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bum bam bum February 2016

google analytics traffic source user vs session level

When creating Segments in GA I can choose to filter Traffic Sources on User level and on Session level.

  1. Is the User level Traffic Source determined the first time user visits the website and never changes again?
  2. Does the Session level Traffic Source gets updated each time the user visits the website?
  3. Does the same user can have a single Traffic Source (first time visit) on User level and multiple Traffic Sources on Session level?

Thanks for taking the time to read this and hopefully answer!


Philip Walton February 2016

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes

Your example is actually a pretty good explanation of the difference between user and session-level segments.

Here's a feature overview for more info: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/3123951

Eike Pierstorff February 2016

1) In theory, yes (practically this is tied to the client id in the cookie; a new user is created when somebody swipes his cookies, even if it is the same person).

2) Not quite. The Traffic Source changes when the marketing channel changes (direct type-in/bookmarks are not a marketing channel, so if somebody clicks e.g. an adwords ad and return via direct he is still an adwords user. Well, unless you look at the multichannel reports which will count direct channels as marketing channel). Look at the attribution flow visualization, you will see that GA checks for existing campaign information before it attributes to a direct type-in.

3) Yes, obviously - there is one source for the first visit and every subquent visit may have its own traffic source.

Mike Sullivan February 2016

A contrary view:

  1. No. There is no such thing as a User-level Traffic Source. Each session has a source. Users can have multiple sessions. Therefore Users can have multiple sources.

Simple proof: create user segment with medium = referral. View standard Traffic Source report, note multiple mediums are reported. This is because returning users can have sessions with different sources, and all of those sessions are included in your segment.

  1. Yes, with a caveat. Each sessions has its own source. It comes from the HTTP referrer sent by the user's browser, which is optional and can be spoofed. However, if the source is Direct (empty), GA will look to see if that user had a previous non-direct source and it will change it to that. This is GA's "last non-direct attribution model". You can look it up.

  2. No. The User has multiple sessions, and each sessions has its own source.

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Asked in February 2016
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