How to use Google Analytics to… segment your audience

As the title might suggest, I’m planning for this blog post to be part of a series aimed at helping you get the most out of your Google Analytics (GA) data.

Not got Google Analytics set-up yet? Start here:

In this guide I’m going to help you pick through the, sometimes overwhelming, reams of data Google Analytics can give you to help you root out the gems of actionable data that can help you make your website work harder for your business.

What is a segment?

Segments in Google Analytics are ways to divide up chunks of your audience.

A screenshot showing how segments in Google Analytics are set-up

You can divide them up in myriad ways:

Audience segments


  • Users that do/don’t visit a certain page
  • Users that do/don’t complete a certain action (e.g. a sign-up, purchase etc.)
  • Users that start/end their visit (land) on a certain page

etc. The list is, almost, endless.


  • Users on a certain device-type (e.g. mobile users, tablet users)
  • Users on a specific device (e.g. iPhone X users, Samsung S7 users)
  • Users whose IP is from a specific country or city (e.g. users from Panama; users from Sunderland)


  • Users that arrived on your site from a certain source (e.g. Facebook; organic Google searches)
  • Users that arrived on your site from a referrer or affiliate of yours

All of these (and whole host more) can be cross-referenced with each other – if, like me, you did electrical circuits in Physics at school, you may remember the AND, NOT, OR gates. E.g only light the bulb if button A AND button B are pressed; or only light it if button A but NOT button B etc.

A circuit diagram showing a battery, two switches and two bulbs
Circuit diagram image | Jie Qi via Flickr

You can apply that same logic to segments in Google Analytics.

So you can create a segment (should you so wish) that shows you:

iPhone X users > from Mexico > that landed on your new campaign page > that arrive after clicking a link on Facebook

You get the gist.

Out of the box segments

Google, handily, set-up a bunch of segments which you can apply to your data. Even by doing that you’re taking a big step ahead of your competition. Well done.

Way too many people have Google Analytics on their site and just use the default 'All users' segment.

That doesn’t make them bad people (OK, it does… a bit) but it definitely makes them less informed.

Don’t be that person.

Start off with the out of the box segments. Play around with them, see. There are some really interesting ones in there that’ll give you some good insights.

Google Analytics default segments

  1. Bounced Sessions
  2. Converters
  3. Direct Traffic
  4. Made a Purchase
  5. Mobile and Tablet Traffic
  6. Mobile Traffic
  7. Multi-session Users
  8. New Users
  9. Non-bounce Sessions
  10. Non-Converters
  11. Organic Traffic
  12. Paid Traffic
  13. Performed Site Search
  14. Referral Traffic
  15. Returning Users
  16. Search Traffic
  17. Sessions with Conversions
  18. Sessions with Transactions
  19. Single Session Users
  20. Tablet and Desktop Traffic
  21. Tablet Traffic

Phew! Quite a few to be getting along with!

Some of these won’t work out of the gate without some configuration on your site – say the “Sessions with Conversions”. If you haven’t told Google Analytics what a conversion is on your site then obviously this segment won’t work so well!

Start with some simple comparisons though:

  • How do mobile, tablet and desktop users compare on your site?
  • Which device-type is the bulk of your:
    • traffic?
    • sales?
  • How long does each audience segment spend on your site?
  • How many pages, on average do they view?

Already you’re starting to build-up a clearer picture about your audience. You may already be formulating ideas for ‘custom’ segments you want to make yourself. Great! Jot those down – we’ll come back for them later.

You can ‘Edit’ and tweak these segments too, or ‘Copy’ them to use them as a base to make your own segments (this can save you a bit of time).

This, however, leads me to the next caveat:

What’s the difference between Sessions and Users?

Users and Sessions are different things. Some people use them interchangeably. Don't.

They shouldn’t – and knowing the difference is crucial to understanding your Google Analytics data.

You can read how Google Analytics define a session here and how Google Analytics defines a User here.

The summary is:

What defines a session in Google Analytics

  • Time bound (default is 30 minutes)
  • Expires after 30 minutes
    • Or at midnight (in the timezone you set in Google Analytics)
    • Or if a user enters, exits and then re-enters your website on different campaign tracking (e.g. Facebook click; leaves; organic search click)
  • A single User can have multiple Sessions.

Technically, the inverse is not true (a Session cannot have multiple Users) but unless you have some form of sign-on or authentication on your site it’s worth remembering that a single person visiting your website on their laptop and then again on their phone will be two Users – they’d also be two separate sessions too (or more, if they visit multiples times, with more than 30 minutes between each visit).

