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Google Analytics 4: new horizons for publishers

In the digital world, data monitoring and analysis are key to the success of all websites, including media websites. The fourth generation of Google Analytics (GA4) has brought exciting changes and opportunities for publishers.

Let's mention the key benefits of GA4, in particular the new metrics that publishers should consider when measuring website performance.

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Understanding GA4

The summer of 2023 in the digital world was marked by one major change: Google Analytics Universal, the leading tool for tracking website performance for over a decade, stopped collecting data. Universal's successor is Google Analytics 4, which has been with us for three years, so we can say that it is not new on the market, but most users delayed the moment of switching to GA4, either due to lack of time or lack of knowledge, due to what appeared to be an unfinished product, or simply because of the fear of change. Google Analytics is not “just a new interface over the same data” and it won't show you your past data, it will show you data from the day you added it to a website. Importing data from the old interface (Universal) to the new one (GA4), although it is technically feasible with significant costs, can bring even greater confusion among the data, and most often does not provide us with values that can be provided by an ordinary Excel table in which we entered daily, weekly and monthly data. Users who added GA4 to their websites more than a year ago can now compare current data with those from last year (YoY or Year Over Year comparison), while most users currently do not know which data to use, what to compare it with, etc.

Google Analytics represents an evolution in data analysis. Its advanced features allow publishers to gain deeper insight into user behavior on their websites. The GA4 goes one step further than its predecessors and provides:

  • User tracking on different devices: In today's multi-channel environment, publishers can track (unique) users of different devices (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, desktop computers) and get a more comprehensive picture of their interaction with the website. This means you will no longer lose user data when users switch from one device to another.
  • User tracking on different platforms: Most publishers, in addition to their website, also have a mobile app that allows users to consume content, receive push messages and interact with content in a generally different way than via the mobile web. Google Analytics 4 is able to display integrated data of the web, mobile web and mobile apps in one place, meaning that we can finally get a more realistic picture of the number of users visiting our websites, as well as the ways of using the content.
  • Advanced event tracking: GA4 allows for precise tracking of all interactions on websites, allowing publishers to better understand how users interact with their content. This tracking includes everything - from opening articles, reading them to the end and watching videos, to filling out forms and other activity.
  • Integration with other Google products: GA4 can be easily integrated with other tools such as Google Ads, allowing better monitoring of the success of marketing campaigns. This allows publishers to better understand how marketing campaigns affect their site visitors.
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New Tracking Metrics

Google Analytics 4 brings some old, but also a lot of new metrics that can help publishers better understand the behavior of their visitors and content consumption patterns. Already on the home page of GA4, we can set up a tab with some basic metrics that can provide us with basic information about traffic, as shown in the following image:

If you tried to change the basic metrics on this page, you probably saw that there was a lot of them, and you didn't quite understand what it was all about. Given that Google Analytics 4 provides over 160 metrics and as many dimensions, the potential for errors in reports is extremely high. Not only can we choose the wrong metric for a report, but we can choose metric "A" thinking that we have actually chosen metric "B", thus drawing completely wrong conclusions about the behavior of our website visitors. Since we don’t have enough space here to explain all 160 metrics, I'll just mention some basic metrics that publishers should be using.

Users: The "Users" metric represents the number of active users who visited your website during a certain period of time and can be found in most Google Analytics 4 reports. This metric only shows users who have done something with your page during a defined period, including opening pages, interacting with content, and other activities, but not users who have been inactive after loading the page for the first time. We must not use it to compare it with the "Users" metric from Google Analytics Universal because there will be fewer active users, but we should use it as a very useful metric that shows us how many people actually consumed our content, not how many visited our website accidentally.

Total Users: this metric represents the total number of single users who visited your website in a certain period of time, including new users and those who have already revisited, as well as those who “gave up” (bounce). We can get this metric on the GA4 home screen and by adjusting some reports in GA4, and it is mostly not displayed in GA4. The metric “Total Users” is comparable to the metric “Users” from the previous version of Google Analytics - Universal, so only if you want to compare the data from the two versions, use Total Users. You can also use this metric in reports where you want (for your bosses or partners) to seemingly increase the number of visitors to your website, but psst, don't tell anyone I told you 😉

Sessions: “Visits” are also known in previous versions of Google Analytics and represent the number of user visits to your website. Each user visit to your site, when more than half an hour has passed between two pageviews, is recorded as a new session. Similar to the “Users”, this metric is comparable to the same Google Analytics Universal metric and is less often found in reports in the GA4 interface.

Engaged Sessions: On the other hand, the "Active Visits" or "Engaged Sessions" metric focuses on a deeper user interaction with your website and records the number of visits that included interaction with your content. This means that it doesn’t count every visit, but only those visits that lasted for a while, and the user scrolled through the page or performed certain activities (e.g., reading more articles, posting comments, viewing videos).

