How to Build Custom Segments in Google Analytics

Sometimes when using Google Analytics I feel like I’m a passenger of a jet plane thrust into the pilot seat. So many switches and knobs and nothing clearly marked.  I know I am at the seat of something powerful but getting it to do anything I want seems like a chore (and potentially dangerous).

Luckily since Analytics is just reporting on data from a website, damaging anything is nearly impossible which means playing with the switches and knobs is absolutely okay, but what happens when the playing is done? Getting meaningful, actionable information from Analytics requires some very specific switch flipping and knob twisting.  In the following sections I’m going to demonstrate to you one of the many very specific ways you can customize Google Analytics to get specific information from all that data.

For the following techniques to work, you will need to update your Analytics code on your website so it is using the Universal Analytics code (ua in front of the long number instead of ga) and enable the demographics and interests reports by adding a few lines of code to the script on your website.

Once that is done, you can get started with building custom segments in Analytics.

Custom Segments: A Worm’s Eye View of Your Data

Before getting into the how, let’s discuss the what. A custom segment is a way of filtering your data so you are looking at a very specific cross-section.  When you normally log into Analytics you see all the traffic from everyone who visited your site in the time range you’ve selected and that is great. This is a wonderful number to report to your boss to determine if more or less people visited the site than the previous time range.  That is great on the surface but does that really answer any questions? Does that tell you what to do next to increase the traffic for the next pre-established time range?

A custom segment can let you dissect the traffic, find out who (in a very general sense) visited, who is your most engaged visitors, who returns, who leaves quickly, and for those of us who live or die by the traffic taking some sort of action on our site, who completes certain goals.

Now let’s see how to create one of these custom segments and how to use it.

Sign into Your Analytics Account

This step is obvious, I know, but I like to make sure I’m as detailed as possible. In order to create a custom segment, you need to be logged into your Google Analytics account which you can find at https://www.google.com/analytics/.

Select Admin from the Navigation Menu then Segments

creating a custom segment in Google Analytics - Step 2

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Select New Segment

Click on the New Segment button and you will be at the specific control panel to start building a custom segment.

Create Your Custom Segment

As you can see from this screen, there are a lot of different elements you can use to create a custom segment. I’m not going to discuss each and every one of these elements, but you can click through and see all the ways you can create very specific views of the data in Google Analytics.

Demographics

There is the demographic information which allows you to analyze your visitors in terms of age, gender, and interests. How does Google know this information? It is taken from people who use Chrome, who are logged into a Google product when they do their searches, and by the invisible Google employees peering over their shoulders as they do their searches.

Technology

Are your visitors using the latest and greatest of computers, tablets, or smartphones running the hot new operating system all the kids are talking about or do your visitors come to your site based on an old AOL dial-up account? You can find out how different users of technology react to your site with these categorizations.

Behavior

These controls allow you to segment your visitors by the number of times they visit and the time they spend on your site.

Date of First Session

By dividing up your traffic based on when they were first exposed to your site you can probably not get very useful data, but this allows you to do it.

Traffic Sources

If you are a rampant user of Google URL builder to track linking campaigns, social campaigns, and pretty much any other marketing effort, then you can use those elements (campaigns, sources, etc.) to segment your traffic which makes it incredibly useful to find out if a campaign actually generated

Conditions

This is the fun one where you can take a look at the visitors to your site who have reached specific goals.  Keep an eye on this one because it is the one I use the most.

Sequences

Much like goals, sequences allows you to take a look at visitors who do a series of things on your site in a very specific order.

Example of Creating a Segment

The segment I’m interested in is women in the age range of 25 to 44 who filled out the application on the website.  The first step is to name it. Don’t be clever, here, be clear.  You will be referencing this without being able to see all the elements you’ve built into it.  In my sample, I’m naming my custom segment Women 25 to 44 Who Converted. I think that is fairly transparent especially since on this site there is only one definition of conversion. If you have several different goals then you will want to make sure the segment name contains the goal.

creating a custom segment in Google Analytics

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As you can see, I marked 25-34 and 35-44 because that is the age range I want to look at. I marked Female as well because this segment is just looking at women.

creating a custom segment in Google Analytics - Step 4

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Then I bounce down to Conditions and then under Goal Conversions I select the Goal completed matching the goal I set up for my application on the site.

Bam! Save it and call it done. That is a completed Custom Segment.

How Do You Use a Custom Segment?

Once you have a custom segment you can rush out and apply it to your favorite Analytics reports to get brand new insights. In the case of my example segment, I am going to use it first to see what part of my overall traffic is made up of women 25 to 44 who convert.  I go to Reporting, select Acquisition, and then All Traffic.

At the top of the report there is a button that says + Add Segment.  I click that button, find my Women 25 -44 Who Convert segment and apply it with the All Sessions segment. I now get the normal report I’m used to but it has a break out of just the custom segment. Now I can see just how much of my traffic are women in the specified age range who have filled out the application. That is pretty good but not actionable. It is more an interesting number to share with coworkers. What is more interesting is what page brought these women to my site.

There are a few ways to get this information but I like the cleanest looking report, so I go to Behavior, select Site Content, then Landing Pages.  You know what? I don’t need to see all the sessions in this report, I just want to focus on my custom segment. At the top of the screen where it says all sessions select the drop down box and remove that segment.  Once applied, the new report just shows the custom segment and I can see what the most visiting landing page is that causes women 25 to 44 to fill out the application.  Now I know if I am going to link to a page, which page I want to get this segment to land on.  Yes, there are other factors in play and since the page converting this segment happens to be a location specific page, I won’t send people from outside the region to the page.

With this segment set up though, I can track down which blog posts successfully convert this demographic and which pages caused them to bounce.

This has been a very quick run through on how to create custom segments. I decided I needed to write this guide because I actually want to tackle a larger problem some of us face in regards to learning about our site visitors and knowing how to create a custom segment is a vital part of solving that problem.  If you already knew how to create a custom segment, feel free to tell me what I did wrong and if you didn’t know how to create a custom segment, this is just scratching the surface of playing with the abundant data housed in Google Analytics.  I’ll be referencing this post in the future when I describe how to use Google Analytics to build out a rudimentary marketing profile.