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Analyzing Keywords with Advanced Segments: How to understand the long-tail

Analyzing the keywords reports in Google Analytics can tell us a lot about the site and the visitors. We can see which sections of the site are most visible to search engines, and we can get a feel for what visitors are expecting when they come to the site.

The problem with keywords reports, though, is that they are so exhaustive. They include every single keyword that brought at least one visit. Every variation of misspelling of a phrase shows up as a separate keyword, even though it returns the same results. When you get into keywords that only brought one visit, it's difficult to discern what is meaningful and what is a statistical anomaly. The bounce rates, time on site and other statistics aren't very helpful at a micro level, because we can't usually extrapolate what to do at a macro level based on a single visit.

Grouping Keywords with Advanced Segments

Advanced segments give us the ability to view keywords as larger, more useful groups. When we group keywords together categorically, we can see larger trends. Then we can make informed decisions about what to change.

The types of groupings will depend on the website, but these are a few suggestions that will apply to most sites.

Branded Keywords
Any keywords that indicate the visitor was looking for you or one of your products/services. Include common misspellings.
Category Keywords
If your site is divided into several logical categories, create a segment for each category. For example, our site could be divided into help article categories ("Before You Start", "Install the Code", etc.) or into sections of the site ("Tools", "Mobile Apps", "Contact", etc.). The idea is to figure out which of those categories a visitor intended to reach based on their search term.
Location Keywords
Many visitors find your website by looking for a product or service within a city or zip code. But looking at those visitors as a group sometimes gives surprising results. One florist, for example, found that many of the visitors searching for flowers in his area were actually located in other states.
People Keywords
If your site has content for specific individuals, it may be helpful to group together the visitors who are looking for a specific person within your organization or listed on your site.

Scan through your entire keywords report to make a list of the different types of search phrases people are using. This may lead to a more customized segment than what is listed here.

Creating Advanced Segments

To create one of these segments, skim through the keywords reports to see what words and phrases visitors are using currently. Make a list of relevant patterns. Then, in the screen for creating a new advanced segment, create a condition for each pattern you identified.

You can also specify whether the segment should contain only organic keywords by creating another condition.

Analyzing with Advanced Segments

From here, you can segment almost all the reports to show only the slice of visitors you've specified. How do their visits compare to overall traffic? Which pages do they actually end up seeing? Are some of these groups more or less likely to convert?

Doing this type of analysis can highlight how effective your SEO strategy is and also how well your site meets different visitor expectations. You can get a good feel for whether your site addresses common questions and expectations efficiently enough.

If your site has search functionality, you can look at the Site Search reports for each segment to see whether visitors had to go looking for more information, or whether it led them to look for different types of information.