As anyone who has looked at the plethora of web metrics data available knows, even for a moderately active website, segmentation is the key to gaining insight. It allows you to group similar visitors e.g. customers, subscribers, contributors, engagers etc. together for comparison. Therefore instead of viewing metrics that are average of averages, the numbers actually mean something.

For example, quoting the Average Order Value for all customers is pretty meaningless. Knowing that the Average Order Value for visitors that have downloaded your PDF catalogue is twice that as people who haven’t, is a KPI that values your digital collateral. It allows you to make informed decisions about its prominence, content, update frequency, cross-sell and up-sell opportunities.

[ After defining and configuring goals, I view segmentation as your next most important step for your best practice web analytics setup. ]

Segmentation is important you – no, critical. So what options are available?

Within Google Analytics, there are 3 ways to segment your visitors:

  1. As you drill down through your reports (clicking on data links)
  2. Using profile filters to provide a dedicated profile
  3. Using Advanced Segments

Drilling down into your data is intuitive and self-explanatory and happens as you navigate through your reports. However, what can cause confusion are the segment options available to you using options 2 and 3 – Profile Filters or Advanced Segments.

Profile Filters and Advanced Segments are complementary features. Often I use both, first discovering segments within reports using the Advanced Segments menu. This is a quick and efficient method, because I segment the data immediately and can look back at historical data using the same segment. Then if required, I use Profile Filters to create dedicated report sets just for that segment.

I consider profile filters a longer-term segmentation technique—a permanent way of segmenting visitors. Though profile filters can be changed or removed at any time, the main difference is that once data is segmented out for example, removing the filter does not restore historical un-filtered data—the removed segment is permanently lost.

Advanced segments on the other hand, allow you to apply and remove segments without removing data. The table below compares the usage of each and suggests when one method may be more appropriate than the other.

Table: Comparing Advanced Segments versus Profile Filter uses

Advanced Segments

Profile Filters

Modify a report view at the visit level.

Modify incoming data at the pageview level to create separate profiles (reports).

Applied to current and historical data.

Applied only to new data from the time the filter is created.

Instantaneous results—once they’re created, you can view segmented data in your reports immediately.

Aimed at longer-term usage where once set, the segment is unlikely to change.

Allow the use of conditional values on metrics, for example, greater than, less than.

Only text string matches can be included—no numerical conditionals are available.

Set up by report users, making them safe—no data can be lost.

Set up by administrators, because data can be permanently deleted.

Test facility available.

Take 3–4 hours for data to populate reports.

Combine statements to meet multiple conditions.

Use cascading filters for combination effect.

Set on a per-user basis—segments can be shared with other report users, but cannot be used to hide data.

Set on a per-profile basis, therefore access to segmented data can be controlled separately form other data.

Regular expression statements are not limited, though the total combined for a segment with multiple statements must not exceed 30,000 characters.

Regular expression statement limited to 255 characters.

Summary for Choosing Advanced Segments versus Profile Filters

Use profile filters to remove “noise” segments from your reports, such as your own staff visitors or your agency, which can be excluded from your target audience. Apply profile filters when the segment defined is a long-term one and unlikely to change—for example, your country offices wish to analyse only visits from within their region, or your support department wishes to focus only on help desk visitors. Use profile filters when you wish to control the level of access, such as providing paid search data to an external agency.

Conversely, use advanced segments when you are drilling down to understand visitor behaviour, for example, comparing the performance of a particular marketing campaign against another, viewing mobile visitors versus desktop visitors, social network versus search engine visitors, or determining whether customers browse differently from non-customers. Apply advanced segments when you need to use conditional operators, such as visitors who spend more than 30 seconds on site or visitors who spend more than $100 per transaction.

As always, your feedback and comments are much appreciated.