Engagement Rate: the "Engagement Rate" metric is similar to the metric we know from the previous version of Google Analytics (Universal) called “Bounce Rate”, which I often called "a nay”. Remember “the higher the number, the worse” metric? Well, in GA4 we now have a metric that shows the proportion of active visits out of all visits and it's also expressed as a percentage, but this time the higher the percentage, the better😊. Mathematically, it represents the reciprocal value of the Bounce Rate metric, which can also be found in the GA4 interface, but due to technical improvements of Google Analytics and better ability to track user interactions with content, neither of the two metrics is comparable to metrics from Google Analytics Universal.

Publishers should put more emphasis on using the metrics “Engaged Sessions”, “Engagement Rate”, as well as “Users” (rather than “Total Users”), as these metrics better reflect the quality of user interaction on websites. In this way, we can better understand the actual engagement and interest of users in the content.

User retention

Another tab on the Google Analytics 4 home page that can help us better understand user behavior is the "User activity over time" tab, showing us, in three lines on the graph, how many active users we had: that day

in the last week
in the last month
You can see an example of the graph in the picture below:

Lines of websites that attract loyal readers daily, those who visit them multiple times per day, per week and per month will not be widely separated on this graph. However, websites that are not visited daily or those that just want to have as many users as possible, regardless of the quality of those visits, will have a big difference between individual values on this graph, as shown in the image. Which is better, that the website attracts the same people every day or that is visited by different people? As always in analytics, the correct answer is: “It depends”, you should know the best visitor ratio for your type of content.

How to track visits to specific websites?

In addition to the number of visits, we often use analytics to analyze the content of our pages, so it wouldn’t be bad to find such reports in the new version of Google Analytics. You can find the “Pages and Screens” report in the “Life Cycle - Engagement” tab, as well as in the “Business objectives - Raise brand awareness” tab. This report provides a list of the most visited pages by URL (their web address) or meta title. That report also provides some new and some old metrics, which can also help us better understand how our visitors interact with content. These metrics include:

Views: the “Number of views” metric is the same as the “Pageviews” metric in Google Analytics Universal and represents the number of views (loads) of a specific page. Basically, it tells how many times the text has been viewed, but it does tell you whether that text has actually been read, only that it has been loaded.

Users: The "Users" metric represents the number of active users who have loaded the selected website during a certain period of time. In the old Google Analytics Universal, there was no possibility to display this metric (instead, we often searched for “Unique Pageviews”), so now this metric can tell us more about the quality of content consumption than the “Views” metric. I personally know that many publishers were looking for this kind of metric or they believed that the “Pageviews” shows the number of visitors who read a text, but now we can finally know how many visitors actually read a text. Keep in mind that we are talking about active users, those who have either scrolled through the text or loaded another page, and not just those to whom the page was just displayed without any additional activity.

Views per user: the “Views per user” metric shows the average number of times the selected page was displayed to the average user. Not “the number of visits in which it was displayed”, but “how many times the user saw that page in the selected period”. The home page will probably have more views per user for the selected period, and if some other texts have more views per user, this is a good start for a qualitative content analysis and the question: “Why?”

Average engagement time: the “Average engagement time” metric is another metric that was not available before and represents the average time during which the selected website was in focus (in the active tab of the browser) of the average user in the selected period of time. Not the individual viewing time of each page on each visit, but over the entire period of time. This means that if I spent 1 minute on the home page every day of the week, the average engagement time for the home page will be 7 minutes. For pages with a small number of views per user, this metric will be similar to the duration of individual views, while for pages that are viewed more often, this metric will be significantly longer.

The “Pages and Screens” report is just one of several reports that can help publishers better understand the reasons and ways visitors come to their websites, the behavior of visitors and how they consume content, but we really don't have enough space to describe them all here. As I have already mentioned, Google Analytics 4 offers us over 160 metrics and over 160 dimensions that can help us understand the behavior of our users, and choosing the right metrics is key to making the right data-driven business decisions. If we do not understand one metric or misunderstand it, the business decisions we make may be less successful than if we had flipped a coin.


Google Analytics 4 opens new horizons for publishers, enabling them to better understand their visitors and optimize their websites. Understanding which websites are most visited and how users behave is key to creating content that attracts and retains visitors. With new metrics such as “Users”, “Engagement Rate” and “Engaged Sessions”, publishers are equipped with a powerful tool to successfully manage their media websites across all digital platforms and achieve success in the digital media market.

If you need help in defining useful metrics and KPIs based on them, feel free to contact us.