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Advanced Segments in Google Analytics

Advanced Segmentation is arguably the most powerful feature ever introduced to Google Analytics. It allows you to specify a set of criteria and view almost every standard report for just the visits that meet that definition without needing to reprocess data or wait for more data to fill in. New applications for Advanced Segments are still found everyday.

For example, use Advanced Segments to analyze every aspect of the visits that interacted with your gift module before noon but didn't complete a purchase. Create multiple segments and compare them against each other in the same report.

In short, Google Analytics now has a powerful ad hoc reporting mechanism.

Managing Advanced Segments


In the upper right hand corner of the gray bar along almost every report is a button for Advanced Segments. Clicking it will pop up a list of segments available to that profile. Default segments are prepackaged segments provided by Google. Custom segments are those that you have created and given the profile access to.

You can access a list of segments either by clicking the link here that says "Manage your advanced segments" or by clicking "Advanced Segments" in the left-hand menu under My Customizations.

From this list you can apply a segment to the reports by clicking on its name. You can edit or delete a segment. You can create a shareable link that will load the definition into another user's account. You can also copy a default segment and edit the definition to create a custom segment.

Creating Advanced Segments

An easy drag and drop interface is provided for nearly every metric and dimension stored by Google Analytics: page title, browser, goal starts, product SKUs, etc. Select a metric or dimension, drop it into the dotted box and give it a condition to match. You can do a combination of different conditions until your segment matches a specific type of visit.

Then test your segment by clicking the "Test Segment" box in the upper and lower right-hand corners. This will show you how many visits match each condition and how many match the whole segment.

Ad Hoc Reporting with Advanced Segments

The most difficult aspect of Advanced Segments is determining worthwhile use cases. They open up the data to analysis that has never been possible in Google Analytics before, and it may take some time for your head to stop spinning.

Advanced Segments are best used to answer questions. For example, if you've wondered whether visits in the morning are different than visits made at night, you can just create an Advanced Segment for each and compare them. For the purposes of whetting your creativity, here are some other real-world examples:

  • Visits that start to checkout but don't finish
  • Visits that sign up for an email list
  • Visits that came from a certain type of keyword
  • "Engaged visits" (eg. that include x pageviews or y time on site)
  • Visits that view certain types of pages (eg. in certain categories, by certain authors, etc.)
  • Visits that buy products within a specific category

The sky is the limit here. You can also create a segment that is the negative of each of the examples above (i.e. visits that never start the checkout process, visits that don't sign up for the email list, etc.). They are especially helpful for ad hoc reporting. Because they are so quick and easy to create, you can create one whenever a question occurs to you.

Things to Know About Advanced Segments

There are two caveats to Advanced Segments.

  1. While they apply to most reports, they don't apply to every one. They can't be applied to funnel visualization reports, for example, and they are disabled when you use multiple dimensions.
  2. Depending on the amount of overall site traffic and the size of the segment being defined, the reports may display sampled data. The data is still statistically significant and the trends are definable, but you can't always count on the numbers being exact or lining up exactly across all reports. Because of this, when Advanced Segments are used to explore a very small group, the numbers might shift around slightly when moving from one report to the next.

Both of these caveats tend to be minor limitations in day-to-day reporting, but it's important to know that they exist.

Keep in mind that Advanced Segments apply to visits, not pages or visitors. For example, if you define a segment where the URL matches the home page, it will display all visits that included the home page at some point. It won't show you a report of only that page, nor will it show you all the visitors that ever hit that page in any previous visit.