visitors if they spent significantly more or less time on your site. Google UA allows you to modify your session time, from as short as one minute to as long as four hours.

If your site has a lot of content, and your users might interact with that content deliberatively—i.e., someone might find some clothing they like, and then show it to someone else, a half hour later, before making the purchase—you can count that visit as a single session, so you’ll know that your visitors appreciate the time you put into your site design and content.

Likewise, if your site is relatively sparse, you can shorten your session time so you don’t accidentally count users who spend a few minutes on your site, open a new tab, and then return to your site only to close the tab. When you’re tracking your users, you want to be as accurate as possible, and choosing your session time will help you learn more about your users.

Manage Your Campaigns More Effectively

Campaigns in Google UA allow you to track the effectiveness of both organic and paid advertising campaigns. Under Google Analytics, campaigns automatically expired after six months, so if you were running a longstanding campaign on Adwords, or wanted to keep track of the hits you were getting from a major blog, you had to constantly worry about your data losing accuracy once you hit the six-month mark. With Google UA, campaigns can be as short as one day—for flash sales like those that come around during the holidays—or as long as two years, for ongoing advertising and organic publicity your site receives.

While giving you the ability to change session and campaign times seems like a minor improvement, these two features from Google UA can make your analytics work more accurate, and useful, for your own site as well as those for your customers.

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Photo by Peter Clark