Advanced segments versus profile & filters
One of the first things I do when configuring Google Analytics for a client is to make sure they are able to analyse segments rather than some homogeneous blob of traffic which provides little insight into the performance of their website.
To do this, I’ll create multiple filter & profile combinations – and lots of them! Effectively, my profiles are the segments I’m most interested in for ongoing analysis and for optimisation of traffic and conversions.
The obvious segments are the main traffic sources: organic search, pay-per-click and referrals (I’m not too bothered about direct traffic) plus one each for new visitors and returning visitors. I may also create profiles that capture data for specific parts of the site – very useful for analysing departmental content. For SEO, I’ll create additional organic search profiles just for looking at traffic from Google, Yahoo and Bing.
At this point, if you’ve played with Google Analytics to any extent, you’ll be asking why didn’t you just use the advanced segments functionality of Google Analytics. Good question. After all, advanced segments can be created on-the-fly and applied to existing data whereas a profile has no historical data when its created – you have to wait to get a decent sample size before you can analyse anything meaningful.
So why do I love profiles? Because advanced segments, though great for ad-hoc segmentation, have limitations that will likely have you hitting an analytical brick wall. You’ll know when you’ve hit it because you’ll get the message “Advanced Segments: Disabled Learn Why“.
Incidentally, this message is not very obvious and inexperienced users may not notice that their fantastic segment for returning visits from Aberdeen with a bounce rate of less than 30% and more than 4 pages per visit that actually purchased something (pause for breath), stopped being applied 15 mins ago…
Advanced segments – when are they disabled?
- Unique Visitors. Were the 1,000 return visits you had last month from several hundred visitors or just one very enthusiastic one? How many visitors were in your advanced segment ‘PPC with No Bounce’? You’ll need to use a profile to find out. Though your segment is not actually disabled when looking at unique visitors, Google Analytics will just state: N/A.
- Goal Funnel Visualisation. Advanced segments are not available when you’re doing a spot of funnel analysis (it’s what Fridays were made for) so you can’t tell if there’s a particular segment that requires some additional love and persuasion.
- Motion Charts (aka Data Visualisation). A bit baffling at first and not everyone’s cup of tea but they’re incredibly useful for identifying data trends in upto 4 dimensions (cue Dr Who theme). Sadly, not available with advanced segments.
- Pivot Tables. You’ve got the report you want, now you just want to try some natty pivot table analysis…hold on, where did my advanced segment go?
- Intelligence. One of the best things to have come out of Google in 2009 but it doesn’t support advanced segments. ‘Intelligence’ is like having an analytical buddy. It has an automated alert function that sieves through historical data identifying anomalies that it presents to you to disregard or, if you deem them worthy, to investigate further. Once you switch to Intelligence, your advanced segment is disabled. Not a show stopper but it’s nice to view alerts by your custom segment (which you will be able to in a profile).
Don’t get me wrong here, advanced segments are incredibly powerful and are complementary to the creation of multiple profiles. I particularly like that I can compare up to four, highly granular segments within the same report. They are also incredibly flexible and customisable but…there are limitations.
So if you’re serious about your analysis, plan ahead: segment, segment and, er, segment again. Make a list of all the major segments you think you’ll be interested in then create filters and profiles to capture just that data. You never know when you’ll need them. Just think of advanced segments as the icing on a well set-up profile cake!