How to Find Sessions in Google Analytics 4

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Updated December 2023

Are you struggling to understand sessions, user and pageview metrics in Google Analytics 4?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the new way to measure your website traffic. It’s more powerful and flexible than Universal Analytics, and designed to help you understand your users better.

But before you can do that, you need to understand the differences between these two platforms and the terminology they use.

We’re here to help you do just that.

But first, let’s talk a little about what sessions are and why we think they’re the best metric for analyzing website traffic, especially when it comes to joining Mediavine for full-service ad management.

At Mediavine, our application requirements include a traffic threshold of at least 50,000 sessions in the last 30 days, per Google Analytics.

Previously, we used pageviews, but we stopped requiring pageviews as our primary application metric and instead now look at a website’s sessions.

Why? Sessions are a more accurate, top-down view of how often users visit your site rather than how many pages they view on your site.

In short, it’s easy to fudge extra pageviews with things like slideshows or paginated posts, which aren’t great for user experience.

Instead, we’d rather look at your sessions when we review your application. (And a whole bunch of other stuff, too — traffic is just the beginning).

Google Analytics 4 offers several other traffic metrics as well, but for us, sessions are king, no matter the size of your site.

woman in a cafe with a cup of coffee and using a tablet

So what are sessions in Google Analytics 4?

Google defines sessions as “a group of user interactions with your website that takes place within a given time frame.”

In GA4, a session initiates when a user either opens your app in the foreground or views a page or screen and no other session is currently active (e.g., their previous session has timed out). Even if the page is open in the background, it’s considered part of the same session.

By default, a session ends (times out) after 30 minutes of user inactivity; the metric then resets and views a user’s return to your site as a new session.

Typically, the 30-minute default session length works great. However, there’s no limit to how long a session can last, and while there are some cases where it could be helpful to adjust your session timeout period, we don’t recommend it.

If your site automatically signs a user out after being inactive for a certain amount of time or if you have content that takes a long time for a reader to engage with, these could be reasons to adjust your session period. 

But for the kinds of sites Mediavine works with, we don’t see a good reason to change your session duration. Half an hour is perfect.


If you change your session timeout period in Google Analytics 4 from the default 30-minute period, you’ll alter how GA4 calculates the other standard metrics you rely on, such as sessions, goal conversions, bounce rate and more.

So, changing your session timeout period is probably not a good idea.

How is the number of sessions calculated?

Whenever a user visits your website, GA4 records a new session ID (ga_session_id), and the session count (ga_session_number) for that user increases. Sessions are calculated based on unique Client IDs (website) or Instance IDs (apps).

Where can I find sessions in Google Analytics 4?

GA4 estimates session metrics such as sessions, engaged sessions and engaged sessions per user, which give you data about the number of sessions started on your website or app.

You can view these metrics in the following reports:

  • Acquisition Overview
  • User Acquisition
  • Engagement Overview

Pro Tip: In Explorations, located on the dashboard sidebar, you can find reports such as funnel and path explorations and many other handy customizable templates, which can also contain session metrics.

How to view how many sessions your site earned over a given time period:

  • Go to Reports in the sidebar menu of the dashboard
  • Select the Acquisition tab
  • Click Traffic Acquisition
    • This provides session data for the last 28 days by default, but you can use the date range selector in the upper right to filter for whatever time period you want.

But wait, what about pageviews in Google Analytics 4?

Pageviews look at the number of pages users view on your site. A “page” can mean your homepage, a blog post or a category page — basically, any unique URL on your site is considered a page according to this metric.

Google Analytics 4 records a pageview whenever a user loads a page of your website or their browser history is changed by an active site. Google calls this event a page_view, which is automatically sent from your website to Google Analytics 4.

Each time a user visits a new URL on your site, Google Analytics 4 registers the event as one pageview.

Pro Tip: If you want to manually control how pageviews are sent (e.g., single-page applications or infinite scrolling), you can disable pageviews and manually send them from your website.

So what are users in Google Analytics 4?

The switch to Google Analytics 4 from Universal Analytics altered how users are calculated in Universal Analytics compared to how they’re now calculated in Google Analytics 4.

What are the main differences?

For one, in GA4, active users are the prime focus, whereas UA was focused on total users.

An active user in GA4 is a user with an engaged session, or when GA4 collects the first_visit from a website or first_open event from an app. Every new user and non-bouncing returning user is considered “active.”

This marks a change from UA, which counted total users, which was a total count of all users to a website or app, regardless of their engagement or whether they were first-time visitors or not.

You can probably see that the new way to tally users in GA4 is more accurate than in UA because GA4 collects more granular behavioral data than the more general data collected in UA.

Another difference?

Universal Analytics had two User metrics:

  • Total users
  • New users

In Google Analytics 4, there are three User metrics:

  • Total users
  • New users
  • Active users

You should be aware that Universal Analytics highlights total users (shown as users) in most reports, whereas GA4 focuses on active users (also shown as users). 

So, while the term users appears the same, the calculation for this metric differs between UA and GA4: UA uses total users and GA4 uses active users. Confusing, we know, but it’s a critical distinction to understand how your user metrics are reported.

Depending on how frequently your users return to your website, the total users metric in UA and the active users metric in GA4 may or may not be similar. 

Here’s a breakdown of how users are calculated in GA4 versus UA:

Total Users

  • Universal Analytics: Total number of users
  • GA4: Total number of unique users who logged an event

New Users

  • Universal Analytics: Number of users who interacted with your site for the first time
  • GA4: Number of users who interacted with your site or launched your app for the first time. The metric is measured by the number of new unique user IDs that logged the first_open or first_visit event.

Active Users

How does Google Analytics 4 record data?

Google Analytics 4 uses a special identity called a Device ID to track every user or device that interacts with your website or app. This allows GA4 to distinguish between multiple users and sessions while monitoring behavior across various devices.

With websites, the Device ID is a first-party cookie called _ga that’s placed on a user’s browser and contains a Client ID. The Client ID is then provided to GA4 with each succeeding hit, enabling it to monitor a user’s behavior over time for that browser.

It works the same way with apps; however, GA4 calls it an Instance ID instead of a Device ID.

The user metric records the number of new and returning visitors coming to your site, but sometimes a returning reader might still be marked as a “new user.” That would happen if a reader — who typically accesses your site from their smartphone — decides to visit from their work computer or another device for the first time. They’d be tracked as a new user and counted as starting a new session, too!

And that’s how to find sessions, define users and understand the difference between how pageviews are calculated in Google Analytics 4!

Want to know more about GA4?

Watch Make GA4 Work For You with Sherry Smothermon-Short in our Teal Talk where we break down how to leverage this powerful analytics tool.

Or, check out this 1-Minute Tip from Painless Blog Analytics about Making the Switch to GA4.

How much traffic do you need to join Mediavine?

If you’re waiting to apply to Mediavine, you’ll need to keep an eye on your sessions in Google Analytics. Once you hit 50,000 sessions, you can head right here and apply! And if you have any questions about our application process, don’t hesitate to reach out to our amazing Publisher Support team at

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