How to Use Advanced Segments in Google Analytics

How to Use Advanced Segments in Google Analytics

Editor’s Note: A special thanks to Tony Flores of Growth Science for contributing this guest post. 


In 2018, access to data is no longer a competitive advantage.

Between Google Analytics and companies like Segment, Kissmetrics, and Mixpanel, it doesn’t take long to have every action on your website tracked, recorded, and assigned to the right user.

The hard part is deriving actionable insights from the data we collect.

Hilary Mason, founder at Fast Forward Labs, I think says it best:

The core advantage of data is that it tells you something about the world that you didn’t know before.”

And with all the Google Analytics integrations that exist within pretty much every tool that has ever been built, marketers no longer have an excuse to be data rich and information poor.

Wedding Crashers - No Excuses GIF

If you have Google Analytics on your site, you’ve likely spent time playing around with the various ways data can be arranged.

You’ve also probably scratched your head and wondered, “What am I supposed to do with all of this?”

So, you show some screenshots during presentations and point to numbers that are more exciting than last month’s, but that is basically where the train stops.

The good news is that Google Analytics can not only show you what happened in the past, but it can also give you clues as to what you should do next.

And all you need to do is some digging.


Segments in Google Analytics

Google Analytics gives advertisers access to a lot of information out of the box, but most of the good stuff needs to be built into the system.

One of those functions is called, “Segments”. Segments allow you to isolate and analyze subsets of data within Google Analytics so you can optimize the biggest growth opportunities for your business. 

You can create segments by visiting Google Analytics > Admin > View > Personal Tools & Assets > Segments.

How to Find Segments in Google Analytics

Google Analytics comes with some out-of-the-box audience segments that you can use to carve up their various reports, including:

  • Visitor type 
  • Returning visitors
  • Mobile visitors
  • Desktop visitors
  • Organic visitors
  • Paid visitors
  • Traffic Source/Medium
  • Location/Geography
  • And many more…

However, there are more advanced segments that can be custom-built, which will give deeper levels of clarity and insight into your website’s audience and performance.

The combinations of data are endless. However, it’s important to know what you’re doing prior to building reports and relying on data that may or may not be accurate.


How to Use Segments in Google Analytics

Let’s say you wanted to see how many people visit your site and make a purchase.

So, you visit Google Analytics and head over to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels, and look at your conversions for the various out-of-the-box channel groupings:

How to View Conversions in Google Analytics

As you can see, the conversion rate on this account is 0.32%, and each channel grouping below it has its own conversion rate.

The big question now is: “How can we work to improve that conversion rate, and where do we start?

If you run a Google search for “Improve ecomm conversion rates,” you’ll get millions of ideas and case studies, but only a handful are ever going to be applicable to your business.

We need to narrow down our efforts by identifying segments of our market that we want to work on to accomplish our goal of improving conversion rates.

Let’s layer in additional segments to see if any low hanging fruit opportunities reveal themselves. As an example, let’s compare mobile traffic, to traffic from a tablet or desktop device:

How to Use Google Analytics to Track Mobile Traffic

Ongoing conversion rate optimization is important, but in terms of prioritizing, it’s clear from this data that mobile has some conversion problems that need to be addressed.

If you wanted to recommend a starting point for improving site performance, I’d recommend mobile optimization, based on this report alone.

Obviously, more research would need to be done before investing heavily in any kind of improvement effort, but this example shows how mixing segments and data can reveal an opportunity for growth.


The Benefits of Using Google Analytics Segments

Google Analytics Advanced Segments

There are three main benefits to using segments in Google Analytics.

1. Ease of communication and transparency

Your boss, or your clients, want to see similar reports each month. Having pre-built segments that power reports give others an understanding of campaign performance, without needing to come to you each time.

2. Opportunity identification

Within the thousands of audience segments are pieces of information that can drive better optimization decisions. Looking and searching for segments and seeing how they perform will help you know which users need what kind of attention, and under what circumstances that attention is needed.

3. The Solutions Gallery

Lucky for us, Google was kind enough to include an “Import Gallery” feature. This allows you to pull pre-built segments the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery, a platform where experts can share different segments, custom reports, & dashboards they’ve built with the rest of the community.

If you’re like me and prefer to not fix what isn’t broken, this is a great place to find pre-built segments that help you accomplish the job in a fraction of the time. In the next section, I’ll share some of the best pre-built segments I’ve found in the Import Gallery, examples of how to use them, and tactics from the Ladder Playbook that you can track with these reports.


How to Build Segments in Google Analytics 

The first thing you should do when developing a new account is to determine what behaviors and demographics (i.e. Segments) you want to keep an eye on.

To get started, open Google Analytics > Admin > Personal Tools & Assets > Segments > Import from Gallery

Importing Template from Gallery

After clicking on Import from Gallery, you’ll see a popup that will display all of the pre-built segments available in the Solutions Gallery. You can sort through segments by ranking, rating, and by category. Moreover, you can also click “Go to Gallery” to view other templates.

Import from Gallery View - Google Analytics

If you’re not sure where to start, I’ll recommend four pre-built segments and/or dashboards and/or reports that are available for use today. These will help you quickly build useful views of your data so you can begin making data-driven growth decisions.

Remember, these are segments that are not native to Google Analytics. Some trial and error might be needed to configure something that is close to what you want, but not quite right.

Engaged Traffic 

This template from Justin Cutroni displays engaged traffic, which is segments of your web traffic based on their engagement with your site. This includes page views and time spent browsing.

Segmenting for engaged traffic

In this example, I noticed that really engaged users are 3.5x more likely to sign up as a lead than the average user, which I discovered after building this segment and looking through other Google Analytics reports.

With this information, I can suggest that we bid more aggressively on this audience’s retargeting campaign.