What defines a user in Google Analytics

  • A ‘unique ID’ which Google Analytics attributes to users (cookie-based)
  • An individual gets a new unique ID:
    • the first time they pick-up your site’s Google Analytics cookie
    • the first time they pick-up any of your sub-site’s Google Analytics cookies
    • on each new device they use (e.g. laptop, mobile)
    • if they clear their cookies
    • if they have automated cookie blocking/removal
    • if they use another browser (e.g. Chrome, Firefox)
    • if they haven’t actively visited your site for two years (default)
    • A whole bunch of other ways I probably forgot.

Summary – you should have fewer users than sessions but do not confuse users for people.

If me, one person, visits your site on my laptop, then my phone, my laptop again but in a different browser, then I clear my cookies and visit again – I just got 4 unique IDs, in the space of a few hours.

Yes “users = people” is a useful proxy or shorthand if you’re explaining things to people – but beware of what you’re saying (or hearing) – they’re not the same.

Why does this matter for segments?

This matters because if you define a segment to include (or exclude) traffic based on certain criteria you need to be very clear about what your segment does.

If you set-up a segment to include only sessions which started via a click from Facebook that’s very different from the exact same segment set-up to only show users which started via a click from Facebook.

This is easier with an example.

Here’s a screenshot of me doing this for traffic over the last week to that came via Twitter.

An animated screenshot showing Google Analytics and selecting between sessions and users

Personally, I don’t think Google really help this confusion. Watch the graph on the right when I flip from the default ‘Sessions’ to ‘Users’… it doesn’t change.

It whirrs and loads like it’s going to change – but then it shows the same number, making people think: “Oh, I changed that setting but… well, nothing changed. The result’s the same, so they’re the same.”


Look more closely. The data is there – just a little bit hidden. Underneath that big, eye-catching, whirring, loading graph – are numbers showing Users and Sessions. I know the gif isn’t terrific – but I highlight the numbers you need to look out for, below the graph, with the pointer.

More confusion: new segments default to ‘sessions’ but the numbers show users first, with sessions underneath.

Key point: they’re different. Pay attention to that stuff. Know what your segment is measuring, how and why.

Getting useful data from SEgments

OK, I’ve kept you waiting long enough. I hear you:

“Enough with the lecture already – how do I get useful data that I can actually do something with!?”

Let’s do this with some of those handy out-of-the-box segments Google handily provides:

  1. Add the “Mobile and Tablet Traffic” segment
  2. Copy the “Mobile and Tablet Traffic” segment
  3. Edit your copy (give it the name ‘Exclude Mobile and Tablet Traffic’
  4. Switch the “Include/Exclude” filter drop-down to ‘Exclude’

You now have two segments one showing only mobile and tablet device traffic to your site and one showing every visit not categorised as mobile or tablet (basically all the desktop traffic).

Irritatingly ‘Desktop’ is not one of the default segments Google offers – not sure why. It does offer ‘Desktop and Tablet’ – not sure why.

Crucially you’ll have three segments active in Google Analytics now: All Users; Mobile and Tablet Traffic; and your new Exclude Mobile and Tablet Traffic.

You’ll have three lovely, different coloured lines showing you the trend in traffic of these segments.

First Check: Any major differences?

Does anything jump out at you about the traffic lines?

In my example I’ve set the date to 1st October to the day before I’m writing this post (the last day Google Analytics has complete data for). This is so I can capture a good spread of Optimisey users. The last e was 19th October, so this should be a good sample window of my target audience.

If you find the jagged zig-zag of lines confusing, try switching from the default ‘Day’ view to ‘Weeks’ to get a clearer, smoother trend line.

We can see, from the Optimisey traffic, that desktop traffic (the green line) is ahead of mobile and tablet traffic (orange line).

That’s expected – many of my audience are reading my stuff in the office or whilst they’re at work (it’s work-related, it’s OK).

When the blue line (all users) goes up, the green line (desktop users) follows.

What’s this like for your site? Which audience segment is the biggest chunk of your users?

Drilling in a bit

Switching back to the ‘Day’ view there is something which jumps out at me.

A screenshot from Google Analytics, showing three segments and their corresponding traffic

Right around here, the trend of ‘desktop beats mobile and tablet’, is flipped on it’s head.

What happened here? Why did my desktop traffic (green) dip and my mobile traffic (orange) stay fairly constant?

It was a weekend (Saturday and Sunday the 21st and 22nd of October) – right after the first Optimisey event.

I’ll spare you the detail of what did happen – but already we’re starting to identify trends and data that will bear further scrutiny.

