The Users vs. Engaged Sessions Showdown: Understanding Conversion Rates in GA4

Hanna Nilsson

Hey there, web analytics rookies and conversion rate enthusiasts!

Get ready for an exciting adventure into the wonderful world of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) where we’ll unravel the mysteries behind Users and Engaged Sessions and how they impact conversion rates. Whether you’re a new blogger, an eCommerce store owner, or a budding CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) ninja, this post is here to equip you with the knowledge you need to accurately measure your website’s success and dodge those pesky misleading numbers. 

To start off, it’s crucial to know what we’re dealing with here. So, what are Users and Engaged Sessions in GA4, and why should you care?

In the red corner, we have Users! 

A User is, simply put, a unique visitor to your website. 

Think of Users as the faces behind the screens – the people who actually visit your site, click around, and hopefully, do what you want them to do (like buying your awesome products or signing up for your awesome newsletter).

In the blue corner, we’ve got Engaged Sessions! 

GA4 sees an Engaged Session as a visit to your website that lasts for at least 10 seconds or includes a conversion event or has 2 or more screen/pageviews.

 In essence, Engaged Sessions focus on the quality of visits, not just the sheer number.

Now that we know our contenders, let’s discuss what conversion rates are. 

Conversion rate is essentially the percentage of your site visitors who complete a specific goal (or ”convert”) out of the total number of visitors.

High conversion rates are like the Holy Grail of CRO – everyone’s after them!

Okay, so here comes the million-dollar question: should you base your conversion rate on the number of Users (the faces) or the Engaged Sessions (the quality visits)? The crowd roars in anticipation…

Well, the answer is: It depends! Did you see that curveball coming…?

Yes, we know, that answer isn’t the most satisfying. But bear with us! You see, your choice depends on your site and your conversion goals. If your goal is to get as many unique visitors as possible to sign up for a newsletter or download an app, focusing on Users makes sense. But if you want visitors to login or use your digital services every time they visit, then Engaged Sessions is your champ.

Let’s throw in an example. 

Imagine you run an online bookstore. You have a special promotion running where first-time buyers get a discount. In this case, you’re interested in the number of unique visitors (Users) making a purchase. But let’s say you also have a reading app that users should ideally use every time they visit. Here, Engaged Sessions become more relevant, as you want to measure the quality visits where users interact with the app.

What’s that? You want more examples? Absolutely! I’ve got plenty to share!

Just remember our golden rule: The metric you use should always align with your conversion goals. But let’s slice that broad statement into digestible, relatable, and actionable examples.

1. Online Clothing Store: Let’s say you’re running a trendy online clothing boutique and have a goal of increasing the number of first-time buyers on your site. Here, you’re interested in unique visitors who’ve never shopped from you before (Users). By tracking Users, you can identify how many unique individuals are buying for the first time and, subsequently, how effective your strategies are for attracting new customers.

2. Daily News Blog: Suppose you operate a news blog, and your goal is to increase daily readership. You’d want visitors to engage with your site every day, meaning they read articles, leave comments, or share links. In this case, Engaged Sessions becomes your best bud! It will show you how many visits include meaningful interaction, helping you optimize your content to boost daily engagement.

3. Online Language Learning Platform: Picture yourself running an online language learning platform. You’d probably have two key goals: attracting new students (Users) and ensuring students engage with lessons and exercises regularly (Engaged Sessions). For the first goal, you’d focus on Users to track how many unique visitors sign up for a course. But for the second, you’d pivot to Engaged Sessions, monitoring how many visits result in active learning.

4. Software as a Service (SaaS): If you provide a software service, you might aim to increase the number of free trial signups (Users) and then get these users to use your service frequently (Engaged Sessions). Here, you’re playing both sides. Users help you measure the effectiveness of your signup strategies, while Engaged Sessions let you gauge how engaging your service is to your users.

5. Recipe Blog with a Meal Planning App: This one’s a fun combo! As a recipe blog owner, you want new readers to explore your mouth watering recipes (Users), and as a meal-planning app provider, you want users to engage with your app every time they plan meals (Engaged Sessions). Here, you’re again using both metrics but for different goals within the same site.

Comparing Conversion Rates: Users vs. Engaged Sessions

Below is a hypothetical table showing some example discrepancies in conversion rates when using Users and Engaged Sessions as metrics in GA4.

