Now that we’ve all had a few months of working exclusively within Google Analytics 4 (GA4), it’s worth taking a moment to explicitly define some of the new metrics within the platform and how they compare to Universal Analytics metrics.
As clients and marketers navigate this transition and consider these metrics, understanding their distinct functionalities and how they diverge from their Universal Analytics counterparts becomes paramount for harnessing the true potential of GA4. This is especially true when it comes to metrics related to average duration.
Decoding the differences between Universal Analytics and GA4 metrics
In Universal Analytics (sometimes called GA3), metrics like Average Time on Page and Average Session Duration were widely used to measure user engagement. However, with GA4, there’s a shift in how engagement and user behavior analytics are measured. GA4 introduces Average Engagement Time, which is an entirely different way of measuring user engagement. Let’s compare the differences with the new metrics in GA4.
1. Average Time on Page vs. Average Engagement Time
In Universal Analytics, Average Time on Page measured how long users spent on specific pages. It was calculated by measuring the time between consecutive pageviews, assuming that the last page of a session didn’t require a subsequent view. However, GA4’s Average Engagement Time takes a more nuanced, user-centric approach. This metric assesses the actual time a user actively engages with the page, disregarding instances where the tab loses focus. For instance, if a user switches to another tab or app, GA4 doesn’t consider this time in the calculation, providing a more accurate depiction of user interaction and true engagement duration. Let’s take a look at more examples below:
Average Time on Page (Universal Analytics):
Utilizes the time between two-page hits to compute the average time on a specific page within a session.
- Sequential Page View Scenario:
- Scenario: User visits “Page A” for 10 minutes, moves to “Page B” for 25 minutes, and leaves.
- Calculation: “Page A” registers a time on page of 10 minutes, but with no next page to feed into the model, no time on page data is captured for “Page B.”
- Interruption In Session Scenario:
- Scenario: User spends 5 minutes on “Page A,” switches to another site for 5 minutes, then returns to spend 25 minutes on “Page B.”
- Calculation: “Page A” registers a time on page of 10 minutes, but “Page B” remains unmeasured due to interruption.
- Bounce Scenario:
- Scenario: User bounces from “Page A” after spending 30 minutes, with no subsequent page views.
- Calculation: “Page A” shows no recorded time due to the absence of subsequent page visits.
Average Engagement Time (GA4):
Measures the average length of time the website remains in focus in the browser, excluding time when the tab loses focus.
Accurate measurement scenarios:
- Sequential Page Views:
- Scenario: User spends 10 minutes on “Page A,” then 25 minutes on “Page B.”
- Calculation: “Page A” registers 10 minutes and “Page B” registers 25 minutes.
- Interruption in Session:
- Scenario: User spends 5 minutes on “Page A,” loses focus for 5 minutes, returns to spend 25 minutes on “Page B.”
- Calculation: “Page A” accounts for 5 minutes, while “Page B” registers 25 minutes.
- Bounce Scenario:
- Scenario: User spend 30 minutes on “Page A” then bounces.
- Calculation: “Page A” registers 30 minutes.
2. Average Session Duration in Universal Analytics vs. GA4
The Average Session Duration in Universal Analytics was a fundamental metric used to gauge overall session length. It calculated the total duration of a session from the first to the last hit, including the time spent on exits or bounces. Conversely, GA4 approaches this with a subtle yet crucial difference. Instead of calculating the entire session time, it focuses on active engagement within the session, excluding periods of inactivity or when the browser tab loses focus. This shift emphasizes active engagement, providing insights that are more indicative of genuine user interest and intent.
3. Implications of transitioning metrics
The transition from Average Time on Page/Average Session Duration to be more focused on Average Engagement Time results in some implications for Marketers who are trying to interpret user behavior. The new methodology in GA4 aligns more closely with actual user engagement, offering a more precise view of user interaction on the website. This transition necessitates a shift in perspective, especially for those accustomed to Universal Analytics metrics. Embracing this change unlocks the potential for more accurate insights into user behavior, ultimately empowering businesses to tailor their content strategies more effectively based on genuine user engagement patterns.
This shift in perspective empowers marketers and businesses to ditch vanity metrics like average pageviews and prioritize meaningful interactions. They can craft targeted campaigns based on engagement patterns, identify conversion pathways hidden in passive metrics, and ultimately, drive growth based on genuine user interest.
So long Universal Analytics, it’s time to embrace GA4 and all that comes with it
As we bid adieu to the familiar metrics of Universal Analytics and embrace the increased customer centricity of GA4, it’s like saying goodbye to an old friend and welcoming a more insightful companion. The shift from both Average Time on Page and Average Session Duration to Average Engagement Time empowers marketers to better understand true user behavior.
By equipping yourself with the right tools and knowledge, you can leverage GA4’s advanced capabilities to gain a deeper understanding of user behavior to uncover hidden conversion paths and personalize experiences for targeted segments. Embracing GA4 and its new measures will also let you prepare for the future of digital analytics with a platform built for flexibility and adaptability. And you don’t have to go at it alone. We’re just a click away and can help you build a meaningful data strategy that enables actionable insight.