5 Segments to Help You Gain Insights

I’ve written about segmentation in the past, but I still don’t think we give it the importance it deserves. There are so many valuable insights you can gain from using segmentation. Even more important, if you are only looking at your data in aggregate, without segmenting it, you can be making decisions based on misleading information.

Take this example – let’s say you open up your analytics tool and see that, on average, users view 5 pages per visit. Ok, pretty good. You take note and move on.  But if you used segmentation, you might see that the pages per visit is completely different depending on the type of user. Let’ say on average:

  • IE users view 7 pages per visit
  • Firefox users view 4 pages per visit
  • Chrome users view 2 pages per visit
  • Mobile users only view 1 page per visit
  • Campaign A users only view 1 page per visit

Of course these are made up numbers, but you get my point. Doesn’t this tell you much more? My site doesn’t seem to render well on mobile devices and campaign A needs a good look.

The fact that my site averages 5 pages per visit actually tells me absolutely nothing.

This is why segmentation is essential. Averages are misleading.

Filters and Advanced Segments in Google Analytics

In Google Analytics you can segment users in different ways – the 2 main ways are using filters and advanced segments. Which one should you use?

When choosing between a filter and a segment, I usually go with this rule of thumb – if it’s a permanent segment, let’s say you *always* want to filter out internal traffic, then I’d create a filter. This is because filters segment out before the data gets into the reports. This also means that if, down the road, you no longer want to segment out internal traffic, although you can delete the filter, you can never get the data back.

For this reason, always keep one profile that has no filters.

If, on the other hand, you need more flexible segments – segments you want to turn off and on, then use the advanced segments feature.

Advanced Segments will help you make better decisions

For this post, I’m going to talk about using advanced segments, not filters.

Google Analytics advanced segments

The segments you use will depend on your goals. In the example above, if mobile visitors aren’t a priority right now you may not even look at that segment.

Almost all analytics tools offer segmentation now. Google Analytics released advanced segmentation about a year and a half ago. It’s amazing to me, though, how many Google Analytics users still don’t use this essential piece of functionality.

There are built-in advanced segments and also the ability to create custom segments. Google has both instructions and a video on creating your own (custom) advanced segments.

New and Returning Visitors

One of the most fundamental segments you will probably use is new and returning visitors. See how these 2 segments use your site differently. What’s the different in bounce rate, top landing page, referring keywords? For referring keywords, you might find that new visitors use more general keywords and returning visitors use more branded keywords.

Visits from Social Media sites

Creating a segment for social media sites will help you answer the question on everyone’s mind nowadays – what is our social media ROI? Of course there is a lot more that goes into that, but this segment will help. Don’t forget to include all social media sites that your audience uses. This means going beyond Twitter and Facebook.  Segment your social media traffic and see how they are behaving on our site. Are they converting? Are they doing something else? Of course this goes back to your social media goals. Is this segment doing what you want them to according to your social media goals?

Visits from a specific campaign (or campaigns vs. organic traffic)

This is another one of my favorite segments. First, how does your campaign traffic act differently than your organic traffic? What about pages per visit, internal site search keywords, time on site?

Next, to answer questions about how a specific campaign is performing, create a segment for traffic coming in only from that specific campaign. This will give you such great insights into campaigns – beyond just conversions and bounce rates. If you have a poorly performing campaign, use this method to dig deeper and find out why. High bounce rate or low conversion rate? How about looking at the internal site search keywords this segment uses to find out if it’s good or poor quality traffic?

Another use for looking at this segment is find out what else visitors from a specific campaign are doing on your site. It might surprise you to find out that a campaign for one area or program is actually bringing in traffic that is interested in another area or program. You also might find that traffic from this specific campaign are doing things other than the end-conversion. Maybe they are watching a specific video or visiting specific pages.

Internal vs. external traffic

Depending on your site and its goal and intended audience, you may even want to filter out your internal traffic. If you don’t use a filter, though, consider at least building segments for both. This way you can easily see how these 2 segments act differently. Chances are these segments act *very* differently.

Search Engines (from specific search engines or all organic traffic)

Segmenting on organic search traffic can bring valuable insights as well. Then you can drill into each search engine, see how much each is bringing. Further, drill into important keywords (within each search engine) and see the trend of traffic from those. Is it going up or down? Were you ranking for an important keyword, but now you’re not getting a lot of traffic from it?


Obviously there are many other segments you can use to help. These are just 5 that I’ve found very helpful. The important thing is to go back to your website goals and to use segments relevant to those. If your goals focus on geography (let’s say your continuing education or a community college) you may want to segment by state or region or city. Likewise if you have a goal of being more mobile-friendly next fiscal year, you can create the relevant segments to help you see how your mobile traffic is performing.

What other segments do you find helpful?

2 Responses to “5 Segments to Help You Gain Insights”

  1. [...] 5 Segments to Help You Gain Insights (tags: segmentation seo analytics googleanalytics roi) [...]

  2. we are cloud says:

    Hi Shelby,
    We thought this was a really good blog post – so good, in fact, that we referenced it in our post entitled “9 resources explaining when to use segmentation or filters in Google Analytics”. You can find the post at http://analytics.bimehq.com/ if you’re interested to read it!