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GA4 Analytics Simplified: Key Differences Between First User and Session Scope


Navigating Google Analytics 4 (GA4) can be challenging, especially with new terminologies and concepts like First User Scope and Session Scope. This guide will demystify these scopes, highlighting the key differences and practical applications.


Key Summary

  • First User Scope: Tracks user-specific data from their first interaction with your site or app.

  • Session Scope: Tracks interactions within a single session.

  • Differences between First User and Session Scopes: First User Scope focuses on the user's initial engagement, while Session Scope looks at interactions within a defined time frame, typically 30 minutes of inactivity.


What is First User Scope?

First User Scope in GA4 focuses on tracking data from the user's first interaction with your site or app. This scope helps understand the initial acquisition source (e.g. channel, source, medium, campaign) that lead users to your platform. It helps identify key attributes (e.g. gender, age, country) of users who engage with your content for the first time.


Key Features of First User Scope:

  • User-Centric Data: Helps understand user acquisition 

  • Lifetime Metrics: Provides insights into user lifetime value and retention.


What is Session Scope?

Session Scope in GA4 tracks interactions that occur within a single session. A session is defined as a group of user interactions within a specified time frame, typically 30 minutes of inactivity. Session Scope is essential for understanding the source that was last responsible for driving traffic to your website. 


Key Features of Session Scope:

  • Session-Based Tracking: Focuses on interactions within a single session.

  • Detailed Engagement Analysis: Helps understand user engagement and behaviour during specific sessions. I.e. Pageviews, events, engagement time.

  • Short-Term Metrics: Provides insights into session duration, pages per session, and bounce rates.


Key Differences Between First User Scope and Session Scope

While both scopes are crucial for comprehensive analytics, they serve different purposes and offer distinct insights.

Feature

First User Scope

Session Scope

Focus

User's first interaction

User interactions within a single session

Data Range

Lifetime (from the first visit)

Specific session (typically within a 30-minute window)

Metrics Provided

User acquisition, initial behaviour, lifetime value

Session duration, pages per session, bounce rates

Use Cases

User retention, onboarding effectiveness, first click attribution

Session engagement, content performance, last click attribution

Practical Examples of Using First User and Session Scopes in GA4

Understanding the practical applications of these scopes can help in better implementation and data analysis.


Example 1: E-commerce Onboarding

If a user came from organic search, then left and came through paid search and converted:


First User Scope:

  • Organic Search = 1 conversion

  • Paid Search = 0 conversion

Session Scope:

  • Organic Search = 0 conversion

  • Paid Search = 1 conversion


Example 2: Content Engagement

  • First User Scope: Identify which content attracts new users and retains them over time.

  • Session Scope: Evaluate how users interact with content during each session, including time spent and interaction rates.


Tips for Using GA4 Scopes Effectively when reviewing your analytics

  1. Set Clear Objectives: Determine what you want to achieve with your analytics – user acquisition, engagement, or retention.

  2. Use Both Scopes: Combine insights from both scopes to get a comprehensive view of user behaviour.

  3. Avoid Common Mistakes: Ensure accurate tracking by properly setting up your GA4 configuration. Avoid duplicate or missing tags.


Conclusion

Understanding and effectively using First User Scope and Session Scope in GA4 can significantly enhance your ability to track and analyse user behaviour. By leveraging both scopes, you can gain valuable insights into user acquisition, engagement, and retention, leading to more informed marketing strategies and business decisions.


FAQs


What is the primary difference between First User Scope and Session Scope in GA4?

The primary difference is that First User Scope tracks data from the user's first interaction with your site or app. In contrast, Session Scope tracks interactions within a single session; the default session is set to 30 minutes, but this can be customised in your GA4 settings.


How does First User Scope help in user acquisition analysis?

First User Scope helps identify users' initial touchpoints and behaviour patterns during their first visit, allowing you to understand which channels and campaigns are most effective in acquiring new users.


Can I use both First User Scope and Session Scope simultaneously in GA4?

Yes, you can and should use both scopes simultaneously to get a comprehensive view of user behaviour. First User Scope provides insights into user acquisition and lifetime value, while Session Scope offers a detailed analysis of user engagement during specific sessions.


What kind of metrics can I get from Session Scope?

Session Scope provides metrics such as session duration, pages per session, bounce rates, and user interactions within a specific session, helping you understand user engagement and behaviour during each visit.


What kind of metrics can I get from User Scope?

User Scope provides metrics for individual users over their entire interaction history with your site or app. These metrics include user lifetime value, first-time and returning user counts, user retention rates, engagement over time, and conversion paths. This scope helps you understand long-term user behaviour and the effectiveness of your retention strategies.


This guide is written by Hedgehog, a Done With You digital marketing consultancy specialising in small and medium businesses in Australia. We offer digital marketing consulting, coaching, and training.

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