Sessions in Google Analytics 4 – Complete Guide

Sessions in Google Analytics 4 – Complete Guide

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) offers valuable insights through its concept of “sessions.” This feature helps you assess your marketing efforts, understand user behavior, and measure website engagement. This article will explain what sessions are and why they matter for data analytics and marketing.

You’ll also discover how to customize session settings. We’ll highlight the differences between GA4 sessions and the older Universal Analytics system and discuss some important considerations specific to GA4.


Understanding Sessions in Google Analytics 4

In GA4, sessions are a collection of events recorded for a user during a specific time period. These events can include various interactions, such as page views, event completions, and ecommerce transactions.

Google automatically provides a unique identifier called “ga_session_id” when a new session starts on your website, and it also assigns a “ga_session_number” to keep track of the number of sessions. Sessions are then counted based on these unique identifiers.

  • ga_session_id: Each time a user comes to your website, they receive a new session ID through the session_start event. A single user may have multiple session IDs, each corresponding to a different session.
  • ga_session_number: This is a simple count of the sessions for that user. For instance, if they visit your website three times, they will have three distinct session IDs, and the total session count will be 3.

call to action button


What are the benefits of using sessions in GA4?

Sessions are highly valued by marketers for several reasons:

  • Performance Evaluation: Sessions provide an overview of each marketing channel’s performance, helping you gauge the effectiveness of different platforms in driving traffic.
  • User Behavior Analysis: Sessions provide crucial facts behind user interaction, allowing you to understand how users engage with your website.
  • Website Performance Measurement: Sessions help assess your website’s performance and user engagement.
  • Informed Decision-Making: You can make data-driven decisions to boost website traffic and growth by analyzing sessions.


Adjusting the Web Session Timeout in GA4

As a standard setting, GA4 sessions will automatically expire after 30 minutes. However, it’s possible to modify this timeframe within the settings. Here’s how to do that:

1. Click on Admin in your GA4 property settings.GA4 admin section


2. Go to Data Streams in the Property column.

GA4 property column


3. Choose the name of the web data stream you want to set up.

GA4 data streams


4. Go to Configure tag settings all the way down.

GA4 configure tag settings


5. Tap on Show more.

GA4 configure tag settings show more


6. Select Adjust Session timeout.

GA4 adjust session timeout


7. Adjust the session timeout to the timeframe of your choosing. The limit is 7 hours and 55 minutes.

GA4 session timeout


8. Set the timer for “Engaged” sessions. The limit is 60s.

Change the time by selecting the number of seconds required for a GA4 session to qualify as an “Engaged session.”


9. Click Save.


What Are Engaged Sessions in GA4?

In GA4, engaged sessions are defined as events in which a visitor spends at least 10 seconds on a page, triggers a conversion event, or views two or more pages. If a session isn’t engaged, GA4 marks it as a bounce, which differs from UA’s bounce rate. The GA4 bounce rate is essentially the opposite of the engagement rate.

Simply put, if the engagement rate in GA4 is 20%, the bounce rate is 80%. Understanding one allows you to determine the other. The engagement rate is calculated by dividing engaged sessions by the total number of sessions.


Differences Between Sessions in GA4 and UA

GA4 introduces some noteworthy differences in how sessions are handled compared to Universal Analytics (UA). Let’s explore these differences:

  • Event-Based Tracking: Unlike UA, which primarily tracks sessions based on pageviews, GA4 collects data based on individual user events. Everything a visitor does on your website or app is recorded as an event in GA4.
  • Session Duration Calculation: UA calculated session duration as the time between the first and last pageview. In GA4, it’s measured based on the time elapsed between the first and last event. Both systems expire sessions if there’s no new activity within 30 minutes of the last recorded event.
  • Sessions Without Pageviews: In GA4, sessions can start without a pageview, which differs from UA. For instance, if a user lands on your blog post, gets distracted, returns later, and engages with your content, UA would count it as one session. GA4 records it as two sessions—one with a page view and another for user engagement.
  • Campaign Source Changes: In UA, if a user follows a link to your website from another campaign source, the initial session expires, and a new one begins. GA 4 does this differently. Even if a user returns via a different campaign source, the initial session stays active.


How Does Google Analytics 4 Count Sessions?

Despite these differences, the fundamental way sessions are counted remains the same in GA4. It utilizes first-party cookies to track user behavior on your website. Cookies like these enable website owners to gather information about their visitors, helping to identify multiple interactions by the same user across sessions. This is vital for understanding user behavior and engagement.

Sessions vs. Users in Google Analytics 4

Sessions and users may seem similar, but they serve distinct purposes in GA4:

  • Sessions: A session represents a series of events within a 30-minute timeframe. It encompasses various interactions and actions by a user on your site.
  • Users: Users are individual people who initiate sessions on your site. They are counted only once unless they visit from a different device or clear their cookies. Users provide valuable data about unique visitors, while sessions offer insights into page interactions.

The choice between measuring users or sessions depends on your specific goals. Most marketers use both metrics to gauge the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. Users help understand reach and visibility, while sessions provide detailed insights into user engagement.


Flaws of Sessions in Google Analytics 4

While GA4 is a powerful tool, it has its limitations you should be aware of:

  • Anonymized and Aggregated Data: GA4 anonymized data, making attributing revenue to specific users challenging. It cannot track personally identifiable information, such as email addresses or phone numbers, which hinders precise revenue attribution.
  • Data Sampling: For websites with substantial traffic GA4 may use data sampling, leading to incomplete insights for high-traffic sites.


GA4 Sessions: Final Verdict

Considering all these aspects, the new way sessions are measured and the addition of session engagement metrics in GA4 offers you more flexibility to understand how users behave. Combining this with the effective events model and additional parameters, GA4 gives you the tools to gain valuable insights.

Relying solely on sessions may not provide enough context, but luckily, with various features of GA4, you can gather a wealth of information.

Ready to supercharge your GA4 experience? Reach out to Play Media for expert guidance. Contact us today, and let’s unlock the full potential of your data!

Related Posts

man is thinking about marketing strategies

Chill Out the Competition: 6 HVAC Marketing Strategies That Drive Results


Want to see your HVAC business flourish, but you’re still not using digital marketing? Well, what are you waiting for? While traditional marketing is still effective, the power of digital is endless. And best of…

covering top 7 brainstorming tools

Innovate Faster: Top 7 Brainstorming Tools to Use in 2024


If you've ever sat down with your team for a brainstorming session, you know how important this practice can be for brewing up brilliant ideas. Now, imagine taking that brainstorming game to the next level…

creating marketing strategy

Top 14 Mobile App Marketing Strategies for 2024


In the world of mobile apps, creating an exceptional product is only half the battle. The other half revolves around mastering the art of app marketing to ensure your creation reaches its full potential. After…

creating digital marketing strategy

The Ultimate Guide to User Acquisition: What It Is & How It Works


Growth is essential for businesses as it ensures their long-term viability and competitiveness in the market. It expands revenue, opens new opportunities, and allows for increased innovation and adaptability. But in today's competitive business environment,…