GoalConversion Rate by UsersConversion Rate by Engaged SessionsDiscrepancy
First-time Buyer5%2.5%2.5%
Daily Readership10%18%-8%
New Course Signups7%3.5%3.5%
Free Trial Signups12%6%6%
Recipe Exploration15%7.5%7.5%

This table clearly shows how different the conversion rates can be, depending on whether you’re looking at Users or Engaged Sessions. Remember, Users represent unique individuals, while Engaged Sessions represent the number of sessions that include meaningful interactions. Depending on your conversion goals, one might be more meaningful than the other.

For instance, if your goal is to get first-time buyers, you’ll see a higher conversion rate when looking at Users because you’re counting the unique individuals who’ve made a purchase. But if you look at Engaged Sessions, the conversion rate might be lower because not every visit to your site resulted in a purchase.

On the flip side, if you run a news blog and want to increase daily readership, your conversion rate may be higher when looking at Engaged Sessions, as it shows how many times visitors engage meaningfully with your content.

This table is simplified and the exact numbers can vary widely based on many factors. The goal is to illustrate how your choice of metric (Users vs Engaged Sessions) can affect your perceived conversion rate.

Of course, life (and web analytics) isn’t always this simple. 

For example,

a. What about tracking users across multiple devices? 
b. Or what if your A/B testing tool uses a different base for data? 
c. Or, the tricky question – what if the conversion rate difference between Users and Engaged Sessions is significant?

These are all valid points to ponder!

a.) GA4 has new cross-device tracking features that help you track users more accurately across devices. 
b.) When it comes to A/B testing tools, they often base data on User level, so aligning your GA4 User level data could be beneficial. 
c.) And yes, the difference between conversion rates based on Users or Engaged Sessions can sometimes be significant. This is why understanding your site and your conversion goals are so important.

In summary, both Users and Engaged Sessions have their role to play in your CRO journey. It’s like a dynamic duo – Batman and Robin, Sherlock and Watson, you get the gist. Remember, web analytics isn’t about finding ’the one’ metric to rule them all. It’s about understanding different metrics and how they can serve your specific goals.

As with everything in CRO, remember to be strategic and flexible in your approach. Mastering GA4’s intricacies will undoubtedly pay off, offering deeper insights and more opportunities to optimize your site’s performance!

By now, you might be wondering, ”Are there any differences in these metrics between GA4 and Universal Analytics (UA)?”. Well good thing we came prepared! A few weeks ago, we published a blog post outlining the differences between GA4 and UA (you can find it here), and it’s evident that there are indeed variances that should be taken into account. To summarize it in short, when transitioning from UA to GA4 or operating both concurrently, remember to consider these differences. It’s also crucial to invest time in understanding GA4’s unique features and capabilities. Use it to complement UA data, providing a richer, more holistic view of your site’s performance, rather than directly comparing metrics.

Summary

In our enlightening journey today through the world of web analytics, we’ve tackled important aspects of GA4, focusing on two significant metrics:

  • Users (unique website visitors), and
  • Engaged Sessions (quality visits to your site).

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Both Users and Engaged Sessions play crucial roles in your Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) journey, each offering unique insights that aid in understanding and engaging with your audience.
  • The choice between these metrics depends on your conversion goals. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation; the flexibility and strategic selection of the right metric is key.
  • Each visitor to your site represents potential conversion opportunities. Our goal is to provide a meaningful and engaging experience for them.
  • Whether you’re new to web analytics or a seasoned expert, remember that each metric tells a story. Sometimes, the story unfolds best when different metrics are used together.

Now, here’s what you can do:

  • Dive into your GA4 and experiment with Users and Engaged Sessions. Observe the outcomes and learn from them.
  • If you face any doubt or challenges, know that help is available to navigate the thrilling waters of web analytics.

In the spirit of making every click count and every visit an engaged session, we toast to the success of Conversion Rate Optimization! Let’s continue this conversation. After all, CRO is not a one-time affair but a continuous journey of learning, tweaking, and optimizing.

Remember, in the Users vs. Engaged Sessions showdown, there’s no loser. The winner is the metric that best aligns with your CRO goals.

Until our next analytics adventure, stay curious, keep analyzing, and enjoy your CRO dance. See you soon, conversion rate enthusiasts! As always, we are here to help you so feel free to contact us if you need to bounce any ideas or need expert help to understand your data.

Want to meet the Conversionista team to bounce your own data? 💡

Be sure to stop by Red Corner at Conversion Jam.
A not-to-miss-event, Oct 26 in Stockholm

Läs även