How to tell if your users have your site open in multiple tabs at once

PUBLISHED 5 May 2023 - UPDATED 15 Aug 2023

Do your users have your website open in more than one tab? Here's why that can be useful information, and how you can use a live analytics tool called GoSquared to get it.

How insight into tab usage is useful

For some questions about website user experience, it can be useful to know whether your users have the site open in more than one browser tab at once.

For example, I was working on a live event website with both a live auditorium page and a feedback page. The question came up as to whether delegates had both pages open at the same time in different tabs. If they did, it would suggest that the feedback tool might be better placed on the auditorium page itself.

Why traditional analytics tools aren't suitable

Unfortunately this isn't information that most web analytics tools are geared up to provide. Google Analytics 4's event model and user explorer, for example, can tell you if the same user carries out events on page A and page B (and in what order), but not whether this activity happens in the same or different tabs.

Behavioural analytics tools such as Hotjar fall short as well. Hotjar allows you to record and play back individual user sessions, and doing so I noticed an occasion when a user clicked on a menu link but nothing changed on site. The user then moved the mouse straight up to the top of the window. What could account for that behaviour?

I suspected that the user made a right click and opened that link as a new tab. So I asked Hotjar whether there was any way to prove it, or to distinguish between left and right clicks. They replied:

"I can definitely see how knowing the type of mouse click would be helpful. Unfortunately, we currently don't have this functionality available."

Using a live analytics tool: GoSquared

The most success I've had then has come with live analytics tools such as GoSquared. GoSquared monitors the number of users on your platform using ping requests. This means it can report on user numbers even when those users are passively sitting on the site (watching a video or a live broadcast, for example).

And if you think about the use cases when a user might have a site open in multiple tabs, you can see how that would be relevant.

More to the point, GoSquared's 'Now' dashboard (under Analytics > Now) reports on the number of people currently viewing each page and the number of visitors online in total. This allows you to deduce whether your users have the site open in multiple tabs. For example, if there's one person on my website I might see something like this:

One visitor online in GoSquared Now dashboard

One person is viewing a particular post (Content, bottom right), and there's one "visitor online" in total (top left). Logically they're the same person.

Let's say it then changes to this:

Two content views in GoSquared Now dashboard

One person is viewing a post, one person is viewing the homepage, and we still have one "visitor online" in total. The explanation here is that the one visitor online has the site open in two tabs.

Scaling it up, if we had 50 visitors online but the values in the 'Content' section added up to 100, we could say that the mean average of tabs per user is two.

Video demonstration

Here's a short screencast of me showing what happens in GoSquared when a user has your site open in two tabs at the same time:

Limitations with GoSquared

Of course, there are limitations with using GoSquared to tell whether users have your site open in multiple tabs:

  • We don't know whether one user has a very high number of tabs open and is skewing the mean (though this is less likely to happen on a site with a small number of pages, as each user is only counted once per page)
  • While the "visitors online" data can be retrieved historically, the content/page data is only available in real-time (though it can be exported by API and I suppose you could schedule a regular export)
  • You have to total up the values in the 'Content' section yourself, either by looking at the 'Now' dashboard or calculating it from the exported API data

Nonetheless, the data from GoSquared was sufficient to answer my question and show that, yes, a high proportion of delegates had both the auditorium page and the feedback page open simultaneously during the live event. This provided strong justification for redesigning the auditorium page to encorporate the feedback widget.

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James Clark
Hi! I'm James Clark and I'm a freelance web analyst from the UK. I'm here to help with your analytics, ad operations, and SEO issues.
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