Understanding user sessions is crucial for analyzing website traffic and gauging user engagement. Google Analytics 4 (GA4), the latest iteration of Google’s analytics platform, introduces a revamped approach to sessions, offering deeper insights into user behavior compared to its predecessor, Universal Analytics (UA). This comprehensive guide delves into the intricacies of GA4 sessions, equipping you with the knowledge to leverage them effectively.
What is a Session and How is it Calculated in GA4?
If a visitor checks out a page on your website and remains inactive for 30 minutes, it is concluded as a single session, assuming their prior session has concluded. This holds true even if the page remains open in the background. The session only concludes when the page is reopened and closed or after 30 minutes, whichever comes first.
How to Adjust session Timeout?
By default, GA4 sessions automatically expire after 30 minutes, but you have the flexibility to adjust this duration through the following steps:
1. Navigate to the Admin section.
2. Access Data Streams.
3. Configure tag settings.
4. Settings (click to show all)
5. Adjust session timeout
In the Settings menu, you’ll find the option to modify the session timeout duration. Once you reach this screen, you can customize the session duration as needed. You have the freedom to choose a maximum duration of 7 hours and 55 minutes, although it’s not recommended to select such an extended session duration.
The event session_start is automatically assigned a unique identifier by Google, referred to as ga_session_id, when a session commences. Additionally, a session number, ga_session_number, is assigned simultaneously. The calculation of sessions is then based on these distinctive identifiers.
– ga_session_id: Every time a user visits your website, a new session ID parameter is provided with the session_start event. This implies that a single user can possess multiple session IDs for each session.
– ga_session_number: This represents a straightforward tally of sessions for a particular user. For example, if a user visits your website three times, they will have three distinct session IDs, resulting in a total count of three for sessions.
Distinct from UA’s pageview-centric approach, GA4 adopts a more user-centric model by considering events as session triggers. This means any user engagement—including page views, button clicks, video plays, or file downloads—can initiate a session. Imagine you browsing an online store—each page you visit counts as a view, but your entire browsing journey, including product searches, adding items to the cart, and checking out, forms a single session.
Imagine you open a mobile app on your smartphone that’s connected to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). The moment you launch the app, a GA4 session kicks in. As you navigate through different screens within the app, each move contributes to the ongoing session. The session continues as long as you stay active. If there’s no activity for 30 minutes (the default timeout), the GA4 session will end. If you engage with the app again after the timeout, a new session will start.
Differences between UA and GA4 Sessions
Universal Analytics (UA)
Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
Session is a
metric on its own
Session is based on session_start event
Based on pageviews
Based on user engagement (events)
Triggered by the first pageview
Triggered by any user engagement event
Custom dimensions can be session-scoped
No session-scoped custom dimensions
Percentage of single-pageview sessions
Engagement rate measures user interactions per session
30 minutes of inactivity
30 minutes of inactivity by default, adjustable
Where can we find Session Metrics in GA4?
GA4 offers various avenues to explore session-related metrics. You can access them through the following reports:
Here, you can analyze sessions acquired from different channels, including source, medium, and campaign.
How to see Sessions in Acquisition Reports?
Navigate to the Acquisition > User Acquisition Report in GA4. Here, you’ll find metrics like sessions, users, and new users alongside acquisition channels. You can further segment this data by source, medium, or campaign to gain deeper insights into user acquisition through specific channels.
Engagement & Monetization Reports:
Here, you can understand user engagement within sessions, including session duration, engaged sessions, and purchase behavior.
How to see Sessions in Engagement & Monetization Reports?
Head over to the Engagement > Overview report
This section displays session-centric metrics like average session duration, engaged sessions (sessions exceeding 10 seconds or containing a conversion event), and purchase sessions. You can delve deeper into user engagement by exploring reports like User Engagement and Engagement Paths.
Demographic & Tech Reports:
Here you can explore session data segmented by user demographics and technological attributes.
How to see Sessions in Demographic & Tech Reports?
Navigate to User > User Attributes > Demographics reports within GA4. These reports allow you to segment session data by user demographics (age, gender, location) or technological attributes (device, browser, operating system). This segmentation helps you understand how different user groups interact with your site or app in terms of sessions.
GA4 sessions go beyond counting clicks! They unveil the intricate tapestries of user journeys. Forget one-dimensional pageviews for you can delve into a symphony of interactions – from button clicks to video plays, file downloads, and beyond. These dynamic threads reveal hidden engagement patterns, expose conversion pathways, and whisper user stories waiting to be heard. Analyze them to personalize experiences, tailor campaigns, and optimize your digital ecosystem. Every session becomes a brushstroke in your masterpiece, and GA4 gives you the brush to paint a future of user engagement and business success.
- What is the difference between views and sessions in GA4?
Views represent individual page loads, while sessions group user interactions within a specific timeframe. Imagine browsing a news website: clicking on headlines and reading different articles might generate several views, but all your exploration within that timeframe forms a single session.
- Where are the sessions per user in GA4?
You can find sessions per user within the User Lifetime report under the Engagement section in GA4. This report reveals how many sessions each user generates over time, helping you identify your most loyal and engaged users.
- What is the difference between GA sessions and unique pageviews?
GA sessions are based on user engagement, while unique pageviews simply count the number of distinct pages viewed. Think of visiting a museum—different rooms could be unique pageviews, but your entire walkthrough through the exhibits would be a single session.