Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the next evolution of Analytics and it’s a powerful tool for not only measuring user activity but also optimizing user engagement. But one of the most common issues we hear from agencies is that GA4 is complicated, and even overwhelming at times.
“GA4, while more powerful in many ways than the legacy Universal Analytics platform, requires re-learning how to set up and navigate the GA interface,” warns Molly Lopez, Owner-Partner at HITE Digital - Miami.
Rick Hogan, CEO & Co-founder of Bleevit, a local digital marketing agency focusing on small businesses had already set up their GA4 account by July 2022–a year before Universal Analytics gets phased out. “By running both Universal Analytics and GA4 simultaneously, the year over year can be made easily.”
In fact, many agencies have already made the switch ahead of time. “If you switch after the deadline, you won't be able to show clients MoM or YoY comparison data,” adds Matthew Pavli, Managing Director at UK-based content marketing agency Content Drive. “The most important reason to set up GA4 before July 2023 is so that you have historical data to compare your new data to.”
If GA4’s hundreds of dimensions make you feel as if you’re lost in a multiverse of marketing metrics–don’t worry. You’re not alone. This article will help you make sense of the numbers and show you some of the most important GA4 metrics your agency should be tracking for client success.
So don’t get lost in a sea of numbers. Here are the top GA4 metrics you need to watch along with some much-needed context on what’s changed and why they matter.
How Many Metrics are There in Google Analytics 4?
As of writing, Google Analytics 4 has at least 165 dimensions across sixteen categories and 99 metrics across ten categories, making it one of the primary web analytics tools to use for your analytics dashboard.
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Metrics vs. Dimensions
When using GA4, it’s critical to understand the differences between metrics and dimensions, so let’s get some definitions out of the way first.
What Are Metrics in GA4?
A metric is quantitative (which means it’s measurable) and “it’s always a number as opposed to text”, according to Google.
For example, an important User metric is Active Users, which is the number of distinct users who visited your website or app for more than 10 seconds (but it also includes certain events like first visit or first open… more on that later).
What Are GA4 Dimensions?
Dimensions, or custom dimensions, on the other hand, are attributes that provide context to your data, usually in the form of text instead of numbers.
Examples of dimensions include transaction ID, user location, and audience name.
While GA4 has more built-in conversion data, you’ll need to reprogram them for custom conversions. They must first be created as ‘Events’ in Tag Manager or GA4 and then marked as conversions to work.
And if you’re using an analytics API configuration through a third-party app or platform, such as Shopify or WordPress? “These platforms have not caught up to all of the GA4 nuances and we have experienced issues with these configurations, resulting in the need to revert to hard-coding in the GA4 snippets,” says Lopez.
Which Metrics Were Killed or Changed for GA4?
Here, we bid farewell to some familiar metrics that either didn’t survive or were otherwise altered during the transition from UA to GA4. Some of these changes may affect your data so please keep them in mind when using your Google Analytics reporting tool.
1. Total Users
To be fair, Total Users technically survived the switch to GA4 and it still means the same thing (i.e. total number of users) in both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4. But the big difference in GA4 is that Total Users is no longer the primary user metric like it was for Universal Analytics (UA).
Instead, Total Users has been replaced by Active Users as the new primary user metric in GA4. So Total Users is still around, it’s just not as important as it used to be.
Please be aware that when UA talks about Users, it means Total Users, but when GA4 mentions Users, it’s talking about Active Users. Make sure to keep this difference in mind because it may affect your reports because the same name applies to different metrics.
Pageview remains relatively unchanged between UA and GA4, but GA4 tweaked the definition of Pageview–and your agency needs to be aware of it.
In Universal Analytics, Pageview refers to the total number of pages viewed, while GA4 combines the number of web pages viewed with the number of screen views as well.
So if you notice a substantial increase in Pageviews after switching to GA4, remember to account for the fact that GA4 combines both app and web views, while UA tracks them separately.
Also, keep in mind that Views in GA4 means the same thing as Pageviews in UA.
Goodbye, Unique Pageview
On the other hand, Unique Pageview wasn’t so lucky. You might remember Unique Pageview as the metric in UA that tracked the total number of pages viewed without duplicates, but this metric is not available in GA4.
While the Session metric is still around in GA4, it’s not exactly the same as what you got in UA.
In GA4, a Session is also known as a Session Start, and every new session generates a session ID, which makes it easier to track each and every event that occurs during that session.
But unlike in UA, sessions in GA4 are not automatically restarted at midnight.
In UA, Conversions are defined by goals, whereas in GA4, Conversions depend upon the actions you specify as conversion events.
The big difference here is that “UA counts only one conversion per session for each goal” while GA4 counts every instance, even if the conversion event repeatedly occurs in a single session.
“Models such as "last click" or "first click" are outdated in today's real internet environment where a customer has hundreds of micro-interactions with a brand before making a conversion action,” says Lopez.
In fact, cross-channel attribution modeling in GA4 is much more advanced and better reflects the customer’s journey. While marketing agencies still struggle with getting attribution as close to the truth as possible, Lopez adds that “GA4 gets closer to that real journey.”
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5. Bounce Rate
Bounce Rate, a much-debated metric in the Universal Analytics world, is making a bit of a comeback. GA4 has resurrected bounce rate. But much like something brought back from the dead, it’s no longer the same. The name stayed the same, but it’s different now.
