Introduction to Google Analytics Segments
by Stephen Edmondson
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Often when looking at Google Analytics reports you will find yourself asking, “How can I see data for just the traffic from people who did x?” For example, I am often asked by my clients how they can distinguish returning vs new customers when they are looking at a specific report. Often times there are existing reports that give these insights, but my client either a) doesn’t know about them or b) needs to segment a specific report.

This is where Google Analytics Segments come in.

What are Segments?

Segments allow you to either filter or add an overlay to your current view with a subset of users or sessions based on specific criteria or conditions you select. You can have up to 4 segments at a time - and you probably wouldn’t want more because it would make data very hard to interpret! Note that when you have a segment applied, it will remain active as you navigate through reports. By default, you’ll have the All Users segment active on your reports:

Adding Segments

To add a segment, simply click on the “+Add Segment” button at the top of applicable reports. Note that not all reports allow segments so if you don't see this option, don’t panic, just know its not a segmentable report.

This opens the segment selection view:

From here there are several options on the left nav to filter segments in the segment table. The segment table lists the Segment name, “Created” (the date the segment was created), “Modified” (the last date the segment was changed), and Actions - which allow you to Edit, Share, Copy, or Build an Audience based on the segment or delete the segment.

Google also has a gallery of segments from the web that you can import using the “Import from Gallery” button in the top left of the builder.

As you build out segments you will quickly realize how many segments you use frequently, so I recommend starring those you use most frequently AND make sure you have a robust naming convention. It’s very easy for the same segment to be built multiple times because you forgot you had already created it.

Building your own custom Segments

A segment can be built to target a subset of users OR a subset of sessions. For example, you can create a subset of users that have previously purchased from your site, or a subset of sessions that included a purchase action (new or returning). Segments are also based on the dimensions and metrics in your Analytics reports (e.g. user types, metro area, eCommerce conversion rate, etc). You can also create segments based off of custom events, goals, and audiences you’ve created.

Google has a good number of pre-existing segments to choose from, so before you create a new segment, check out what is there by default. Some like Search traffic, Returning users, New Users, and Mobile traffic, are useful and already exist! You can find these in the “System” section of the segment table.

To create a new segment simply click on the red +NEW SEGMENT button from the segment selection view. This takes you to the builder:

From here you can build out the criteria for your segment. There are plenty of pre-selectable options for basic segment setup. These include, Demographics, Technology (OS, browser, etc), Behavior (transactions included), Date of First Session, Traffic Sources, and Ecommerce.

Honestly, I skip all of these and go straight to Conditions when I build segments. This allows me to select whatever metric or dimension I want and the associated value I’m filtering by.

REMEMBER: When you build a custom segment, you want to make sure you select Sessions or Users for the segment. This is important because it changes the way your segment will operate. For example, let’s say I want to see data on purchasers. If I select Sessions, I’ll filter data to only show those Sessions that had a purchase. If I select User, it will show data for users that have purchased during my selected time frame. Therefore a sessions filter will show fewer results because it ONLY includes those sessions with a purchase. If a purchaser became a purchaser outside of my selected time frame, they would NOT be included in my session segment unless I select the time frame in which they made the purchase.

Ok, so lets build a simple segment: Users that have come to my site 5 times but haven’t purchased. I need to create two filters for my one segment:

  1. Users with sessions equal to or greater than 5
  2. Users with 0 transactions
  1. Sessions equal to or greater than 5
    1. I select User from the drop-down.
    2. Change the variable to Sessions
    3. Change the greater than or equal to to be ≥
    4. Input “5” into the field

Click the AND button. This forces both of these filters to be met. If your segment is meant to include people from one filter OR another, you would select the OR option.

  1. Users with 0 transactions
    1. Select Transactions from the variables
    2. Set the second option to “per user” (this makes sure this person hasn’t transacted before rather than only discounting people who
    3. Change the greater than or equal to to be =
    4. Input “0” into the field 

It should look like this:

You’ll notice that as you add filters, Google Analytics will show you the percent of total users or sessions (whichever you’ve selected for your segment) that your segment makes up in the report you are segmenting and during the time-frame you’ve selected.

Once your segment is setup, give it a name and click the blue “Save” button.

Segments take some time to learn, so don't expect to be making advanced segments right away. Start with the easy ones - I taught myself by trying to recreate the pre-existing system segments. I’d stop once I was able to get the Summary users or sessions in my segment to match that of the system segment when it was applied. The system segments cover most frequently used segments so you may never have to build your own, but I still suggest you try. Segments can be very useful when you want to take existing reports and create additional segments. One of my favorites is to add the Mobile and Tablet & Desktop segments to the Channels report so I can see device performance by channel all in one place.

Once applied, segments will add rows to each line item in your report. As long as you keep the default “All Users” segment you can then compare your segments against that total:

Segments also appear in your performance charts which makes comparison very easy:

I hope this guide was helpful. I strongly recommend playing around with Google Analytics segments. They will help save you a lot of time in the future once you have your favorites saved!