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Exploring Advanced Segmentation in Google Analytics V5

Following on from our recent post announcing the release of Google Analytics version 5 into public beta two weeks ago, we are going to start exploring some of the changes being rolled out in this new iteration of the software. This week, we are going to focus on the changes made to Advanced Segmentation.

An example report using Advanced Segments to cross-section data
An example report using Advanced Segments to cross-section data

Advanced Segments are one of the key features of Google Analytics, allowing for a simple yet powerful way to cross-section traffic on your website and compare multiple groups of users side by side within your reports. For example you may want to compare all users visiting your site from European countries to visitors from the USA, or track how much revenue a particular sub-section of your website has generated. There are a vast number of possibilities you can take advantage of, yet this powerful feature is ofttimes overlooked by those who aren’t using Analytics full time.

Unlike using Filters to separate out your traffic, using Advanced Segments does not permanently affect your data, and so you can turn on or off any cross-sections at will with zero risk to your statistics. Coupled with how easy it is to create and use the Segments themselves, they prove to be a very flexible tool that anyone serious about performing in-depth analysis of their data should make use of. You can compare up to four Advanced Segments at any one time, so it’s pretty easy to do a detailed comparative analysis of your reports.

There are a dozen pre-built “Default Segments” which are commonly available across any Google Analytics account – these include segments such as just Direct traffic or Paid Search traffic – and trying out these Segments against your reports is a good way to familiarise yourself with how they behave if you have never used them before.

Advanced Segments List
Twelve Default Segments are available, and you can create up to 100 Custom Segments for each Google Analytics login

In addition to the Default Segments, you can also create your own Advanced Segments to use in your reports. You can create up to one hundred custom Segments to use in your reports, and these are associated with the e-mail address you use to access Google Analytics. Custom Segments can be shared across all accounts and profiles that you have access to under your login e-mail address, so it’s wise to aim to create your Segments to be as re-usable as possible. One hundred segments can sound like a lot, but when you’re managing a large array of clients it’s easy to exhaust that limit quickly – especially if you have a whole team sharing one login!

What’s new in Version 5?

There are a handful of changes that have been made to Advanced Segments in the new version of Google Analytics, and while the bulk of these changes are subtle the overall result is that the process is now much easier to use.

Starting with the simplest of changes, the drop-down menu for Advanced Segments has been moved from above the reporting Date Range selector to the top left hand side of the reporting pane, next to the Export menu. While this may sound ridiculously minor, I can’t remember how many times I’ve clicked the Date selector by mistake and mumbled in annoyance over it. Little tweaks to the interface are never a bad thing and I’m sure I won’t be the only one glad to see the menu relocated!

There was previously a requirement when comparing the maximum of four Segments at once whereby the “All Visits” Default Segment had to be one of the four being compared. This behaviour has now also been removed and so you now have total control of what you are comparing.

When Segments are applied to a report, you will now be presented with a miniature pie chart for each one at the top of the report you are currently viewing. This chart is labelled with the percentage share of traffic that each segment holds against the total visits to your site. Beside each of these labels is a small X button, allowing you to quickly turn off that particular Advanced Segment – another nice touch to speed things up a bit.

Traffic Summaries for Advanced Segments
Top line traffic shares for each Advanced Segment are now presented on reports

The most significant change though is how Advanced Segments can now be created and tested. In the older version of Google Analytics creating a new Advanced Segment required navigating to a specific section away from your reports where you would compose and test your Segment. This isn’t ideal when you want to create a Segment with a particular purpose in mind from viewing and working with your data.

In addition to this, clicking the “Test Segment” button would only reward you with a figure of how many visits the Segment matched out of the overall total, leaving you with no way of knowing if that figure was potentially erroneous without first saving the Segment and subsequently testing it against your reports and looking for inaccuracies. All in all a somewhat inefficient process, hindered further by having to clear and re-add fields in order to test any changes to the entered values.

Old Advanced Segment Editor
Previously, Advanced Segments could only be tested against visits, and required navigating away from your reports

Version 5 of Google Analytics addresses these issues perfectly and transforms the process into one that is both quick and effective. When selecting to create a new Advanced Segment from the drop-down menu, the Advanced Segment editor opens within the drop-down panel. This means that you can create a segment whilst still being able to view a report – even paginating through results will not lose the changes you have made in the Advanced Segment editor.

New Advanced Segment Editor
The new Advanced Segment editor allows you to create & test Segments against your reports on the fly

This convenience is taken a step further when it comes to testing your new Segment. Hitting the “Preview Segment” button will reload the report you are viewing, with your new segment applied – even if you haven’t yet actually saved the segment. Furthermore, if you need or want to make any changes to your Segment after previewing it, then there’s no more hassle here either, simply make your amendments and hit “Preview Segment” again. You can do this as many times as you need to until you are happy with the results, and then all you need do is hit the “Save Segment” button. If you want to try the Segment against a new report then just select it from the menu as you would normally – your work-in-progress Advanced Segment will carry across to other reports, even if it isn’t saved yet.

However, the added bonus of this approach is that you don’t necessarily have to save your segment. Let’s say you are looking to create an Advanced Segment for a group of users brought to an electrical goods site by the keyphrase “Cheap plasma TVs” and using Chrome as their browser. This is very unlikely to be of much use to you on other websites you may be managing on your Google Analytics account, say, on a corporate events website profile. Unique-purpose segments like this can soon add up and eat heavily into the limitation of one hundred Advanced Segments per login. Thanks to the new Version 5 update, you can easily work your way around this problem.

Since you can apply previewed Segments to live reports in situ, you can simply treat them as disposable tools when they cater to a very specific purpose, and keep your one hundred saved Custom Segments freed up for more generic and multi-purpose Advanced Segments. This also means that unlike using in-line filters on the reports, you can actually compare a subset of data to your overall traffic with ease. The simplicity of creating and testing Advanced Segments in Version 5 of Google Analytics turns this into a very fast, and very effective tool for tearing into your reports.

Give it a try on your reports and see how these powerful tools can help you get the most out of your Google Analytics data. Happy Segmenting!


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