What is the difference between visits and sessions?

Last updated: November 13, 2017

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A "session" and a "visit" are two different ways to categorize groups of interactions a visitor has on your website. Specifically, a visit is counted when a visitor arrives on your website from a page outside your website. A session, however, is a more comprehensive way of grouping interactions:

  • Sessions take into account more interactions than just page views - they also include activities such as events and CTA clicks. 
  • Sessions expire after 30 minutes of visitor inactivity
  • New sessions begin when a visitor returns to the site after 30 minutes of activity or with a new session campaign (ex: the visitor returns to the site from a different traffic source).
  • If a visitor has cookies turned off or has an adblocker installed (which prevents HubSpot from tracking page views), and that visitor submits a form, tracking sessions can now infer more of the context around that submission, and can more accurately record the source of that form submission. 

Visits v. Session calculation examples

Example 1: Visitor finds site via organic search and they read a few blog posts. Visitor opens Facebook in their browser, clicks on a post they see about HubSpot, and gets directed to landing page with an interesting offer. They submit the form on that landing page. 

In this example, the visitor's original source is organic search. Their engagement with the Facebook post starts a new session and is attributed with the conversion. The visit-based and session-based way of calculating metrics do not differ.

Example 2: Visitor finds site via organic search and reads a few blog posts. The visitor steps out to lunch and doesn't return to their computer for 2 hours. Meanwhile, the visitor is chatting with their coworkers about some interesting content they just read in those blog posts. When the visitor gets back to their computer, they go back to the site that's still open in their browser and clicks on a CTA that takes them to a landing page, where they fill out a form to subscribe to more interesting content.

In this case, the 2 hours of inactivity expired the first session and a second session is logged with a new source of direct. If HubSpot was only calculating visits, this would have been counted as 1 visit, but in calculating sessions, this counts as 2 sessions, each with a different source - the first is organic search, and the second session in which the visitor converted is direct traffic.

Example 3: Visitor has an adblocker installed in their browser, which means HubSpot can't track that visitor's page views. However, HubSpot will know what page they're on if they submit a form. In the past, most of these form submissions were attributed to direct traffic, unless the page URL had a referrer explicitly indicated.

In the session-based way of calculating analytics metrics, HubSpot can infer more detail from the form submission through utm parameters. For example, if this visitor landed on the site via a link they clicked in an email, HubSpot will attribute this to the email source.

Example 4: Visitor finds site via organic search, reads a few blog posts, then leaves the website. Within 30 minutes, the visitor starts thinking about the content they just read and goes directly back to the website.

In the visit-based way of calculating metrics, this would count as 2 visits. In the session-based way, it's counted as just 1 session as the visitor returned within 30 minutes, and this conversion is attributed to organic search.

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