Google Analytics Traffic Change? Here Is Why.


Google Analytics LogoLast Thursday, Google announced how they have made a change to how they define a session.

Before Thursday Google Analytics ends a session when:

  • More than 30 minutes have elapsed between pageviews for a single visitor.
  • At the end of a day.
  • When a visitor closes their browser.

Now, Google Analytics ends a session when:

  • More than 30 minutes have elapsed between pageviews for a single visitor.
  • At the end of a day.
  • When any traffic source value for the user changes. Traffic source information includes: utm_source, utm_medium, utm_term, utm_content, utm_id, utm_campaign, and gclid.

So what impact is this having on your traffic reports in Google Analytics? It has been enough time to see the complaints in the threads.

But first, look at the comments in the post:

Confirming what others have stated: This change is wreaking havoc on our data. It looks like non-paid search traffic is up 30%, but corresponding pageviews are down 30%. And all gains in traffic are Repeat Visits -- which would suggest the second pageview from a paid source (utm_xxxxx=yyyyy) is creating a new session, and dumping the visit data into the wrong channel.

Good Grief, less then a 1% change! "Based on our research" I would love to know how you conducted this research.

I am seeing 20% increase in visits, I though I had finally broken free of Panda!

How I am supposed to evaluate these new metrics on steroids vs my previous metrics?

Today vs Yesterday Visits (+19.59%) Pages/Visit (-17.66%) Bounce Rate (+13.80%) Avg. Time on Site (-22.62%) % New Visits (-18.03%)

Same here, since this "update", organic traffic has so-said doubled and my Adwords traffic is now around twice as high as the number of clicks on adwords which can only be wrong.

There are also complaints in the WebmasterWorld forums and at Sphinn.

Are you upset? Did it make significant changes to your reports?

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld and Sphinn.

Update: There was indeed a bug. Google wrote:

We identified an issue responsible for unexpected traffic changes following our recent update to how sessions are defined in Google Analytics. A fix was released at 2pm PST Tuesday August 16th.

The issue affected some sites using the following configurations:

1. If a user comes to a customer’s site with a space in some part of their traffic source data, then revisit the same landing page during that session by refreshing the page or later pressing the back button, a new session will be created for every hit to that page. (Clicking a link elsewhere on the site that leads back to the page should not matter.)

2. Google Analytics implementations using multiple trackers (an unsupported configuration) are also affected when a space is included in the traffic source data. These sites will see fewer visits from new visitors, and more visits from returning visitors (with some variation due to different implementations).

Again, a fix for this issue was released yesterday. Please let us know if you continue to see unexpected traffic changes. We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support.

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AJ Kohn

08/16/2011 01:34 pm

I'm certainly grumpy.  I have two clients that have seen 30%+ changes in reported traffic. Upon matching Google Analytics to web logs you can confirm that this is simply phantom traffic. I know of another major site who has the same issue. This needs to be addressed and is the second change in the last month that has created a false positive for organic search volume.


08/16/2011 02:01 pm

This is crap, terrible mistake from Google.. and the best time to do it, just with the International Panda update..

Heather Physioc

08/16/2011 02:08 pm

Would've been nice to have a different section/view of Analytics for this rather than my existing data suddenly being non-comparable. Grr. We count on our data being reliable. It makes my CRs look like crap against comparison dates when volume is fine but now it looks like our CR tanked. For people who test thing constantly (as we all should) this really hurts.


08/16/2011 02:31 pm

I foresee pleasant meetings with clients explaining all that mess where "It's Google fault" is not a acceptable answer ;-)

Family Friend Poems

08/16/2011 02:43 pm

I'm lost. I have no ideas or explanations.  How can 23,000 total unique visitors create 36,000 visits in the same day. My website isn't Facebook, no reason to visit twice in the same day, especially from the SERPS, or more here:


08/16/2011 03:51 pm

We were very excited this morning, seeing organic traffic from Google being reported as up  77.8% on last week; we thought all our hard work cleaning up duplicate content (affiliate feeds) etc was paying off, and that we'd slain the Panda. This is depressing.

Syn Syn

08/16/2011 08:30 pm

and the best thing s, next day they rolled out international panda.... first they confuse the data, then change the game ... great timing google

Analytics Ninja

08/16/2011 08:56 pm

While I prefer not getting into a  deep analytics discussion in this particular forum, just a few quick thoughts. "Visits" do NOT equal "Traffic."  Try thinking about "visitors" instead.  Google Analytics uses a (semi) arbitrary definition as a visit being the time someone spends on a site that where more than 30 idle minutes were not spent.  Does that mean that if I am reading Search Engine Roundtable, get distracted with work for 35 minutes (perish the thought) and then go onto another SERoundtable article I've visited the site twice.  In GA it does.  It used to be that if I visited SERoundtable via a Google Search for "search engine news" (yes, they rank) and after finishing the article went back to Google and searched for "matt cutts search engine guy" (yes, they rank ), if it within 30 minutes it was counted as 1 visit.  Was it one visit?  Hmm... Depends on how you look at it.  From a user perspective, it might actually seem like I visited the site twice.  I was doing some reading up on SEO topics, and visited this great SEO news site twice.   So, what used to happen to that 2nd keyword in GA?  Didn't it show up under "keywords?"  Answer, yes it did.  Visits=0 For people who are seeing the largest movement in metrics such as %New Visits, Bounce Rate, Pages per Visit, or Time on Site, I recommend that you take a quick peek at your "visitor recency" report.  You'll see that what is really happening with your website visitors is that they are coming to your site multiple times (in this case, within 30 minutes of each other) after "updating their campaign settings,"  which means to say they are either doing additional searches, or clicking on paid ads, or clicking on different uniquely tagged twitter links, etc etc. I still have some big questions about the data I am seeing in many accounts.  But the more than I look at these changes, I find that I am learning a lot about the way the users interact with different client websites.   The problem isn't that Google changed the rules, but rather that most people don't understand what the rules really were in the first place.

franz enzenhofer

08/17/2011 10:12 am

anybody else can confirm that metrics seems to settle down since yesterday? did google just did a backroll? or do things just settle down?


08/17/2011 05:24 pm

i guess free tool does come with a price, Google can tweak the tool however they want, and we cannnot do anything about it.

Perfect Search Media

08/17/2011 06:01 pm

This is going to be a lot of fun to deal with.  So much for month over month and year over year metrics matching up.


08/18/2011 01:46 am

Google fixed sesstion 17/08/2011 read more:

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