Google Analytics Advanced Segments: A Conversion Optimizer’s BFF

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Google Analytics BFFMarketers should take advantage of Google Analytics Advanced Segments to increase their conversion rate, consciously direct media spend, and enhance personalization.

Good conversion rate optimization (CRO) depends on knowing exactly who you're speaking to, what their needs are, and how they behave while they're visiting your website. In past posts I've talked about how to understand your visitors' behavior from an evolutionary standpoint, but it's important to complement those insights with real data about your actual visitors. One powerful option that deserves mention is Google Analytics Advanced Segments.

Google's segment builder takes a few minutes of focused attention to learn, but once you have an overall sense of how it works, then building segments is just a matter of making a short series of menu choices. Google is good at providing tutorials and your Analytics dashboard will also provide a number of templates so that you don't have to build all your own segments from scratch. Learning to use this tool will enable you to accurately target your conversion optimization program to the most valuable slices of your user audience.

What's New About Advanced Segments

Prior to introducing its latest update of Advanced Segments in July 2013, Google Analytics only allowed you to view the actions of users during an individual session or visit ("visit-based behavior"). It was not possible to track the cumulative behavior of a group of users over a calendar period. Now, you can define a particular group of your website visitors and track many aspects of their behavior over a date range of up to three calendar months. In other words, instead of being limited to questions like, "Which users spent more than $50 in a visit?," with Advanced Segments you can now expand that question and ask, "Did anyone spend more than $50 during the past month?" This cumulative tracking of behavior helps you understand your user's buying cycle and typical sequence of page views on your site.

How to Use Advanced Segments

Segments are simply new ways to slice and dice the data in a Google Analytics report that you already have, so once you define a segment, you only have to click "Apply" and the new segmented report will be displayed immediately.

The first step to using the segment builder is to open one of your reports and click the arrow under the title. This opens a dashboard that includes a few default segment options as well as any custom segments that you have previously created.

Click on the button labeled "Create a new segment" to open up the segment builder.

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Your Google Analytics segment builder has a sidebar on the left. The top six options on this sidebar are the menu buttons you need in order to create basic filters: "Demographics," "Behavior," "Technology," "Date of First Visit," "Traffic Sources," and "E-Commerce." Choosing any of these buttons opens up its menu of options for you to check off, giving you the ability to specify the basic characteristics of the segment you want to examine. The bottom two buttons, "Conditions" and "Sequences," are the advanced options. They add a method of filtering that fine-tunes the segments you built in the basic steps.

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Here's how these last two menu options in the segment builder work:

  • Conditions: Using "and" and "or" statements, which Google walks you through in a very understandable fashion in their help page and video tutorial, you can apply certain conditions either to "users" or to "visits." For example, you can create a data slice that includes all users who use a certain device AND take action on your site (convert).
  • Sequence: Also giving you a clear choice between users or visits, sequences allow you to define the exact pattern of user behavior that you would like to examine. You can define any sequence of page views you like, and then see which users followed that pattern when they were on your site. For instance, you could look at purchasing data from people who viewed your blog page vs. those people who never clicked on your blog.

When you use the full range of options that the segment builder gives you, you can slice up your report data into the configuration that makes the most sense for your company. For example, you could look at the conversion rates for the segment of women between the ages of 20 and 30 in California who clicked on a particular ad on their iPhones and went to your site at least twice. Furthermore, side-by-side comparison of different segments offers increased insight. You can see, for instance, if the users who downloaded your Android shopping app spent more than those who did not.

Now that you have acquired this new power of X-ray vision into your users' behavior and characteristics, you'll find that testing and personalization suddenly become a lot easier. Two immediate benefits include:

  • Prioritizing tests: A certain amount of A/B testing is a good idea, but sometimes people focus on testing the wrong things. They can also fall victim to OCT (obsessive compulsive testing). It's important to concentrate your A/B testing on the pages which get the most traffic, or on those that play an important role in your conversion funnel. By using the sequencing option in your segments, you can see which of your pages were used by people who purchased, and which ones were used by people who browsed but didn't go on to buy.
  • Delivering personalized content: As I pointed out in January, personalization is one of 2014's emerging trends. Marketers can dynamically display personalized content by combining their own customer relationship management database with detailed user data from segmented Google Analytics reports. Segmentation is also perfect for preparing individualized email campaigns, and the insights it provides into your most valued prospects allows you to send out unique special offers that are custom-tailored to those users' needs and buying habits.

Why You Need to Use Advanced Segments

In addition to the reasons mentioned above, the advanced segments tool allows you to consciously direct your media spend. You can see which of your Web pages were viewed the most by users who later took some action, and you can use this information to shape further campaigns. You can also filter the advice to be device-specific, so you can see how your conversion optimization program is working on all digital platforms. Which campaigns are really driving your website visitors to act? Which segments are your high-value users? This type of detailed information allows you to target special offers and other content specifically to your highest-spending users.

Spend a few minutes getting acquainted with the finely honed segmenting tools that Google Analytics offers, and give them a whirl. I'll be interested to hear what kind of results you get.


This article originally appeared in Tim's ClickZ column May 13, 2014

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