Perhaps there was something I did that weekend that especially chimed with my audience on mobiles – some digestible nugget or an especially hilarious Tweet (I wish!) that promoted more mobile traffic.

Once I can identify what it was – it makes it easier to repeat and you’re on your way to finding useful, actionable data from your analytics.

Second checK: Health check

Mobile users are, on average flightly little birds.

They dip into content, get what they want and leave.

They have the attention span of gnats – honestly.

Seriously – we’ve all been there. When was the last time you sat down for a really deep dig into a website on your mobile. Most of us don’t. If we’re on our phones we’re usually on the move and therefore in a hurry. We want ‘x’ quickly and then we have that meeting, movie, bar to go to and we’re off.

But health check that: Are your mobile users spending less time on your site than desktop users? Are they viewing fewer pages per session?

All those metrics you get in the “Audience > Overview” screen in Google Analytics – are they what you’d expect them to be?

If your mobile users are spending considerably less time on your site and viewing fewer pages etc. maybe the mobile experience is lousy? Or could use some improvement? When was the last time you checked your own site on your phone? I mean really checked it – not an “Oh, it still works – good.” check.

Third check: What content are they reading?

This is where it gets interesting.

Head to the Behaviour > Site Content > All pages menu in Google Analytics.

Now, in views like this the order in which you have your segments set-up becomes even more important.

If you’ve been following this guide in your own GA set-up you will have, from left to right: All users (blue); Mobile and Tablet Traffic (orange); and the segment we set-up, Exclude mobile and tablet traffic (green).

This page in Google Analytics (and indeed most pages where you’re ordering things by popularity – say, country users are in) is ordered by the most popular pages for the first segment.

So, if you’re looking at the ten most popular pages on your site, it will order them by which are the most popular pages for whichever segment you have first.

What this means is, if for your second segment (mobile and tablet users in this example), the About page is the most popular – but it’s only, say 25th most popular for All usersyou won’t see it in the top ten.

The good news is you can overcome this – easily. If you know how.

Let’s make things easier for this example. Let’s remove the “All users” segment. For this example it’s not terribly useful. Hit the little drop-down arrow on that segment and hit “remove”.

Now we have Mobile and Tablet Traffic in blue and Exclude Mobile and Tablet traffic in orange.

The list of pages below should have shuffled as – remember – whichever segment you have first, sets the order.

For the top five most read pages, in the date window I’m looking at, are for mobile and tablet traffic are:

  1. The homepage
  2. A blog post about Google My Business Posts and FAQs
  3. The OAP ninja game/puzzle walkthrough
  4. The page about the next Optimisey SEO MeetUp
  5. The page about previous Optimsey SEO MeetUps

Now – if I want to see what content my non-mobile users read, all I have to do is drag and drop that segment and swap it into first place:

Animated screenshot showing how to swap segments around in Google Analytics

Simple huh?

And look, the list of pages re-orders itself, putting things in the order of whichever segment comes first.

Now my top 5 pages now looks like this:

  1. The homepage
  2. The SEO Advice hub page
  3. The page about the next Optimisey SEO MeetUp
  4. The OAP ninja game/puzzle walkthrough
  5. My page of tips on the best SEO tools

Not a huge change, three of the top five are the same – but even they are in a different order. And two pages are entirely different.

Even from this small sample, using just two segments, I can start to build a clearer picture of what my audience wants and on which device.

Users on mobile are: reading quick blog tips (like the Google Posts guide) and checking up on the events. By digging into the data a bit I can see that the spike on the ‘Next Event’ page was around the first event itself – so people checking the venue, address, speaker details etc.

And then, afterwards, coming back to check the slidedecks and photos from the event.

Users on desktop are much more ‘browsy’ – they’re looking through the free SEO advice on offer and spending, proportionately, more of their time on pages like the best SEO tools and offers page.

Try it for yourself

As a special tip – you don’t have to build custom segments yourself. If you feel confident to, give a go (bearing in mind those caveats above about knowing what it is you’re filtering in/out).

If you don’t – when you hit the grey [+] to add a new segment to your view, hit “Import from Gallery” to browse a selection of segments other people have built and published.

There are segments in here from really smart people, like Avinash Kaushik, that you can use – for free.

This Google gallery has a over 4,000 segments available at time of writing. If you can think of it, someone’s probably already built it.

Now, go play with the segments!

This is just a taster of what segments can help you do. I have more blogs around this planned – but tell me what you want. Leave a question in the comments – help me help you!

What are your favourite segments? How do you use them? Let me know in a comment below!

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