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.
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.
2. Go to Data Streams in the Property column.
3. Choose the name of the web data stream you want to set up.
4. Go to Configure tag settings all the way down.
5. Tap on Show more.
6. Select Adjust Session timeout.
7. Adjust the session timeout to the timeframe of your choosing. The limit is 7 hours and 55 minutes.
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!