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Understanding Your Visitors With Segments

Last Updated: May 21, 2021

Your website is made up of unique groups of people. That might be a group of people who use certain devices, people who are looking for a specific type of information, people who visit from a certain source, people from a certain geographic region, or more. Each group behaves differently, at least somewhat, from other groups during a visit. One group might look at a certain page more than another. Another group may be more interested in converting than another group.

To determine how best to improve your website, you can segment your visitors. Segments allow you to view data about one group of visitors and see how those visitors behave. If you view data for all the groups mixed together, without segments, you’ll certainly learn something about your website’s visitors. Viewing data without segments is better than not viewing data at all. However, without segmenting your data into individual groups, the data becomes messy and it is hard to know who your visitors are. With everything mixed together, it also becomes harder to spot problems or new opportunities.

For instance, which group of visitors represents your best customers? You want to make changes to your website to do even more to support these people. On the flip side, which group is having the hardest time using your website? Maybe a technical issue affects this group keeping them from converting no matter how much they’d like to convert. If you aren’t looking at your stats group-by-group, you wouldn’t be able to answer these questions.

How To Segment Visitors in Google Analytics

You can access segments on any Google Analytics report. At the top of the report, you’ll see a button that says “All Users”, which is the default segment Google Analytics applies to your reports. “All Users” means that you’re looking at everybody who came to your website.

To look at a segment or part of that traffic, you’ll want to click on the button next to that that says Add Segment. When you click on the Add Segment button, you’ll see a list of all available segments in your Google Analytics account. By default, Google Analytics provides system segments but you can also create your own segments, which are called custom segments (see next section).

You can select the segment or segments you’d like to use on the current report. Viewing multiple segments at one time allows you to easily compare two groups of visitors, such as visitors who arrived from Paid or Organic. Once selected, click Apply and the report will reload with those segments.

Once you’re done looking at the segment, you can go up to whatever segment you want to turn off and click the down arrow next to the segment. From here, you can hit Remove. That will reload the report without that segment. If you have turned off all segments, Google Analytics will reload with the “All Users” segment.

Custom vs. System Segments

You can segment by just about anything in Google Analytics. Along with built-in (or system) segments, Google Analytics also gives you the ability to create custom segments. For instance, you could segment by people who looked at your about page before continuing on to your product pages before finally reaching your contact page. Or, you could segment to show people who came to your website from an organic Google search and spent at least five minutes visiting your website.

The problem is with so much ability to segment your data you run the risk of segmenting your reports into meaningless oblivion. There is a time and place to use really complicated custom segments. But, for most websites complex segments aren’t needed. For all but a handful of clients I’ve worked with, the built-in segments prove to be the most beneficial. These segments do a great job helping you identify and understand the broad groups of people who are visiting your website. By using these segments you almost always will come across areas you need to improve or areas presenting new opportunities on your website.

Google Analytics System Segments
The available built-in, or system, segments in Google Analytics.

The Three Most Valuable System Segments

#1: Segment by Device

People visiting while using a phone might have different needs and interests than a person visiting your website from their website. This means that people using a certain device comprise a unique group of visitors. Segmenting by a vistor’s device can help you understand these differences so that you know how to deliver what each group of visitors wants.

Google Analytics offers a few different device-oriented segments:

  • Mobile Traffic – This lets you see all smartphone traffic. This is really helpful to determine how people on a smartphone behave differently than everybody else. Do they look at different pages? Spend more time on the site? Bounce away more frequently? Chances are you have a different design for mobile, so this segment will you see just how well that design works (or doesn’t).
  • Tablet Traffic – This segment only shows data for visitors from a tablet device. Like the mobile segment, you probably have a unique design for your website to support tablet visitors and this can help you evaluate how well that design works.
  • Mobile and Tablet Traffic – Your smartphone and tablet designs are probably different. After all, the screen sizes are different between mobile and tablet devices. If your designs are different, then this segment won’t really help you evaluate either design since it has merged two different groups of visitors into one. I’d generally suggest avoiding this segment.
  • Tablet and Desktop Traffic – Your website’s design for tablet and desktop screens might actually be quite similar to each other. If they are, then this segment lets you see how people interact with that design. Of course, even if the designs are visually similar, people on a tablet might have different expectations than somebody visiting from a desktop computer. Maybe the visitor on a desktop computer is more likely to convert than the visitor on a tablet device. In that case, this segment could combine two very different groups of people.

One problem is that Google Analytics doesn’t have a built-in, or system, segment for Desktop Traffic. I don’t know why because it can be really handy (people still do use desktop computers). So, here is a simple custom segment you can add to Google Analytics to segment by Desktop Traffic. Click here and follow the prompts to add this segment to your Google Analytics account.

#2: Segment to Converters

To greatly oversimplify, you have two types of visitors: those who don’t convert and those who do. The work of improving your website should (at least in part) involve getting more people to belong to the group of converters instead of the group of non-converters. A large part of that is going to be comparing these two groups and asking questions, such as: What pages do converters look at that non-converters don’t? Do converters spend more time on the site? Are converters coming from a different traffic source?

Google Analytics offers two system segments: Converters and Non-Converters. (Note: Converters requires you have goals set up. Learn about setting up goal tracking to measure people who convert.) If you turn on both segments at once, every report will show you the data for what each group did. This gives you an instant comparison to start spotting differences between the two groups of visitors. The more differences you identify, the more ideas you can come up with to move people from the non-converter group into the converter group.

Google Analytics Converters Non Converters Segment
Comparing segments, such as converters vs. non-converters, can be helpful to identify how these two groups use your website.

#3: Segment by Traffic Sources

Another great way to group your visitors is by the source that led them to your website. People coming in from a Facebook post may want to just read your latest blog post. People who clicked on an ad, though, may want to convert today. In other words, these are different groups of visitors and you want to understand what each group wants during a visit to your website so that you can best serve each group.

By default, Google Analytics gives you the following traffic source segments:

  • Direct Traffic – representing all visitors that directly came to your website–like typing in your URL into the address bar or clicking on a bookmark. These visitors probably already are familiar with your website and your organization.
  • Organic Traffic – representing all visitors who found your website on an organic search result. In many cases, this might be new people who are finding your website and your organization for the first time.
  • Paid Traffic – this represents all the visitors you directly paid to get to your website. You want to make sure this group of visitors is getting what they want and delivering enough value for your organization to ensure the ads you paid for are worth it.
  • Referral Traffic – this represents visitors who clicked on links to your website from a link somewhere else on the web. By default, this includes social media networks as well.

There’s So Much More

There’s much more you can do with Google Analytics segments to understand your audience. Hopefully, this blog post gave you some ideas. Certainly, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need help working with segments.

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