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Google Analytics Metrics Definitions In GA4 Versus Universal Analytics

If you’ve already implemented Google Analytics 4 (GA4) on your website or app, you may have noticed a wildly different set of metrics than what you’re used to in Universal Analytics (UA). This is one of the many changes that resulted from the philosophical shift Google has made with this iteration of Google Analytics. If you’re looking to get a more general understanding of the tool, check out our guide to all things Google Analytics 4, including how to get started, but if you want to learn more about these new metrics, you’re in the right place.

What is a Metric in Google Analytics 4?

The GA4 team defines a metric as simply, “A quantitative measurement of your data.” While that definition is generally accurate, it doesn’t do a great job capturing the underlying nuance and complexity of everything a metric encompasses. There are dozens of ways to categorize the various differences in Google Analytics 4, but the way our search engine optimization strategists often look at them is by the three metric types: Filtered, Counting and Calculated.

Google Analytics 4 Metrics Definitions & Details

Filtered Metrics

A filtered metric is a data point resulting from filtering the Total User or Session counting metric based on specific criteria. The filters applied to these metrics often result in a more granular, value data point that is relevant within the context of the report it is included in. An example of this is Returning Users which is a subset of the Users that don’t have the first_visit event trigger, meaning they’ve visited the website or app before.

While variations in these metrics are usually the result of some other improvement, they indicate how those adjustments are impacting your most valuable Users and/or Sessions.

Engaged Sessions

Definition: The number of Sessions that meet one or more of the following criteria: lasted 10+ seconds, 1+ Conversions, or 2+ Views.

Reporting Value: Engaged Sessions are particularly valuable when paired with other metrics that indicate engagement or activity. Comparing Engaged Sessions with Events and/or Conversions over a given time period will show how much, if any, correlation exists between days with the most Engaged Sessions and those valuable metrics. If you’re not seeing Events or Conversions ebb and flow with Engaged Sessions, it could mean a couple things.

It could be an indication that the default Engaged Session timer could be too long or too short, depending on your industry. If this is the case, you can update this within your GA4 Data Stream. Once you’ve updated this setting, check back in on these data points again in a few days to see if the correlation has improved.

The other possible reason for a lack of correlation between Engaged Sessions and Events or Conversions could be related to your user experience. If your site doesn’t give users quick, easy access to the most important interactions you’d like them to make, that will negatively impact this relationship.

Comparable UA Metric: None

Users

Definition: The number of Users who engaged with your site for more than 0 seconds.

Reporting Value: Users are more clearly defined and valuable in GA4 than in Universal Analytics. In GA4, Users filters out any Users with 0 engagement time on your site or app, so you’re looking at a more engaged group. The real value in Users is validating the User volume impact of a strategic, technical or development update. If the goal of your initiative is to get more people to your site, you should probably keep an eye on this metric.

Comparable UA Metric: Users

New Users

Definition: The number of Users that trigger a first_visit Event.

Reporting Value: New Users is another metric that is a direct match to its companion in Universal Analytics. They are still one of the most important audiences for you to monitor on your site or app because they represent a fresh perspective. Often these Users come to your site with little to no understanding of how to use or navigate your website. If something isn’t intuitive, these Users’ behavior will let you know.

Comparable UA Metric: New Users

Returning Users

Definition: The number of Users that DO NOT trigger a first_visit Event.

Reporting Value: Returning Users are uniquely valuable because they give you insight into how a more familiar, savvy User navigates and utilizes your site or app. They have more experience so their behavior and interactions with your website will let you know what they find valuable and easy to get to and what pages they could do without.

Comparable UA Metric: Returning Users

Unique User Scrolls

Definition: The number of Unique Users that triggered a scroll Event covering at least 90% of the page.

Reporting Value: Unique User Scrolls is another strong indication of your Users’ level of engagement. This metric is especially valuable if you have a lot of long-form content on your site or if your site has infinite scroll functionality.

Comparable UA Metric: None

User Activity Over Time

Definition: The number of active Users over the last 1, 7 and 30 days.

Reporting Value: User Activity Over Time lets you see how changes to your site or strategy impact the total number of Users within the preset date ranges (1, 7 and 30 days prior). Looking at the data in this way also gives you some additional perspective that you lose when you’re anchored to one start day. This broken out view makes it easier to discern what is an outlier and what is a trend by lumping them into larger date ranges.

Comparable UA Metric: X Day Active Users

Views

Definition: The number of times a page_view Event was triggered

Reporting Value: Views are another renamed remnant of Universal Analytics that still hold value in GA4. Some users will not make a purchase or business decision based on the content of one page. That is why Views are so important. Every additional View completed by a User is another chance for them to find the information they need to make a decision. Too many Views without a Conversion can be a red flag that your Users aren’t finding the information they need.