In UA, Bounce Rate was the percentage of people who leave your webpage without interacting with it at all (i.e. no clicks whatsoever). But it didn’t matter whether they spent 5 seconds or 10 minutes on your page. As long as there were no interaction events, it counted as a bounce in UA.
Meanwhile, GA4 has changed the definition of Bounce Rate to the “percentage of sessions that were NOT engaged sessions”, where an engaged session is any session that:
If a visitor doesn’t meet the requirements of an engaged session, GA4 will count it as a bounce.
In GA4, Bounce Rate is the Inverse of Engagement
Additionally, GA4 makes the relationship between Bounce Rate and engagement a lot more clear as Bounce Rate is the inverse of Engagement Rate.
[This means that if your Bounce Rate in GA4 is 30%, then 70% of your user sessions were engaged].
GA4 defines Bounce Rate differently in an attempt to better measure engagement because UA’s focus on getting clicks and interaction doesn’t always tell the whole story.
For example, if someone spends 10 minutes reading one of your blog articles and then leaves without clicking on anything, UA would automatically count that as a bounce. But in GA4, that same behavior will be counted as an engaged session (since 10 minutes is way longer than 10 seconds), making it a more accurate interpretation of the value and engagement provided by that blog article.
6. Event Count
When it comes to Event metrics, Total Events from UA did not survive the switch to GA4. Instead, Google Analytics 4 has Event Count, where all actions are considered events, and it’s the total number of times an event occurs.
Analytics can even process your client’s event data and create an Events report.
Use this exact Google Analytics report template and get your reports done in minutes! Try it free for 14 days.
[For more information on the differences between UA and GA4 metrics, check out the article Comparing metrics: Google Analytics 4 vs Universal Analytics.]
Types of Metrics in Google Analytics 4
It can be helpful to separate your metrics into different categories because grouping them together makes it easier to see what you’re trying to measure and how.
Hiding among the most important GA4 metrics are a handful of acquisition metrics. You should keep an eye on these metrics because they measure how you acquire new customers, usually through building awareness and interest in your clients’ brands.
You’ll recognize some of these metrics as we’ve already gone over them, but there are also some we haven’t gotten to yet (and will get to later).
Let’s have a look at a few of the most important acquisition metrics for GA4:
Engagement metrics measure how the audience interacts with your client’s website, ads, and other content. Examples in Google Analytics 4 include:
Pageview (aka Views)
Average Engagement Time
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Monetization metrics measure revenue and how your clients generate it, whether it’s from items, ads, or subscriptions. Important monetization metrics in GA4 include:
How Many Metrics Should I Track?
There isn’t a set number of metrics that every agency should be tracking because your clients all have different needs and goals and it’s up to you as their agency to adapt to them. With that being said, here are a few of the most important metrics you should be tracking in GA4.
(You might notice that some metrics also appear as Google Ads metrics. While it may be confusing, the biggest difference between Google Ads and GA4 is that Google Ads only tracks clicks on the ads, whereas GA4 tracks everything after you’ve clicked on a link, ad, or webpage.)
The metrics in Google Analytics 4 are spread over ten categories:
Page / screen
So far in this article, we’ve identified six GA4 metrics to track: Users, Views, Sessions, Conversions, Bounce Rate, and Event Count.
To round out the list, we’re going to look at 4 more metrics for GA4.
7. Active Users
Active Users is one of the most important new metrics in GA4 because it’s the primary metric in the User category (as we learned earlier). If you remember, this metric tracks the number of users who visited your site or app and had an engaged session (which means they either stayed longer than 10 seconds, had at least one conversion, or had at least two pageviews).
Another way to be counted as an active user is if certain events occur during your session such as first_visit, first_open, or user_engagement.
8. Engagement Rate
As we mentioned earlier, the Engagement Rate is the inverse of the Bounce Rate, and it’s found under the Session category. This means if your client’s Engagement Rate is 70%, they’ve got a Bounce Rate of 30%.
According to Google, “the Engagement Rate is a percentage with the number of engaged sessions divided by the total number of sessions over a specified time period”.
9. Average Engagement Time
This metric shows the average time your client’s webpage holds the attention of visitors. Typically, the longer people spend on a webpage, the better.
10. Lifetime Value (LTV)
Lifetime Value measures the value of your client’s customers (i.e. how much they spend) across the entire customer lifecycle, from acquisition to churn.
11. Total Revenue
Regardless of what platform you’re using, you should be tracking total revenue, which is the total amount of all the products, services, and/or subscriptions your clients sell.
Summary: Start Early & Track All Your Metrics Under One Roof
With GA4, you can measure practically anything, even custom metrics. In fact, it comes with so many metrics and dimensions that it can be hard to tell where to start. The resounding advice? “Implement it early and start playing with it now, says” Hogan.
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If you’re worried about adding another platform to your plate, don’t be. Using all-in-one client reporting software helps you track everything you need to get your agency proficient in GA4.
Agency Analytics has helped us seamlessly incorporate GA4 reporting for our clients. We are excited to seeing how we can can expand our GA4 reporting by identifying and reporting on a slew of new KPIs found in GA4. Rick Hogan, CEO & Co-founder of Bleevit
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