Google Analytics Advanced Segments – Tips for Success

I’ve been doing quite a bit of training in Google Analytics lately. The most fun thing about that has been walking users through reports and having the chance to ‘WOW’ them with some of GA’s excellent features, especially Advanced Segments. Though I will note, a client recently suggested that there should be a drinking game for real-time reports, which I say, why not? However let’s not digress, drinking games with analytics tools can be fun, but we’ve got a job to do! One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if segments aren’t handled with care, you may not be clearly looking at your data. So let’s take a look at some tricks I’ve learned to ensure proper settings are in place.

1.Have a plan. Before you think about creating a segment, formulate business questions that will be answered using the segment. It’s easy to turn into a kid in a candy store with so much data available, but all of that candy (data) isn’t necessarily good for you. An example could be:

- What are my ‘natural search’ customers doing differently before making a purchase that non-purchasers aren’t doing since launching our new SEO campaign?

Be as specific as possible and as detailed as possible, that’s the best way to gain new insights.


2. Test your reports. Make sure you can find what you’re looking for before actually developing a segment. Test the criteria, which you plan to segment, into a report before creating an actual segment. For instance, if I was interested in testing my question above, I may choose to create a custom landing page report for natural search visitors who have entered the site using the keywords we’re targeting. My new custom report would help identify a baseline for metrics that I would expect to see once I’ve create my segment.  If the two show to be extremely different, that would indicate that something is off with my segment.

3. Talk about your segments. Unfortunately I’ve seen reports in the past used to illustrate a specific point only to find later that the segment wasn’t properly configured. Look over your segment configuration with a friend or colleague; see if they have any better recommendations for reports to review for getting to the data. A second set of eyes won’t hurt.  I strongly suggest that you take your time, too. We all like our quick wins but it’s not a win if you have to explain down the road that your segment wasn’t properly configured.

4. Verify your analysis. This is a sub-point of the last one, which encourages you to share your reports with friends and colleagues. It’s easy to jump to a conclusion and think you’ve got some killer insight, only to find that within your reports, there are flaws. Before I take my reports to a VP or Executive, I always talk them over with a colleague and maybe even bake them some cookies for their extra effort. Cookies go along way and double-checking your segmented reports to ensure you’re drawing the correct conclusions is considered good practice. Another thing, I save a copy of the reports so I can go back to them later if I need to.  It can be really easy to start pulling data points out of the interface and then forget where you found them.

5. Keep it light.  One last thing I would recommend is to remember that most of your reports will be sampled. We’re identifying trends here and occasionally numbers can adjust depending on sampled data. I haven’t seen a huge issue with numbers changing, but occasionally they do, which can cause some people to ‘freak out’. To eliminate any ‘freaking-out’, keep your analysis relatively high level and test away at new campaign ideas. I generally use segmented reports to identify a trend or to generate ideas for testing a campaign. If you really want the hard numbers, consider developing a custom filter for a profile so there’s no ambiguity.


There you have it - my greatest tips for developing and reporting advanced segments. Now go on… segment away!

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