Pro tip: If you decide that you want to build upon this tactic after you start your first campaign, try editing the segment details to include people that spend less time, or engage fewer pages on your site. Opening that audience up a little bit might result in more volume, while maintaining conversion rates.

Ladder Playbook Recommended Tactic: Power-User Targeting

If you want to optimize for engaged traffic, try retargeting power users by creating a custom audience. This can be especially effective when you have a new offering. Since they already feel strongly about your product, they will be more likely to engage with your ads and show more interest in a new offering.

AdWords Performance

This template from user Jobejero gives you (or your clients, or your boss) a quick snapshot as to the performance of their Google Adwords campaigns relative to conversions.

Measuring AdWords Performance in Google AdWords

In practice, this report offers some insight into which paid keywords are delivering results. If you are working in an Adwords account with dozens or hundreds of keywords, this report can help you quickly narrow down your focus.

Looks like one keyword is driving a good chunk of this account’s conversions. It’s a modified broad match keyword. I’m going to need to dive into the Search Terms a little bit to find the gold, but with this report, I’m still saving time.

Here is a good test to run if you identify keywords that trigger Search Terms with high conversions.

Pro Tip: Before you make decisions just based on this data, head over to Acquisition > Adwords > Keywords and make sure that the identified keywords’ performance isn’t just based on volume and cost. Check for conversion rates and cost per conversion. In this example, it looks like my highest conversion volume Keyword has a great conversion rate as well.

Viewing the Performance of Keywords in Google Analytics

Ladder Playbook Recommended Tactic: High-Bid Test 

When you want to reach different segments of your audience with your ads, try increasing your bid above the suggested or current level. Once you’re sure that your current bid level has reached everyone that it can reach, an increase can lead to a new segment of your audience getting served your ad. It will get your ad featured in front of more eyes, getting it in front of an audience that may not have seen it yet.

Time: Day and Hour Based Traffic Behavior

This template from Lenny Manor allows you to get hyper-granular by breaking down segments of your website traffic by the day they visited. I like to look at this report broken down by converters and non-converters:

Time: Day and Hour Based Traffic Behavior

In this example, I see that Saturday and Sunday have the worst conversion rates relative to visiting traffic, while Thursday accounts for over 25% of total conversions the last few months.

Based on this report, I can recommend that we allocate some budget away from the weekend and toward Thursdays when we know our audience is more likely to convert.

Pro Tip: Schedule your email blasts and other bulk marketing efforts so they are delivered on days where your audience has a statistically significant higher likelihood of converting.

Ladder Playbook Recommended Tactic: Time of Day Exclusion

Remove certain times of day if they perform worse for you. This is a great way to figure out where you might be spending a lot of money on ads but not getting any return on that investment. For example, you might find that early morning hours result in very few conversions or significantly lower conversion rates, but equal or even higher spend and clicks. This will enable you to optimize spend on times of day that do in fact drive positive ROI.

Work-Hour Visitors, Non-Work-Hour Visitors

Some brands have a product or service that is ideal for mid-day web surfing while on company time. Others are better suited for late-night browsing. Google Analytics user Sparkline created this template to give you a quick read on whether there is an opportunity to improve your campaigns via time of day segmentation.

Segmenting Work-Hour Visitors from Non-Work-Hour Visitors

In the example above, it looks like website visitors browsing during the workday have a 35% higher conversion rate than those browsing after hours. Looking at this data, I’d probably let the account run for a bit longer to reach statistical significance, but it has early signals of being a good optimization opportunity.

Pro Tip: If you notice a significant drop in conversions during certain periods, consider creating easier goals for your users during that time, like submitting an email address or agreeing to push notifications, instead of things like free trial signups or making a purchase. Collect their contact information so that you can market to them at a better time.

Bonus Pro Tip: Always give the data you see a quick gut check. This account belongs to a B2B company, which means I should expect most people are going to be researching or engaging with their website during the workday.

Ladder Playbook Recommended Tactic: Bid Optimization By Time

Optimize your bids/budget based on time of day, week, month, or year. Website sales can go through a great deal of variance over the course of a year. Understanding the specific times at which your conversion rates are highest, and then optimizing your bidding strategy based on that data, can be an efficient way to drive your business. Most major ads and analytics platforms have the ability to report by time of day, week, month and year.


Getting Started 

Getting Started with Advanced Segments in Google Analytics

Now it’s your turn to put Google Analytics to good use. Here are three ways to get the most information from your Google Analytics data.

Set Up Goals 

Without being tied to your website’s Goals, Google Analytics is pretty much just a bunch of things that happened on your site with no focus. Take a moment and learn about Goals and how to build them in Google Analytics.

Once implemented, the data Analytics collects will center around the various events you want your users to take on your site, and will deliver much more useful information all around.

Pro Tip: If you need help setting up Goals, take a look at Ladder’s comprehensive event tracking guide.

Start using Google AdWords

If Google Adwords isn’t part of your advertising strategy, it should be.

The first thing you need to do is link your Adwords and Analytics accountNext, import Goals from Google Analytics into AdwordsFrom here you can select which Goals you want being tied to clicks you receive from your paid search campaigns, which makes it so Google can optimize your campaigns around specific conversion actions. (Learn more about Google’s Enhanced CPC bidding)

Pro Tip:  New to Google AdWords? Learn how to set up your first Google AdWords campaign with Ladder’s step-by-step guide.

Building Audiences 

If you find a segment of your audience that excites you and you want to advertise to them differently, you should try building an Audience and then link that audience to an Adwords Campaign.

Now, you can take the segments you have identified as having a higher conversion likelihood, and show them different advertising, and bid more aggressively on them.

Now it’s time for you to get started! Start importing some of these reports from Google’s Solution Gallery and see what you find.