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Master Advanced Segments to Unlock Google Analytics

Published: May 1, 2013

Author: Molly Shotwell

Today’s post is by Client Services Manager Lisa Becker, who’s more than likely either wrestling client data into submission or running on the Chicago waterfront.
google analyticsWhether working in-house or on the agency side, with a large or small client with the goal of direct response or lead generation, chances are good that most SEMs will inevitably have a need for Google Analytics data.
However, many seasoned SEMs still find themselves overwhelmed sifting through the multitudes of data in GA displayed in an array of standard reports that are often more limiting than reports in Google AdWords. (For example, one colleague of mine was extremely frustrated working with GA data when she could not seem to find the Clicks metric that we depend on in AdWords.)
Despite the fact that AdWords and Analytics are both Google products, the layouts are not the same, nor are the underlying technology and associated functionalities. Fortunately however, mastering GA’s advanced segments allows SEMs to further refine and customize standard and custom report views by overlaying website usage statistics with pre-defined or customized data sets that hold meaningful insights for paid search.
Before we launch in, what are advanced segments?  The easiest way to think of an advanced segment is as a virtual ‘switch’ you can flip to filter traffic and other data to gain useful insights about different groups and types of visitors. These are particularly useful in quickly filtering for a specific data set such as a certain geo or URL as well as in isolating a certain type of traffic (such as paid search) within the framework of an existing standard or custom GA report.
In this blog, we’ll walk through the basics of using both the default advanced segments as well as creating new custom segments.

Using Default Segments

Let’s say that an e-commerce client just had a big week of sales. As SEMs, we’d like to know how much of the sales revenue can be attributed to paid search traffic. This is very easy to do by selecting the ‘Advanced Segments’ button on the navigation bar and then checking both the ‘paid search traffic’ and ‘non-paid search traffic’ boxes on the default segments list on the left side of the pop-up box (below). After clicking the ‘Apply’ button, you’ll see separate metrics for each of the two segments on any of the default or custom reports in Google Analytics.
ga advanced segments
advanced segments default
In addition to these two segments, the list of default segments also includes all visits, new visitors, returning visitors, search traffic, and direct traffic; you can apply these to any report with the click of a button.  How you use these segments will depend on the type of business, but they undoubtedly offer greater insight than using standard reports alone.

Creating Custom Segments

The default segments are a great source of data, but you also have the option to further customize and refine reports to suit your needs by inputting your own metric and dimension criteria. You can do this by clicking the ‘Advanced Segments’ button and then by clicking the ‘+ New Custom Segment’ button on the lower right corner of the pop-up window.
ga custom segments
When creating a new custom segment, keep in mind that you’ll want to use a descriptive name that will allow you and any other GA users of the account to identify it easily. After you create the new segment, it will appear on the custom segments list on the right side of the pop-up box, and you will be able to apply it to any report in the future simply by checking the applicable box.
For example, suppose that a client is interested in breaking out mobile traffic by top-performing geos. Rather than just looking at paid search traffic, you’d like to look at stats broken out by city – New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago – and also by mobile device to determine appropriate device targeting for each geo.  Defining a custom segment for each the city, specifying ‘mobile’ as the device, and clicking the ‘Save segment’ button on the bottom left corner, you’ll see the following reports:
custom segments in GA
custom segments mobile
You can also test or preview the segment before saving, which will allow you to spot errors and make corrections. If your custom segment returns all zero metrics, for example, this more than likely indicates an error.
These segments can also be combined with other segments – up to four – that will allow you to look at attributes such as browsers and operating system as well as the initial segment.  There are virtually limitless options to segment data using custom segments. Whatever data you’re looking for, there’s a very good chance you can define/configure a segment to suit your needs if you spend a little time thinking about how to filter for the data set you want.
For more about advanced segments and a list of helpful custom segments to define, see Google’s guide to creating advanced segments (albeit a bit sparse) and this list of useful custom segments for Google Analytics.
– Lisa Becker, Client Services Manager

25 E Washington Street
Suite 420

Chicago, IL 60602(650) 539-4124


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