Web Traffic Segments

Last month, the Haden Interactive website had a spell of popularity in Russia. More than 1,000 visitors from Moscow and St. Petersburg clicked through on a post of ours shared on Reddit. We had a 5,570.97% increase in traffic from Moscow and a 11,362.50% increase from St. Petersburg. I like to think of these visitors sharing their enchantment with our story in the coffee shops of St. Petersburg, but I know that traffic from Russia is often spambot traffic. We had no leads from Russia last month. That traffic, whether human or not, is probably not important to us as a business. This is a very clear example of a case in which web traffic segments can improve our data and make it more actionable.

The screenshot here shows segments chosen not by geography, but by their behavior. At our lab site, we see a different pattern of behavior among our faithful visitors than we do among all users. Segmenting that group lets us look at the behavior of that group in particular. For some of our clients, the network on which people visit is important, while for others, checking the behavior of tablet users can be helpful.

Web traffic segments let us look at all the reports in Google Analytics, using only a particular segment of our visitors.

When should you use web traffic segments?

Sometimes you just want an overview of your web analytics. You want to know that traffic is increasing and make sure that everything is going well. Google Analytics puts the good news in green and the bad news in red, so you can tell at a glance how things are going. But that information doesn’t always tell the whole story. For example, if we had looked no further than the basic reports, we would have had the impression that our social media traffic had increased tremendously.

There we’d be, congratulating our social media specialist and feeling all smug about our progress, when actually we just had a Reddit in Russia event.

Often, it makes sense to approach your analytics with a specific question.

Say you run a barre class studio. You’ve been running ads on Facebook, sending out email newsletters, and doing an ongoing Adwords campaign, as well as blogging and working on your website’s SEO. You sell class passes online and you have that e-commerce set up as a goal in Google Analytics. You want to compare the conversion rates of your various marketing campaigns and see what gives you the best ROI.

You look at the Channels report and see that you have a 4.28% conversion rate in organic traffic. Adwords is showing an 11.85% conversion rate. Facebook has a 2.31% conversion rate. Clearly, you should quit the Facebook ads and put all your efforts into Adwords, right?

Maybe not. Suppose that you set up a segment in analytics showing people in your town. Now you can look at all the reports and see data only for the people who live close enough to sign up for your classes. You see an 18.04% conversion rate for organic search for people in your town. This means that people outside your town are reading your blog posts… but local people are reading them and then signing up for classes.

Your Adwords information is about the same for local visitors as for all users. As it happens, you geo-targeted your Adwords, so they’re shown only to people in your geographic region.

Facebook has a much higher conversion rate for local people, just like organic search. Unfortunately, you didn’t geo-target your Facebook ads. This new information reminds you to get in and change the settings on your Facebook ads so they’ll be shown only to people who can actually come to your classes.

Use traffic segments whenever you have questions about a specific segment of your traffic. For local businesses, it makes sense to set up a segment including your service area and to use it regularly. Read about another example.

Setting up web traffic segments

You can set up segments in your Google Analytics account in several different ways. In every case, start at your Audience Overview report and click the “Add Segment” button.

You’ll be offered some pre-made segments in the System menu. Note that you can also import segments from Google’s gallery — get a cup of coffee and give yourself some time to sort through them all if you choose this option. There are lots of choices.


If you click on the orange “new segment” button, you’ll see this screen:


As you can see, you could create an almost unlimited number of custom screens. If you want to work only with data for women in their twenties who first found your website through ads about urgent care clinics but came back within 30 days through a social media post and accessed the site in Spanish from a tablet, you can do that.

First steps

As always, it makes sense to start with your strategy. Your business goals should drive your website goals, and effective use of your web analytics can help you meet those goals. Dividing your traffic into segments lets you

  • identify the traffic sources that work best for you
  • track the behavior of your target market, and different segments of that market
  • find the traffic that is most likely to convert and determine what appeals most to that group

… and much more. Determine the goal you want to work on, identify the data that will help you monitor your progress toward that goal, and set up the segment that will show you that data most clearly.






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