GA4 User Types: New Users, Returning, Active and Total Users

Google Analytics 4 has four types of users: returning, new, active, and total users. This is a significant increase from the two user types in Universal Analytics. Understanding what each user type means is essential to making informed decisions based on data gathered from Google Analytics 4. In this article, you will find a detailed explanation of each GA4 user type and answers to any questions you may have.

User Types in Google Analytics 4

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has four primary user types that are utilized in its reports, whereas Universal Analytics only had two user types, namely new and returning users. The GA4 user type metrics can be found in standard reports, and they can also be applied as metrics in GA4 Explore. 

User Type metrics in GA4
User Type Metrics in GA4

In the following sections, we’ll examine each of the four user types in GA4 in detail. It’s crucial to understand that the “Users” metric in GA4’s standard reports can be misleading. Therefore, it’s essential to distinguish it from the “Total users” metric. The “Users” metric represents the number of active users, which includes only those who have interacted with your website or app during the specified time period.

Active users

This user type was introduced in GA4 and not available in Universal Analytics, this section will explain what it is, its importance and where to locate it in GA4.

Active user definition

The “active users” metric indicates the number of engaged users who have interacted with your website or app. To clarify what constitutes “engagement,” GA4 defines engagement as follows:

  • Every user who has had a session with a “first_open” or “first_visit” event. GA4 automatically collects this event whenever a new user opens your app or visits your website, so it can be considered as every new user. This is based on cookies.
  • Every returning user who has had an engaged session. To be considered an engaged session, the user should remain actively engaged with your website or app for more than 10 seconds. This is determined by the “user_engagement” event and “engagement_time_msec” parameter, as described in another article. The default setting for this engagement time is 10 seconds, but it can be adjusted in Data Stream Details settings.

In summary, the number of active users is calculated as follows:

Active users = new users + returning users with an engaged session

As a result, when building GA4 explorations, you will always find that the number of active users is greater than the number of new users.

Additionally, please note that in GA4 standard reports, the metric “Users” represents active users.

Active users metric in GA4
Users Metric in GA4 Traffic Acquisition Report representing Active Users

How to find active users in GA4

To find active users in GA4, you can use the standard reports or create an explore report. The Traffic Acquisition and Engagement standard reports display active user data. To access the Traffic Acquisition report, go to Admin > Reports > Acquisition > Traffic Acquisition in your GA4 admin settings. The active user data will be displayed in the first column of the table report.

Active Users Metric in GA4 Traffic Acquisition Report
Active Users Metric in GA4 Traffic Acquisition Report

To access the Engagement report, go to Admin > Reports > Engagement > Overview. In the Engagement Overview, you will see the users overtime line chart report, which displays the active users data over time.

Active Users Over time in GA4 engagement Report
Active Users Over time in GA4 engagement Report

You can also create an exploration report to find active users’ data. To do this, go to the explore section in the left-hand menu of your admin page and click on “create a new exploration.” Add the dimensions and metrics you want to use, and remember to add the “Active Users” metric. If you need more information on how to create exploration reports, please refer to our article on this topic.

Active Users Exploration Report
Active Users Exploration Report

Active users vs Total users

It’s common to confuse active users with total users because the “users” metric represents active users. However, active users and total users are different. Active users in Google Analytics 4 refer to those currently engaging with a website or an app in real time. On the other hand, total users refers to the cumulative number of unique users who have visited the site within a specified date range. Total users offer a broader perspective on overall audience size and reach over a specific period. It is crucial to distinguish between active users, who reflect current engagement levels, and total users, who represent the total audience size over time. This differentiation is essential to analyze user behavior and optimize marketing strategies in GA4 effectively. We will still discuss the total users GA4 user type in detail later in this article.

New users

This user type was available in Universal Analytics. As the name implies, it represents the new users. But let’s look at its definition in detail below.

New user definition

GA4 “New users” metric is calculated based on “first_open” and “first_visit” events. 

New user detected using _first_visit_ event in GA4
New user detected using “first_visit” event in GA4

Whenever a new user lands on your website or open a mobile app, GA4 automatically collects this event, and the new user is detected. If the returning user visits your website using another device or browser, this user will be detected as a “new user” by default. However, you can configure User ID in GA4 and activate Google Signals to track the same user using multiple devices as the same unique user. 

When the user visits your website for the second time, this user becomes a “returning user” in GA4. 

How to find new users in GA4

To find new users in GA4 standard reports, go to the Acquisition section. To do this, navigate to your Admin page and select Reports. From there, select Acquisition and then User Acquisition. In this section, you will see a table report with data on new users in the first column.

New User Metric in User Acquisition Report
New User Metric in User Acquisition Report

You can also create an exploration report to find “New Users” data. To do this, go to the explore section in your admin page’s left-hand menu and click “Create a new exploration.” Add the dimensions and metrics you want to use and remember to add the “New Users” metric. 

New Users Exploration Report
New Users Metric in GA4 Exploration Report

Returning users

Previously available in Universal Analytics, returning users are the counterpart of new users. Let’s take a closer look at returning users below.

Returning user definition

Returning user is the opposite of the new user. Whenever someone lands on your website, and GA4 doesn’t generate “first_open” or “first_visit” events (because this user has GA4 data stored in cookies), this user is considered as a returning user. In a nutshell, everyone who visits your website not for the first time will be labeled as a returning user.