Comparable UA Metric: Pageviews

Counting Metrics

A counting metric is a data point or interaction that is simply “counted” and/or totaled. These metrics are at their best when being utilized to provide scale and/or context to a report but they lack the depth and actionable nature of the other types of metrics. This is because counting metrics aren’t often as specific as filtered metrics or as easy to analyze as calculated metrics.

Conversions

Definition: The number of times specific conversion events were triggered.

Reporting Value: Conversions show how many times Users are completing the most important Events on your site or app. These often include things like purchases, form fills, phone calls and other Events that are valuable to your business. Conversions should not include Events like Views or Scrolls unless they provide business value.

Comparable UA Metric: Goal Completions

Event Count

Definition: The number of times an Event, or group of Events, were triggered.

Reporting Value: Events are similar to Conversions in that they represent valuable interactions with your site or app. Where they differ is that Events also cover some more user engagement activity that doesn't have direct business value but indicates the engagement level of a User.

GA4 comes with a set of preconfigured Events upon setup, but you can also create your own depending on what makes sense for your business. For example, an eCommerce site would likely want an Event triggered each time someone added something to their cart or visited a product page. While these are not a direct business outcome (like a purchase), they are indications of engagement that give you insight on the User and/or their experience on your site or app.

Comparable UA Metric: Pageviews

Sessions

Definition: The number of times your website or app was visited.

Reporting Value: Sessions in GA4 are the exact same as Universal analytics in that they give you an idea of how often Users are accessing your site. This metric is most valuable when paired with other metrics. For example, if you notice you’re getting three times as many Sessions as Users, you can infer that the average User visited three times over that time period. Based on your business you can decide whether or not that is a good or bad level of engagement and make decisions or updates accordingly.

Comparable UA Metric: Sessions

Total Users

Definition: The number of Users that visited your site regardless of their level of engagement.

Reporting Value: Total Users is closely related to the filtered metric Users, except Total Users does not exclude anyone that did not engage with the site. Total Users should almost exclusively be used in comparison to Users for this reason. Looking at these two metrics side by side gives you an indication of roughly how many of your Total Users are not engaging with your site. You can also get a sense of this from Engagement Rate.

Comparable UA Metric: Users

Calculated Metrics

A calculated metric is a data point that is generated by a calculation involving two or more counting or filtered metrics. These metrics can give you valuable insights about various aspects of your site or app like user experience, audience value, user retention and many more. Making changes based on these metrics will often have cascading effects on multiple metrics of all types.

Average Engagement Time

Definition: The average amount of time a User had your site or app in focus on a browser or device.

Reporting Value: Knowing how long the average User engages with your site can provide valuable insights into the value you are providing. A high Average Engagement Time is often an indication that you’re providing quality, relevant content to your Users. With that said, if your site or app is designed to quickly funnel people to a conversion point and then away from the site, this could be a red flag that you need to streamline your user experience.

Formula: Engagement Time / Users

Comparable UA Metric: Average Session Duration

Average Engagement Time Per Session

Definition: The average amount of time a User had your site or app in focus on a browser or device each time they visited.

Reporting Value: Average Engagement Time Per Session has many similarities to the previous metric, Average Engagement Time, except it makes a Session the focus as opposed to a User. Session focused duration is a carryover from UA whereas the User being the focus is wholly new to GA4.

This metric is uniquely valuable if you consistently make changes to your site and/or Users visit your site on a frequent basis. Analyzing the impact of changes on duration is much easier at the Session-level because it is more specific. User-level duration encompasses several Sessions which might mask the data you’re looking for.

Formula: Engagement Time / Sessions

Comparable UA Metric: Average Session Duration

Engagement Rate

Definition: The percentage of Sessions that met one or more of the following criteria: lasted 10+ seconds, 1+ Conversions or 2+ Views.

Reporting Value: Engagement Rate is simply the opposite of Universal Analytics’ metric, Bounce Rate. Rather than measuring the percentage of Users that Bounced, it lets you know what percent participated in an Engaged Session. It enables you to quickly find whether a particular dimension is delivering valuable Users, which is what all marketers should be trying to figure out and optimize for.

In Universal Analytics, Bounce Rate was one of the three primary Behavior Metrics marketers were encouraged to monitor. It is safe to assume that Engagement Rate will be something you want to keep a close eye on in GA4.

Formula: Engaged Sessions / Sessions

Comparable UA Metric: Bounce Rate (inverse)

Engaged Sessions Per User

Definition: The average number of Engaged Sessions a User participated in.

Reporting Value: Engaged Sessions Per User gives you insights into how often Users are making meaningful visits to your website or app. This is especially useful when trying to find your most engaged and/or valuable audience. Taking the time to create relevant audiences and comparing them to all Users, with Engaged Sessions Per User as the metric, will let you know which is the most engaged group.

Formula: Engaged Sessions / Users

Comparable UA Metric: Number of Sessions Per User

Events Per Session

Definition: The average number of Events triggered during a Session.

