Google Analytics 4, GA4 Brings New And Known Concepts

Wakas Javed

Even though Google Analytics 4 is a new platform that may look and feel different, it’s not all strange.

Many of the same concepts you may be familiar with from Universal Analytics are in Google Analytics 4. However, there are some new concepts for GA4.

This article describes some of the well-known and lesser-known concepts that the GA4 brings to the table.

If you are unfamiliar with GA4, I recommend reading this article first to quickly familiarize yourself with some of the differences between Universal Analytics and GA4, otherwise, read on.

Same Concept, Slightly Diverse Application

Let’s start with the familiar by looking at the concepts involved in Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4.

But first, a word of warning: Universal Analytics has the ability to filter data strongly at the view level. Only a few property-level filters are currently available in Google Analytics 4 (no views in GA4). Therefore, any discrepancies you may see in your data should be accounted for by your current UA filter.

With that in mind, let’s dive into some well-known metrics:

Users

In Universal Analytics, the Users metric looks at the full number of users during the selected time period. In Google Analytics 4, the Users metric is actually split into two parts: Total Users and Active Users.

Active Users is the primary user metric in GA4 and is used in the default reports in the GA4 UI. Active users are users who had interesting sessions on your site during the last 28 day period.

For most websites, these numbers will likely be close together. But if you see the difference between UA and GA4, that could be the reason.

Sessions

In Universal Analytics, a session is a period of time when a user is actively engaged with your site. There are several things that can end a session, such as an inactive period of 30 minutes, a change of UTMS or the session that breaks at midnight.

In GA4, a session is determined via the Session Start event. Google analytics 4 does not restart a session with a change of UTMS and does not break the session at midnight, but it is looking for an inactive period of 30 minutes and more to restart the session.

Due to the variable ways of a session between the two types of properties, the total number of session can be very different between UA and GA4 depending on the frequency numbers between the two platforms.

PageViews

This should be fairly similar concepts between UA and GA4. The biggest difference here is that if you use GA4 to track the web and application, GA4 combines metrics pageview and screen view in views. If you only follow the web for UA and GA4, the figures must seem fairly consistent between the platforms.

Lesser Known Concept

Conversions

Conversions are the new goal, but remember they are not created equal.

Conversions in Google Analytics 4 are simply an event marked as Conversions. This is as easy as enabling or disabling a button to indicate that the event is now a conversion.

Two important things to know about the difference between goals in UA and conversions in GA4 here:

UA goals are only calculated once per session. This means that even if the goal occurs multiple times in the same session, for example the goal is triggered each time a form is filled out, and a particular user fills out three forms in one session, it only counts as one goal execution. In GA4, a conversion is triggered every time the event is run, so in the same example it counts as three conversions in the same session.

In UA, you can create goals based on several factors: goals, duration, pages/screens per session, events, and smart goals. In Google analytics 4, conversions can only be based on events. This means you have to be creative, for example by creating events for specific goals/pages, to turn some of your goals into events. Audience triggering is another thing to consider for things like persistent goals.

Engaged Session

This is a new concept for the GA4. Active sessions are defined as “the number of sessions stays more than 10 seconds, having a conversion event, or having no less than two page or screen views”.

With these new metrics, you can better understand higher-quality and/or more engaging sessions with your site’s content. Engagement Rate is the percentage of sessions involved. The opposite of engagement rate is churn rate (see below).

Mixture of Two

I have to start by saying that I’ve never been a fan of bounce rate (or site time metrics for similar reasons). I think there are many places where the bounce rate calculation in Universal Analytics can mislead you in your analysis.

But I realize that some businesses (especially industries like publishing) rely heavily on bounce rates. And I know SEOs love this metric.

Google also recognizes the need for this indicator. As such, they just this month re-released bounce rate on GA4 (previously considered a deprecated metric for GA4/not originally included in GA4).

I have to stress here that this is NOT the same bounce rate you have in Universal Analytics.

Absolutely not.

In Universal Analytics, the bounce rate is the “percentage of sessions on a page with no interaction with that page”. Each “denied” session has duration of 0 seconds for the total site time count. This means that even if a user comes to your site, hangs around for 5 minutes and reads every word on your homepage, but doesn’t click anything or trigger any other event or pageview, it counts as a bounce.

To say that this metric is flawed is an understatement.

In GA4, bounce rate is a simple calculation which is the opposite of engagement rate. Previously I mentioned “Session Engage” – 10 seconds or so of the event or page view. They are at the heart of the engagement layer. This means the bounce rate is the percentage of sessions deemed uninvolved.

Why is that important?

Bounce rate is now a much more useful metric to show you how many people haven’t engaged with your website. People who log in, read everything on your homepage in 5 minutes, then leave are now considered active sessions, so they don’t count as bounces.

While not perfect, it’s a much better definition of what churn really is and helps you, as an analyst, better understand who is and isn’t engaging with your site’s content.

Hooray for improved metrics in GA4!

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