A beginners guide to GA4: Key metrics and what they mean

If you are new to Google’s latest web analytics platform, Google Analytics 4 (GA4), and are wondering which metrics to track and what they all mean, then you have come to the right place. In this blog post we will break down all the key metrics to track and explain what they mean, so if you want to go from a GA4 beginner to a GA4 expert then keep reading on.

One important point to note is that GA4 now focuses on user-centric data, unlike its predecessor Google Universal Analytics (UA), which was more focused on session-centric data. This means that GA4 is designed to give you a clearer picture of how users interact with your site over time.

GA4 Key Metrics


Users is the total number of unique users visiting your site. This metric helps you to better understand the performance of your website, as it shows you whether your content is engaging. If your users are returning to your website, then you can assume that your content is engaging for them. This is an important metric to track, as it displays the growth of your website. If your users are growing in number, this would indicate successful outreach and visibility, and if you compare with previous periods you can gauge if your website is experiencing growth or decline.


New Users:

New users is the total number of users who are visiting your website for the first time. With the total number of new users, you can understand whether your content is compelling enough to attract new users and how they behave when they visit your website. New users also helps to show you the effectiveness of acquisition strategies, with a rise suggesting that your marketing campaigns have been successful in increasing brand awareness.


Channels are the sources driving traffic to your site. This is typically from sources such as organic search, paid ads and social media. This metric helps you to understand where your visitors are coming to your website from. With this information you can then decide to allocate more resources to successful channels or tweak less successful channels to help to drive more traffic.

Page views: 

Page views are counted every time a user loads or reloads a page on your website. If a user navigates to a different page and then returns to the original page, it will count as another page view. A high number of page views could indicate high user engagement, whereas a sudden drop might signal technical issues with your site or decreased relevance of your content. GA4 combines both web and app views together, unlike its predecessor Universal Analytics which separated the two. This metric can help you to understand which pages on your website are more popular, giving you a clearer idea of what content resonates most with your audience.


Views per user/session: 

This is simply the average number of pages viewed per user. A session is recorded from the moment a user enters your site, with no limit to how long a session lasts. However, the session will end the moment they exit your site or if the user is inactive for more than 30 minutes. In GA4 sessions are no longer automatically restarted at midnight, like they were previously in UA. A higher number here suggests that users are exploring multiple pages on your site, which indicates good site navigation and interesting content. A low number might point to navigation issues or less compelling content.

Engagement Rate: 

Engagement rate is the percentage of engaged sessions. An engaged session in GA4 is when a user spends 10 seconds or more on the site, or views two or more pages, or has an Event (conversion). Engagement rate is calculated by dividing the number of engaged sessions by the total number of sessions over a period of time and then multiplying by 100.

A higher rate indicates that users find your content or platform valuable and are actively interacting. A lower rate may suggest that you need to enhance your content or user experience.

Engaged Sessions per User: 

This is the average number of engaged sessions per user. A higher number suggests that users are frequently returning and engaging with your content. Whereas a lower number here might indicate a need for improved retention strategies or more regular content.


Engagement Time: 

Engagement time is the total amount of time that users spend in an engaged session. This helps to gauge the depth of your users' interactions. The longer the engagement time, the more your users find your content or platform compelling. Shorter times however, may suggest a need for you to enhance your content depth or your site's interactivity.

Bounce rate: 

Bounce rate is the opposite of engagement rate. The bounce rate is the percentage of sessions that were not engaged. A high bounce rate could mean content isn't relevant or compelling to visitors. It's essential to interpret bounce rate in the context of the page's purpose. For instance, a high bounce rate on a contact information page might be expected, as users get the contact details and leave. On the other hand, a high bounce rate on a product page might indicate that users aren't enticed to make a purchase or explore further.


Events are your micro-conversions leading to the bigger goals (conversions). There are basic events to track or you can add your own. Examples of events would include button clicks, video plays, or form submissions. High event counts in specific areas highlight what users value most. Whereas low event counts might indicate overlooked features or content on your site, allowing you to optimise to get more desired actions from users.


Total Conversions: 

This metric is exactly as it says, the total number of conversions. A conversion is a specific action or set of actions completed by a user that holds value for your business. For example creating an account, signing up for a newsletter or making a purchase. A rising count indicates effective marketing and user experience, allowing you to monitor how productive your website is. So, you should monitor this metric regularly to ensure that you are aligned with your business goals.


Conversion Rates: 

This is the percentage of sessions that result in a conversion. A higher rate here suggests that you are providing a worthwhile user experience. It also shows you the effectiveness of your calls-to-action, landing pages, and overall conversion funnel. A lower rate would indicate that your site has potential barriers to conversions or ineffective marketing efforts.


Number of Returning Users: 

This is a straightforward metric that shows you the number of users who revisit your site. Growing numbers here would suggest that your content or platform offers lasting value to your users. Declines here might indicate a need for improved re-engagement strategies in order to get users to return.


Retention Rate: 

This represents the percentage of users who return to your site or app after their first visit, and is measured over a specific period. A higher rate indicates strong user engagement and satisfaction. A declining rate may signal issues with user experience or content relevance.


Cohort Analysis: 

This is where GA4 groups together users based on shared characteristics (e.g. sign-up date, first purchase) and tracks their behaviour over time. This reveals how specific changes or events impact user behaviour. For instance, if a feature update leads to increased activity among a cohort, it suggests a positive reception.

Using the Data

When viewing the data, try not to view the individual metrics in isolation. Instead try to take a more holistic view of the data, as many points will interrelate. It is important to look at how the different metrics are influencing each other, as this will give you a much more comprehensive understanding of what is happening. 

Another point to consider, is that it is important to establish standard values and benchmarks, so that you can measure performance. Doing this will provide you with a reference point, making it easier to identify anomalies or significant shifts in performance. Also, make sure that you are regularly reviewing the data so that you can spot trends, not just momentary spikes or drops. Trends over time offer more reliable insights than isolated data points, helping you to differentiate between temporary fluctuations and sustained changes. Also, try to consider external factors, like market trends, seasonality, or global events, as these can all impact the data. 

Finally, always ask, "What can we do with this information?". Data is most valuable when it drives action, every metric should help lead you to potential strategies or improvements. 


In conclusion, GA4 is packed full of new and exciting features for you to explore, so take your time getting to know the platform and you’ll be a GA4 master in no time at all. We hope this blog has helped you to understand some of the key metrics that you should be paying attention to, and what they mean for you and your business. 

If you found this blog helpful, then why not check out our blog that breaks down the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics here.

If you need any further help getting to grips with GA4 or with website analytics, then just get in touch with us here