Google Analytics 4 Metrics: A 2023 Guide for GA4 Users

A desk with computer screen showing data graphs and metrics.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest version of Google’s free web analytics platform. With its enhanced capabilities come new metrics and definitions that can trip up even experienced analysts. 

Interpreting key GA4 dimensions and metrics accurately is crucial for understanding your website’s performance and making data-driven decisions. In this post, we will demystify some commonly misunderstood metrics in GA4 for website tracking (we will not discuss app tracking). 

Average Engagement Time in GA4 

Engagement time is a new metric in GA4 that measures how long users interact with your website. It provides a sense of how engaging your content is. The key in engagement time definition is that it’s only measured when the website is “in focus”. 

Sand timer and a clock in the background

What does a web page in focus mean? It simply means the user was viewing your website. GA4 does not measure time when a user isn’t engaging with your website – for example, when your website is open in a browser tab but you are looking at a different website (different tab is active). 

Google Analytics 4 way of measuring time on page is way more accurate than in Universal Analytics. Let’s look at a few examples and see the difference between Universal Analytics time on page in comparison to GA4 engagement time:

User only visits one page

Universal Analytics would not record time on page as this was calculated as a difference between 2 timers. First timer starts when the first page is loaded, second timer starts when the second page is loaded. Because we only have one page load, Universal Analytics can’t calculate the difference.

Google Analytics 4 will start a timer when the session starts. It will also record time when user leaves the page and send that data to GA4. 

Website crashes during user visit

Universal Analytics would struggle with time again. Time spent on pages before the site crashed would be recorded, but any time on active page when site crashed is lost.

GA4 documentation lists a site crash as one of the events that trigger sending engagement time which means time on page is recorded.

User views a page and engages with it 

Let’s assume a user visits a page, engages with it for 20 seconds and then opens another tab in their browser to view another website. They then come back after 20 minutes and visit another page on your website.

Universal Analytics would report time on page as around 20 minutes 20 seconds. Google Analytics 4 would record only the engaged time (around 20 seconds). 

Average engagement time accounts only for active time spent, excluding all idle moments in a session. Therefore, GA4 provides a more accurate measure of user engagement by only counting the time when a user is actively viewing your website.

GA4 Unique Pageviews vs. Pageviews vs. Views 

These metrics sound similar but have distinct meanings:

Unique pageviews

This metric is no longer available in Google Analytics 4. There are custom solutions for unique page views you can try to ‘fake measure’ them. However, the metric we were used to in Universal Analytics is no longer available. 

Pageviews and Views

Total number of pages viewed. Repeated views of a single page are counted. So a user who views one page and refreshes it 99 times will report 100 pageviews to that page. 

Views is the new GA4 name for pageviews. In your reporting, you can use either the event count for events that are page_views or simply use the views metric, as both will report the same number.

Active Users vs Total Users vs Users

Those can be quite confusing as built-in GA4 reports like to mix those metrics. But once you understand the key differences between Active Users, Total Users and Users it will become easier to understand both pre-built Google Analytics 4 report as well as custom reports you build yourself. Below we cover most important GA4 user metrics.

Digital art of two people looking at a computer screen.

Total users

Total number of unique users who logged an event in a given timeframe. This will include both users who land on your site and leave and those who engage with the website. This metric is probably the closest to ‘Users’ from Universal Analytics as (similarly to UA) it does not care how engaged a user is.

Active users

Users who had: 

  •  an engaged session or 
  • their first visit to your website

An engaged session is defined as a session that lasted 10 seconds or longer, included 1 or more conversions, or involved viewing 2 or more pages. That’s how Google Analytics 4 sees a user who interacts with the website.

Active users are a subset of Total users. Comparing the two metrics helps gauge user engagement and retention. A high percentage of active users indicates your content is engaging and users stay on the website to read it. 

Active users is the main user metric in Google Analytics 4. Universal Analytics relied on Users (Total Users). 


Google Analytics 4 uses Users as a metric in some of its pre-built reports. To some users this might look like a copy of Universal Analytics metric, but if you hover over it, a definition will pop up that suggests it uses Active Users metric. So whenever you see ‘Users’, it’s best to assume it refers to Active Users and not Total Users. 

Session Source, Medium, and Session

When building custom reports in the Explore tab, you may be tempted to use metrics like Source, Source / medium, Campaign as they look similar to those you’re familiar with from Universal Analytics. But if you look closer and notice which category those metrics belong you, you’ll notice they fall under Attribution. 

But what you’re most probably looking for is an answer to a question ‘Which source/medium/campaign drove the most visits to my website?’. To answer that, you should actually look for metrics that start with “session”: session campaign, session source, session source/medium.

You may also notice a similar set of metrics that starts with “user” – if you decide to use those, you will report on the first user visit. For example, if a user first visits your site via a paid ad and then visits multiple times using organic search, the user source would only report the paid source.

Google Analytics 4 Bounce Rate 

Bounce rate in GA4 includes only single-page sessions under 10 seconds without any conversions. This links back to an engaged session which we defined above. 

The engagement rate is the percentage of engaged sessions. To report bounce rate, we calculate the opposite of the engagement rate (the percentage of sessions that weren’t engaged)

Therefore, GA4’s metric provides a better reflection of engagement as it considers the time spent on the page.

Key Takeaways 

Getting the most out of Google Analytics requires understanding key metrics correctly. As GA4 introduces new definitions and calculations, it’s vital to learn the meaning behind the metrics to draw accurate insights from data. Mastering the metrics discussed above will help you make better decisions and optimize your website effectively.

Neon banner of Google Analytics 4

It is also important to understand that comparing a GA4 metric to a Universal Analytics (UA) metric, even if they have the same name, may not yield accurate insights

Need more help?

If you need more help around Google Analytics 4 metrics, please review our Google Analytics 4 setup service or speak to us.

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