Is Your Google Analytics Data Just a Hit Counter? Use Advanced Segments to Really Understand Your Visitors
Advanced segments have to be one of the most under utilized features of Google Analytics.
The hard reality is that if you aren’t segmenting your users into relevant groups, then you’re only really using Google Analytics as a big, clunky and over-spec’d hit counter.
Many webmasters can be put off by the word ‘Advanced’, and believe the feature is the realm of power users only – the data geeks – and not general marketers or business owners.
But nothing could be farther from the truth! ‘Advanced’ segments are actually quite easy to access once you understand why and how they can be used to gain actionable insights from your data.
The Basics: What Are Advanced Segments?
In a nutshell, advanced segments are dimensions to your website visitors we can isolate from our total aggregate data set, based on a range of user behaviors and attributes collected by the Google Analytics tracking code.
The key point is to understand that your website visitors are not a monolith – surprise! Different ‘types’ of people interact with your website in different ways.
Advanced segments allow us to get much closer to understanding the groups that matter and how they behave on your site.
If you have been using Google Analytics for a while, it’s likely you’ve poked around the different default menu views on the left side of the standard Google Analytics interface:
For example, let’s drill down into the selected ‘Mobile’ -> ‘Devices’ section:
This section interface clearly allows us to see the standard GA metrics segmented across different device users:
Now, instead of seeing our visitor set as one group, we have broken them down by device types – this tells us that users on iPhones spend much less than the site average compared to other mobile device users.
Putting the ‘Advanced’ in ‘Advanced Segments’
Google Analytics segments don’t just stop with the pre-built audience sections though, and using the not-so-visible Advanced Segments drop down, we can access a much larger range of options, as well as the ability to customize our own segments.
Each of the tiles represents a pre-built segment. To apply a segment, simply drag and drop one of the rectangles into the empty dotted tile spaces in the top row, then hit ‘Apply’.
In the below screenshot, we can see traffic comparing all visitors, with the added segment in orange – users who performed a site search.
Custom Advanced Segments
But things get even better – we can actually combine separate elements to make new ones i.e. new custom advanced segments. Let’s break out our data into a segment which isolates the following audience:
Users in Sydney who converted and visited a specific page.
Firstly, we need to click on the +Create New Segment button:
In the segment filter UI, we’ll give our new custom segment a name: Sydney Converters. Now we can apply our filters, starting with isolating users by location (Sydney):
Wow! We’ve now got our metrics to reflect this particular group of interest :)
Practical Examples of Putting Advanced Segments to Use
Now that you know how to create advanced segments, here are a few nifty examples with practical explanations you could apply to your own data, or inspire you to create your own set based on the nature of your business and industry.
1) Exclude the bouncing blog visitors
Websites with popular blogs where articles are often shared on social media and user submission websites tend to have high bounce rates because many casual users are only visiting your website to view a particular article of interest (don’t take it personally, it happens to everyone).
If you know you’ve had a particularly popular article spike your visitors because it hit the front page of Reddit, it’s useful to exclude these users when looking at your site’s ‘normal’ bounce rate. The following example segment rule would come in handy here:
2) Biggest Spenders
3) Organic SEO Traffic from Google Image Search
Useful for image rich websites, where looking at the organic traffic referral path doesn’t quite cut it.
Advanced segments are definitely advanced but are certainly don’t have to be difficult (a key difference!) once you understand how they can utilized to full potential. Start playing around with different ideas most suited to your business and audience types and you’ll never look at aggregate data the same way again!
Avinash Kaushik’s post on segmentation into users, sequences and cohorts:
Google Advanced Segments
Google Analytics Support section on using advanced segments
The 5 Best Google Analytics Reports for Content Marketers