7 Must-Have Metrics of Google Analytics 4

June 2023 was the last month to use Universal Analytics (UA) before Google triggers its Analytics 4 update. You can still see your UA insights after July 1, but all new data will flow into Google Analytics 4 (GA4) processing tools and display channels.

Google Analytics 4 is meant to provide better insights into the customer journey so brands can adjust their marketing strategies and drive higher conversions. The data is event-based rather than session-based and combines website and app data to provide greater clarity into the customer journey. Google Analytics 4 also allows for cookieless measurement, which is ideal for companies preparing for Google’s cookieless future.

Knowing to switch over to Google Analytics 4 is a big step in keeping up with your organization’s metrics; however, it helps to have a clear idea of the best metrics options available. Now might be a good time to review your performance reports to see which data points are helpful while removing the metrics that aren’t as actionable as you would like. Here are seven must-have metrics and why they are valuable.


Many of the metrics you review on GA4 will be similar (if not exactly the same) to UA. Google didn’t make this change to disrupt your reports but rather to better define various terms and collect more accurate data. For GA4, Google defines a session as “when a user either opens your app in the foreground or views a page or screen and no session is currently active.”

A session times out if the user is inactive for 30 minutes, but there is no limit to how long a session can last. For example, if a user pulls up your website and walks away before closing the window, the session will end after the 30-minute mark.

You may notice that your sessions drop shortly after you switch to GA4. This does not mean that your marketing campaigns are less effective and you have fewer people on your site. Instead, this reflects how Google has changed how it tracks sessions. Sessions no longer reset after midnight or if the user comes from a different traffic source to keep browsing.

If you are worried about a drop in your sessions, look at other metrics (like active users and events) to make sure the quality of your user engagement is still there.


Historically, users were the number of people who visited your website and engaged with your content. In Google Analytics 4, you can better define what it means to be a user and improve how you track these individuals. Here are three different user types to track:

  • Total users: This was the primary user metric for UA. It refers to the total number of people who logged into an event.
  • New users: This is the number of users who use your website or app for the first time.
  • Active users: This is the primary metric for GA4. It refers to site visitors who have an engaged session on your pages.

Here’s what this looks like in practice: you create a video that goes viral on Facebook, driving 3,000 users to your site. With GA4, you can sort this traffic by active users or people who engaged with your pages instead of immediately bouncing. As a result, you might have only 1,000 engaged users, making the viral spike less dramatic.

While it might be disappointing to see your users drop as you start tracking active participants on your website, the goal is to focus on the quality of traffic you are driving, not just the quantity. Anyone can bring thousands of people to their website; the challenge is bringing users that actually care about your products and convert.

Event Count

This metric might be tricky for some marketers to switch over to. Historically, site managers created events and clearly labeled what they meant. For example, if you wanted to track the number of people who subscribe to your email newsletter, you would create a “subscribe” action and use the destination URL to confirm that people registered.

This is changing in GA4 because any action is now considered an event — and events no longer have categories and labels. Even a user landing on your homepage will trigger a page view event.

On the one hand, this is good news for users who don’t want to mess with the Google Tag Manager and analytics tools every time there is a new event on your page. However, Google admits that it might take some time for your brand to reconcile old and new events for accurate tracking. Comparing past data to the current definition of events will be harder — at least for the next few months.

User and Traffic Acquisition

These are actually two different metrics you can review within GA4 to clear up confusion as to where your users are coming from. Here’s what you need to know:

  • User acquisition: This is the first campaign or source where the user engaged with your brand.
  • Traffic acquisition: This is the current campaign or source of the session. (This metric was most commonly used in UA.)

For example, a user clicks on a paid ad on Google and visits your site. A few days later, through retargeting, they click on a sponsored post on Facebook and visit your site again. The user acquisition came from paid ads on Google, but the current traffic acquisition came from Facebook.

You can decide which metric you want to track within your business. You might look at both acquisition types to gain insights into your users and where you should allocate your budget.

Bounce Rate

Many of the metrics in Google Analytics 4 look similar to those in UA, but they are much smarter. One such metric is the bounce rate, which reports on the number of disengaged people who visited your website and left almost immediately. The Bounce Rate reports how “sticky” your website is. A quality webpage can keep readers on for a long time or make visitors click on other pages, increasing the overall session.

Google has tweaked how it defines a bounce on your website. A session will not count toward your bounce rate if:

  • It lasts longer than 10 seconds.
  • It contains more than one pageview.
  • It contains at least one conversion event.

A user only needs to meet one of these criteria to be considered engaged. For example, a user visits your website and clicks on a link to call your office. Even if this takes less than 10 seconds, the user engaged with your site and business by completing a conversion event.

Average Engagement Time

This metric is a holdover from the UA tool but is still worth highlighting because of its valuable insights. It reports how long the average user engages with your content on a webpage. The longer users spend on pages, the more valuable the content usually is.

For example, if you publish an extensive blog post and embed a YouTube video that walks users through a valuable tutorial, you might have an average engagement time of several minutes. This provides more value to users and boosts your brand overall than a low-quality article that most users only spend a few seconds skimming.

Use this tool to better understand customer behavior and to create sticky content that keeps people engaged.


Historically, businesses could track conversions through goals they created in UA. Google tried to use this option to account for the fact that there are different types of conversions and metrics of success. For example, you could set one goal to track the number of people who call your business and another goal to track people who spend more than 10 minutes on your website.

However, in Google Analytics 4, conversion events are more prominent. Google has a set of predefined conversions (like a completed purchase), or you can create custom conversions for your brand. You can also turn on some conversion tracking options and turn off others. This is ideal if you have seasonal calls to action with different goals for web users.

How to Run an Analytics Report Audit

As you transition to GA4, now might be a good time to look at the key metrics you track within your system. If you pull weekly or monthly reports on your performance, review these publications to make sure they depict an accurate, useful picture of your business. Here are a few ways to evaluate your analytics reports.

  • Look at different reporting windows. If your customer journey takes two months on average, look at 90-day or six-month windows rather than 30-day reports.
  • Choose relevant periods to compare your progress. If you have a seasonable business that ebbs and flows throughout the year, it might be better to compare this June to last June instead of this June to this May.
  • Eliminate vanity metrics. Vanity metrics make your business look good without actually providing insight into your performance and actions that affect the data. Look for vanity insights that can distract you from real issues.
  • Remove metrics that don’t change. There’s a common misconception that the more data you include, the better the report is. However, irrelevant data can be distracting. Eliminate metrics that rarely change and review them quarterly or annually to see any trend changes.
  • Add new insights that you learn about. Talk to your peers within your industry and follow marketing blogs to learn about key metrics you might benefit from tracking. These audits aren’t just for removing information; you can also add data collection elements.

Additionally, make sure you provide context to your reports. If you don’t already, add a commentary section so someone can review the report without needing an in-person explanation about the trends. A few bullet points that outline notable metrics (for example, there was a jump in traffic on June 26 from a viral TikTok video) can help you document your efforts and improve the quality of the reporting.

Develop a Strategic Mindset With Google Analytics 4

Better analytics reporting can’t solve your problems. Instead, you need a strategic marketing team that can review these metrics and develop solutions (or identify opportunities) with the results they present. It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers that analytics reports produce without thinking about the next steps you take because of the information.

Make sure you have a trusted marketing partner that will constantly push your business to do better. At J&L Marketing, we strive to outsmart — not out-spend — your competition. We can look for untapped opportunities to maximize your budget allocation. Plus, our extensive automotive experience makes our team an asset to move your company forward. Contact us today and take the first steps toward embracing a more analytical and strategic future.

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