4 Essential Methods for Session Stitching in Google Analytics
Also known as session unification and site linking, session stitching is a way to ensure data quality and attribution.
It can be useful to those who want to track their customers seamlessly between logins and across domains.
When optimizing your website for SEO your analytics are key to creating your marketing plan and understanding who your customers are or what they do. It can be difficult to pinpoint your customers and visitors today as their digital presence can vary over different devices and locations.
Conversion is the ultimate aim and you need to understand the whole process before it. Customers do their research, have and improve awareness, and interest prior to making a purchase.
As you know different parts of your traffic have different behaviors which follow a different lead to conversion. To optimize your site fully and understand your data, you need to know exactly how users move through the decision-making process towards the end game, conversion.
This is where session stitching comes in. But what is session stitching and who does it work for?
First of all, what is session stitching?
Session stitching is the process of grouping website visits and sessions that otherwise would not be connected in Google Analytics. The most notable is Google’s User-ID feature, which enables you to group together sessions based on the ID provided by the website. But other information can be added together too.
Looking at on page ranking factors using Google analytics, session stitching connects the activities of the user which happen within a single session, but because of tracking limitations they generate multiple sessions. Because browsers do not allow websites from one domain to share cookies with another, it means sessions need to be patched together to provide an overview of a true single session. Session stitching repairs technical faults allowing analytics data to be preserved and saving attribution information.
Here are four essential methods you should know about for session stitching in Google Analytics.
1. Tracking with Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)
Users can access AMP pages in three different ways and each impact where the Client ID is stored. There’s Google Search where the AMP page is accessed and displayed inside an AMP viewer and the Client ID is stored on Google.com. Then next there’s where the AMP page is accessed from a proxy or cache. Lastly, there’s where the AMP page is accessed directly on the publisher domain.
If this is not managed your stats may end up wrong so it must be looked at correctly. For example, a click to another page on the publisher’s site from the AMP page generates a referral and a new session instead of counting the click as the second interaction in a single session. This can mean larger session counts, higher bounce rates on AMP pages and lower session duration.
Setting up AMP tracking has two steps: Analytics code changes and Referral Exclusions.
Once you have made these changes you can track this in Google Analytics and your related metrics will become more accurate.
2. Cookie settings and Subdomain tracking
Subdomain tracking relies on a setting for the Cookie Domain. Although there is a manual step to set the cookie domain, now Google has an automatic default in the Google Analytics scripts and the Google Analytics settings in Google tag manager. The algorithm sets the cookie at the highest possible level so when a user who lands on a subdomain and then later migrates to the core domain, they won’t get a new Client ID or start a new session.
A second step is similar to what is mentioned above, adding your root domain to the Referral Exclusion list. This is so that visits between subdomains and the core domain don’t initiate new sessions. Google automatically adds the root domain to the Referral Exclusion list when your Google Analytics property is created. However, you should check that the updates have automated subdomain tracking to the correct values.
3. User ID tracking
When a website has a feature meaning you need to login, they use User ID tracking to connect the customer’s visits over time. This way the business can see what SaaS (software as a service) features their customers use and what they are really looking for. Session stitching in this way combines the pre-login activity with the post-login activity. Tracking the User ID activity and combining it with the browsing prior to login creates a single seamless session.
Session unification only happens within the same session when the User ID is assigned. It means not all previous history before login is stored but only within that login session. Of course, all activity during logged in sessions are stored too which will give you an overall insight to your customers’ needs.
This is how it looks: first with session unification on then with session unification off.
You can turn off session unification if you wish, which might be useful if you are only analyzing what your customers are doing when they are logged in.
4. Session stitching with Cross-Domain tracking
Cross-domain tracking is the most complex version of session-stitching. If several sites share the same tracking code but no technical changes are made for tracking then problems can occur. This may create duplicate sessions between your domains as the transfer of the Client ID won’t happen. It will also lose the original attribution data when moving from one domain to the next so will appear as a self-referral due to coming from the same tracking code.
When you have more than one domain then you want to track your visitors as they moving from one to another. If they have the same Google Analytics code there are three more steps to follow. First, you need to automatically link all your domains. You do this by adding all domains in a list separated with commas in your Google Analytics Settings. Or you can change your Google Analytics code to include all domains.
Second, to make sure the Client IDs are passed along you need to add allowLinker in settings. Do this by going to Google Analytics Settings, then Google Tag Manager to allowLinker, then set the value to true.
Lastly, you need to add all domains to your Referral Exclusion list. This last step is vital as otherwise many self-referrals will be generated where Google Analytics will recognize the same user but will still generate a new session.
Potential problems with session stitching
Sometimes stitching sessions through user ID and Client ID can cause issues as you don’t always know that it is the same user. There is the potential that multiple users are using the same device or browser. There is always the possibility that the same user has multiple login credentials too and these are not linked together. Devices that do not authenticate are also missed but these pieces are small and hopefully should not make too much of an impact on your statistics.
Who should use session stitching and who does it affect most?
Although session stitching is good for all websites, there are some websites that can benefit more. These include sites with logins as they rely on what is called session unification to gather information on events that lead to a user login. Sites using social logins such as Facebook or Twitter can sometimes produce a false lead showing the referral from the social media site. This can be similar with third-party payments as they also might lose attribution data for eCommerce conversions. It is also beneficial for multi-domain organizations and websites that have a lot of AMP.
In any case, session stitching can be beneficial for businesses to learn more about where their leads and conversions are generated without false data from different sessions.
Using session stitching in Google Analytics
Session stitching brings Google Analytics data up to speed with what we know users are truly doing. This includes navigating between domains, carrying out purchases, or filling out forms that take them from one domain to another domain.
Knowing this information and links between known and unknown visitors, and new customers and past purchases, makes a massive impact on your analytics and is worth the effort of session stitching. Your customers will benefit too as their experience using your site will not change but the tailored service they get will be so much better.
Will session stitching be beneficial for your business? It is easy to set up for your domains if you follow the right steps. But you also may want to invest in someone or a business who can ensure that everything is set up right. So, whether you want to do it yourself or leave it to a professional session stitcher, it is worth a try for your business.