What Is the Difference Between First User and Session Data in GA4?

sessions vs usersIn the switch to GA4, understanding how to use each metric will be critical as you analyze your data and draw conclusions. In this post, we will be diving into sessions and users which are two metrics that show user activity across your webpages or app.

Let’s Dive In: First User vs. Session Data

What is a First User in GA4?

First user data focuses on the first time a user interacts with your property. This means it can identify the number of unique visitors that are visiting your property for the first time. In GA4, can find this number logged under a first_open or first_visit event.

This metric displays the sources and medium of traffic, among other things.

With the shift to GA4, we wanted to cover how first user data is impacted. If a new user visits your property and only views one page, they are not counted as a new user in GA4. In UA, they would have, so be sure to keep this in mind as you navigate the data.

Now that you are familiar with first user data, let’s dive into how you can collect it:

  • Enable first-party data collection in GA4
  • Set up the first_open and first_visit events that will be triggered when a new visitor reaches your property
  • Use first user data to set up reports and dashboards that track FTU campaign performance
  • Analyze the reports and identify new users to target in your marketing campaigns

What is Session Data in GA4?

Session data is a measurement of the sequence of actions that a user performs within a certain period on a website. The sessions record the events a user triggers within a certain time period, which can then be used to interpret the user-friendliness of your property. The default period is set to 30 minutes, but this can be customized in your GA4 settings.

Additionally, session data tells what channels are driving the most sessions and how your visitors are converting, helping marketers better understand the performance of user engagement campaigns. Understanding the performance of user engagement campaigns can then give direction on how campaigns can be improved for effectiveness, and keeping users engaged.

Speaking of engagement, it is important to note that GA4 recognizes both sessions and engaged sessions:

  • Engaged session – A session that occurs for longer than 10 seconds, experienced a conversion event or had 2 or more page views.
  • Sessions – A measurement of the total number of sessions that were started, regardless of the length or activity performed.

Important Note on GA4 vs. UA

With the shift to GA4, you’ll notice that session data is slightly impacted. In UA, a user who visited your website and only viewed one page would be counted as a single session. However, GA4 counts this as multiple sessions. Additionally, GA4 does not have a dedicated report for session data. This means that you will have to filter the session_start event to get this information.

Using These Metrics in Real Time

After all this technical talk, let’s discuss how the two settings come in handy. Let’s say you start a marketing campaign. You can use the first user data to see how many new visitors that were intrigued with the campaign. Then, you can use the session data to see how many sessions that user had.

Together, these metrics will help you understand how effective the campaign was in terms of the amount of traffic that ended up on your website.

Benefits of Using First User and Session Data in GA4

Getting the most out of your GA4 experience means reaping the benefits it has to offer. Here are the advantages of understanding and interpreting first user and session data in GA4:

  • Tracking the number of new users who convert into customers
  • Seeing how long your new users take to become engaged with the content on your site
  • Monitoring the frequency of the visits new users have on your property
  • Understanding the channels that are bringing in the highest number of new visitors

Things to Be Aware of When Looking at GA4 Data

Understanding the benefits that first user and session data can have is just as important as knowing what external factors can impact their outcome. Keep the following in mind when you are analyzing the data presented in GA4:

  • First user data is only available from people who opt-in to tracking
  • Timeouts can affect session data, so be sure to adjust the duration of the timeout in the settings to fit your audience
  • First user and session data are both impacted by bot traffic, so be sure to factor this in interpreting the results

Final Thoughts on Using Session and First User Data

Overall, understanding the difference between key metrics and knowing how to find them in GA4 can help you interpret your data more accurately, allowing you to make well-informed decisions. We hope this clears up any confusion you have!

Be sure to check out our other blogs that run through GA4 for more data tips.

Julia Grosel

About the Author

Julia Grosel

Julia Grosel is an SEO analyst at Sixth City Marketing. Her role focuses on optimizing digital content for clients in dentistry and higher education.

Our Partners & Awards