May 5, 2015

What are Segments in Google Analytics?

Segments, or segmentation in Google Analytics allows a user to view data at a more granular level.

Imagine that you posted a blog on your site - the grab below a recent bwired post.

And you take a look at this particular URL in Google Analytics. You’ll navigate through the Behaviour tab on the left hand side and choose All Pages under Site Content. Here we see a list of all the URLs on your site. We’re interested in the performance of a blog that was recently posted on our site.

Locating this post in the list of URLs provides some high level data. We can see:

  1. The amount of Pageviews it has received during the specified date range.
  2. The average time on page.
  3. The Bounce Rate, the Exit rate and we are also able to get a feel of how the page is performing relative to the rest of our content.

And while these are reasonably useful measures, it’s hard to make any truly informed marketing decisions based on these inputs alone. If the goal is to view the time people spend reading your blog, you can definitely capture that here, but what if you wanted to understand whether people from different referral groups behaved in different ways - LinkedIn, vs Facebook users, Google, vs your emarketing initiatives - you could use segmentation.

How do I use segmentation in Google Analytics?

In this context, we are trying to understand which of our referrers sends the best quality traffic. We have identified the following channels as directing traffic to our site:

  1. Business email.
  2. Facebook posts.
  3. Direct traffic.
  4. Google organic traffic.
  5. LinkedIn.

If the average time spent reading this blog was 2:03 minutes and we’ve spread our marketing efforts evenly across the above channels, have we achieved the best ROI (return on investment) we could have for our effort?

In order to achieve this, we open the relevant link to view it in isolation. This enables us to choose a secondary dimension, or segment our data. We’re going to use the Full Referrer dimension in this context.


Looking exclusively at time on page, these channels start to tell an interesting story. Remembering our average time on page was 2:03, the following segmentation allows us to make a more informed decision:

  1. Business email - 0:41 av time.
  2. Facebook posts - 4:52 av time.
  3. Direct traffic - 0:20 av time.
  4. Google organic traffic - 0:57 av time.
  5. LinkedIn - 1:10 av time.

The best results here are clearly from inbound links posted on Facebook. If we consider that many of the people who may have read this article on Facebook are people the author may know, the empathy for the writer may be greater than through more anonymous channels. The simple answer may not be put more effort into Facebook, but it clearly is favourable.

LinkedIn may produce a similar result, especially if we observe the engagement is by people known to the author. The organic Google traffic, while low in terms of unique users, looks the most promising. As I can’t get keywords out of Google Analytics, I can trace data through Webmaster Tools. But more on that another day.

In conclusion:

Instead of writing a blog, posting it to my site and assuming that the top level Google Analytics stats enable me to make an informed decision, I have used segmentation to define where the most engaged traffic has originated from via basic segmentation. Google Analytics offers countless ways to segment data - by country, state, browser, device, time and more. It’s simple to use and the translation into ROI against effort is amplified exponentially.

About the blogger.
Jason Healey is bwired’s Head of Delivery. A passionate digital strategist, Jason loves mining data in Google Analytics and promoting approaches to problem solving aimed at improving your digital ecosystem. Read other posts by Jason about Strategy, Google Analytics and Digital Marketing.

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