A Marketer’s Guide to GA4

illustration of a person looking at data on a computer

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is Google’s newest analytics tool, and the way it’s designed makes it easier to track your audience’s journey across all platforms—websites, mobile and apps. It has officially replaced Universal Analytics (UA), the default for digital analytics measurement. Starting July 2024, existing UA accounts will become inaccessible. 

Don’t panic! If you’re a marketer, there are some things you can do to get ready for this transition. Read on for a rundown of GA4 basics and how you can prepare your team for a smooth transition. 

What Is GA4?

The good news is that GA4 is geared toward marketers. It provides a more complete cross-channel view of the user lifecycle and offers more data and ways to act on insights. Among the new tools are ways to create reports that reflect:

  • Customer life cycle
  • Acquisition
  • Engagement
  • Monetization
  • Retention

GA4 vs. UA: What’s the Difference?

The biggest difference between UA and GA4 is that UA was a session-based model, and GA4 is an engagement-based model. For example, if a user logs into a website from her phone and later logs in from her laptop, the number of unique users would be counted as one in GA4, rather than two in UA. 

This is possible thanks to the Google Analytics User ID, a unique set of alphanumeric characters assigned to a user. It associates visits to your website by the same user across devices. This gives marketers a more accurate visitor count and allows them to analyze the signed-in user experience and user behavior across devices. 

Unlike UA, GA4 does not rely on bounce rates to indicate engagement. Instead, marketing initiatives that drive traffic to a site or app constitute a successful engagement. 

Engagement metrics in GA4 include:

  • Engaged sessions
  • Engaged sessions per user
  • User engagement
  • Active users
  • Average engagement time
  • Engagement rate

READ MORE: [UA→GA4] Comparing metrics: Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics

What Is an Engaged Session? 

In GA4, an “engaged session” is a session that meets at least one of the following criteria: 

  • lasts 10 seconds or longer
  • has one or more conversion events or 
  • has two or more screen or page views

Events now more fully reflect the action a user took and can add context by capturing specific pieces of information, such as the amount of time a user spends engaging with the page (scrolling, for instance) and if that page is the primary window being viewed.

“Engaged sessions per user” is a count of the number of engaged sessions by a unique user, compiled across devices.

What Is User Engagement? 

According to Google, “user engagement” in GA4 refers to “the time that your app screen was in the foreground or your web page was in focus.” This metric stops recording time on page/screen when a user closes your webpage/app or navigates away from it on their device so that they are no longer focusing on it.

What Is an Active User? 

According to Google, an “active user” in GA4 is any user who has an engaged session. You may want to understand the number of active users over a certain timeframe, such as in the past day, week or month, to determine how many unique users have initiated sessions on your site or app while you ran a campaign.

What Is Average Engagement Time?

“Average engagement time” in GA4 refers to the sum of user engagement (i.e., time) divided by the sum of active users.

What Is Engagement Rate? 

“Engagement rate” in GA4 is calculated as the number of engaged sessions divided by the total number of sessions in a given time frame. You know what qualifies an engaged session (above). GA4 logs a session when a user:

  • opens your app in the foreground or
  • views a page or screen and no session is currently active (e.g. their previous session has timed out)

A session ends after 30 minutes of inactivity.

What Does GA4 Mean for Marketing Teams?

While UA was designed to collect, measure and organize web data, the release of GA4 offers marketers a fresh perspective that considers changes that have taken place in digital marketing. For example, the “time on page” metric has been replaced by engagement time. You can still see session data, but engaged sessions are what’s important in this event-based data model.

READ MORE: How to Use Content Marketing Metrics to Measure Business Success

Another feature of GA4 is Analytics intelligence, whose functionalities use machine learning and statistics to create Custom Insights, allowing you to monitor custom marketing initiatives. This will make gathering marketing analytics faster—you can now ask GA4 to do that for you. 

Migrating from UA to GA4

Prepare now by setting up and switching over to a Google Analytics 4 property. Review the following support link that provides migration tips to GA4.

If you’re still using Universal Analytics, it’s better to migrate as soon as possible, so you can start collecting data. Universal Analytics historical data will be available for a short time after the cut-off date, but it will no longer collect data. It’s recommended to download any historical data you want to capture prior to July 2024.

Direct your team to review the Google introduction to GA4. The GA4 support team also offers a great video program on YouTube.  

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