Reporting Value: At a high level, Events Per Session has been somewhat watered down when compared to its companion in Universal Analytics, Events Per Session with Event. This is because common interactions like Views and Scrolls count as Events in GA4, artificially inflating this number. With that said, there is value in looking at this metric when you filter it down to a particular Event or group of valuable Events.

For example, there might be value in seeing the number of Events Per Sessions where you’re only looking at a Conversion like a form submission. This would let you know how many form submissions happen during an average Session.

Formula: Event Count / Sessions

Comparable UA Metric: Events Per Session with Event

Event Count Per User

Definition: The average number of Events a User triggered.

Reporting Value: Event Count Per User is a very flexible metric depending on how you filter the data. In its raw form, it gives you an idea of how many engagements the average User is making with your site.

Event Count Per User is also a valuable tool for creating audiences. By establishing a breakpoint and targeting a subset of your most engaged Users you can begin to focus on what they are looking at and how they are using your site or app.

Formula: Event Count / Users

Comparable UA Metric: None

User Engagement (New Users)

Definition: The average amount of engaged time a New User spends on your website or app.

Reporting Value: New User Engagement is a great way to analyze the behavior and experience of New Users on your site. Positive or negative changes to this metric are often the result of updates to your site, app and/or marketing efforts and the impact they’ve had on the experience for New Users. It is a good idea to create a benchmark for this metric before you make any drastic changes. This will give you something to compare to when you analyze the results.

Formula: Engagement Time / New Users

Comparable UA Metric: Average Session Duration

User Stickiness

Definition: The percent of Active Users that fit into both relative time periods.

Reporting Value: The importance of User Stickiness varies wildly by industry. If you’re operating a mobile game, you are hoping for a high Daily Active User (DAU) / Weekly Active User (WAU) ratio. This is because your business model hinges on your Users interacting with your content frequently. An HVAC company, on the other hand, may not care about any of these ratios because their sales cycle is so long.

Formula: Active Users From A Relative Time Period / Active Users From Another Relative Time Period

Comparable UA Metric: X Day Active Users

Views Per User

Definition: The average number of page_view Events a User triggered.

Reporting Value: Similar to Event Count per User, Views Per User let’s you know how engaged your Users are based on the number of pages they visit. A higher Views Per User indicates that the User is interested in your site beyond just the piece of content that got them there and a smooth customer experience that allows them to quickly navigate your site or app.

Formula: Views / Users

Comparable UA Metric: Pages Per Session

User Engagement (Returning Users)

Definition: The average amount of engaged time a Returning User spends on your website or app.

Reporting Value: The amount of time a Returning User spends on your site can tell you a lot about their intent and experience. Creating a positive, simple experience for customers that are familiar with your site is key to improving this metric. As with New User Engagement, it is always a good idea to benchmark this metric prior to making any updates so you can see whether it had a positive or negative impact on this important group of Users.

Formula: Engagement Time / Returning Users with first_open Event

Comparable UA Metric: Average Session Duration

User Engagement By Cohort (Returning Users)

Definition: The average amount of engaged time a Returning User spends on your website or app for each day in the date range.

Reporting Value: Returning User Engagement By Cohort gives you a visual representation of how a Returning User’s engagement with your site changes over time. Monitoring this metric will allow you to quickly find how many days it takes for your Returning Users to find what they’re looking for and convert or lose interest.

Formula: Engagement Time / Returning Users Who Visited Each Day In The Date Range

Comparable UA Metric: None

User Retention

Definition: The percent of New Users who visited the site on the first day and each subsequent day in the date range.

Reporting Value: User Retention is a great tool for monitoring how changes you're making to your marketing strategy or user experience are impacting how many New Users convert into Returning Users and for how long. These metrics are valuable to compare across multiple audiences because their expectations and intuitive engagements may vary.

Formula: New Users Who Returned X Days Since Day One / New Users On Day One Of The Date Range

Comparable UA Metric: User Retention

User Retention By Cohort

Definition: The percent of New Users who visited each day for x (1 or 7) days after their first visit.

Reporting Value: User Retention By Cohort gives you high level, visual reference for how many of your New Users are quickly coming back to your site. While User Engagement does a good job of visualizing that falloff for a given start and end date, viewing this by Cohort let’s you see if any changes you’ve made had a direct impact from that date forward.

Formula: New Users Who Visited x (1 or 7) Days After Their First Visit / New Users On Date of Their First Visit

Comparable UA Metric: User Retention

Still Not Sure What GA4 Metrics To Monitor? Let Blue Compass Help!

If you’re still feeling a little overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Google Analytics 4 is a huge shift in the reporting and analytics world and these changes to metrics are only the tip of the iceberg. If you’d like to see how Blue Compass' SEO team can help you navigate these changes and build actionable reports, reach out to us today!

Categories:

Digital Marketing, SEO

Jay
Jay Snyder

Jay Snyder is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in Marketing. As a Digital Marketing Strategist at Blue Compass he enjoys building and reporting on results-driven digital marketing plans for his clients. In his free time, Jay likes playing basketball and spending time with his family and friends.

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