User Type metrics in GA4
New users + Returning users don’t equal to Total Users

It is worth noting that in GA4, the sum of “New users” and “Returning users” may not always match the “Total users” metric. This is because the same user may visit the website multiple times during the observed time period (day, week, month), leading to duplicate counts as both a “New user” and a “Returning user.”

How to find returning users in GA4

To access data on returning users, navigate to the retention report in the GA4 standard report. You can find this report on your admin page under Reports -> Retention. The first line chart displays data on both new and returning users over time. You can switch between the two by clicking on the appropriate option above the report.

Returning Users Data in Retention Report Page
Returning Users Data in Retention Report Page

Keep in mind that this report may not provide a comprehensive overview of returning users. For a more detailed report, you can create an exploration report and include the Returning Users metric along with other metrics or dimensions based on your requirements.

GA4 Exploration Report for Returning Users
GA4 Exploration Report for Returning Users

Total users

This is the final user type for GA4, which differs from the “Users” metric. Let’s take a closer look at this metric below.

Total user definition

The total users metric shows the number of users who took any action on your website and GA4 registered it. So, whenever someone visits your website scrolls the page or makes a purchase. The distinct id of this user will be counted to get the “Total users” metric. 

Perhaps it’s the most accessible GA4 user-type metric to understand because it has no hidden restrictions or rules. 

Although this metric isn’t shown in the majority of GA4 standard reports, you can use it in custom reports built using GA4 Explore. For instance, you can use a free table exploration to visualise the daily number of total users. 

Number of Total users over time in GA4
Number of Total users over time in GA4

How to find total users in GA4

To find the total number of users in GA4, you can go to the Engagement standard GA4 report. To access this report, navigate to Reports -> Engagement -> Events on your admin page. Scroll down to the table below and look for the second column, which shows the total users data.

Total Users Data in GA4 Standard Report
Total Users Data in GA4 Standard Report

Alternatively, you can create a customized report to display the total users data by creating an exploration report and selecting the “total users” metric along with any other metrics and dimensions you want to use.

Total Users in GA4 Exploration Report
Total Users in GA4 Exploration Report

Do you need help with Google Analytics 4?

GA4 offers a range of features and capabilities that enable businesses to gain valuable insights into their website or app performance and user behaviour. By utilising GA4, you can effectively track and analyse data, make data-driven decisions, and optimise your online presence. At Vakulski-Group, we specialise in providing comprehensive assistance with GA4, ensuring you can fully utilise this powerful analytics tool. Our services include analytics implementation, data analysis, and conversion rate optimization. By partnering with us, you can leverage the full potential of GA4 and make informed decisions for your business. Contact us today to get started on maximising the benefits of GA4! 

Final Word about four user types in GA4: new users, active users, returning and total users

To summarise, Google Analytics 4 has more user types than Universal Analytics. The main one is the “Active users” metric used across all standard reports in GA4. This metric presents the number of users engaged with your website, spending more than 10 seconds, and new users. 

MetricDefinition
Active usersThe number of users which follow these rules:
1) “first_open” or “first_visit” automatic event was triggered  (New users)
2)  returning users who have at least one engaged session. They spent at least 10 seconds on your website or app actively engaging in it. 
Total usersThe number of distinct users who triggered any event on your website or app. 
New usersThe number of distinct users who triggered “first_open” or “first_visit” event.
Returning usersThe number of distinct users who visited your website or app before. 

The table above presents all user types and their definitions. If you have any questions or need help with GA4, don’t hesitate to reach out or comment below. 


Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of users in GA4?

GA4 has four types of users: Active, New, Returning, and Total Users.

How to break down users into new and returning in GA4?

In GA4, you can differentiate new and returning users by accessing the Retention report, where you can toggle between these user types to analyse their behaviour over a selected time frame. You can also create an exploration report to do this.

What are active users in GA4?

In GA4, active users are the number of unique individuals who have engaged with your site or app within a specified date range.

What are new users in GA4?

New users in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) are individuals who visit a website or app for the first time within a specified date range.

What are returning users in GA4?

Returning users in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) are individuals who have previously visited a website or app and return within a specified date range, indicating user loyalty and engagement with the platform.

What are total users in GA4?

Total users in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) represent the cumulative number of unique users who have visited a website or app within a specified date range, providing an overview of overall audience size and reach.

Why do new users and returning users metrics not equal to total users metric in GA4?

New users and returning users metrics do not equal the total users metric in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) because the same user can be counted as both a new user and a returning user if they visit the website multiple times within the specified date range. This overlap results in the total number of new and returning users being greater than the total number of unique users.

Why do GA4 active users not match unique client ids count?

In GA4, active users are defined by engagement, such as event interactions, while unique client IDs are assigned to all visitors regardless of engagement. For example, a website with 1,000 visitors might show only 800 active users if only that many interacted with the site, but all 1,000 would have unique client IDs. This difference in measurement criteria leads to the discrepancy between GA4 active users and unique client IDs count.

2 Replies to “GA4 User Types: New Users, Returning, Active and Total Users”

    1. Hi Kevaughan,

      There is an answer to your question in the article.

      It’s also worth mentioning that “New users” + “Returning users” don’t equal “Total users”. It happens because the same user can visit your website multiple times within the observed time interval (day, week, month), and the users who did it will be counted as a “New user” and “Returning user” as well.

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