How to Get the Most out of Google Analytics: Setting up Custom Segments

Every website owner should know their way around Google Analytics. It’s one of the most powerful website analytics tools on the market (and it’s free!). Google Analytics is a one-stop shop for analyzing site traffic, studying audience behavior, and tracking conversions — but where to start for the new guy? ServInt’s marketing team spends a lot of time in Google Analytics. We thought it might help some of our customers if we shared a few insights for the basic user.

An important piece of Google Analytics often overlooked by new users is the Segments tool. Creating custom segments allows you to view just a portion of your traffic across all Analytics reports. You can look at only visitors who passed through a certain page or came from a certain source. You can segment out only visitors who are new to your site or are of a particular sex or age. You can segment based on anything Google Analytics reports on.

You can access the Segments tool by clicking on the box that says, “+ Add Segment” on the top of almost any report.


GA comes with a bunch of predefined custom segments, but the real power comes when you create your own. Here are three tactics you can use with the Segments tools to gain important insights into your site traffic.

1. Studying site users who hit a certain page, like the ordering page

Let’s say you want to know how long users who view a specific product page spend on your site in general versus average users. You head over to Audience >> Behavior >> Engagement, but this simply tells you about all of your visitors. To view session duration for only visitors who hit a certain page of your site set up a custom segment.

In the + Add Segment window, select “Conditions” under Advanced. Set the filter to Sessions >> Include >> Page >> contains, and fill in the url of the important page, (Remember, only to use the portion of the url after the main domain). Title the segment and click Save. Remove the default “All Sessions” box above the graph. Now you’re viewing only traffic from sessions that hit the page you specified.

As you move around Google Analytics, this custom segment follows you, showing up in the results for every report you query until you add a new segment or remove that segment (thus resetting to All Users).

2. Dumping garbage traffic

Have you noticed on the Engagement page (Audience >> Behavior >> Engagement) that the expected bell curve of session duration is always skewed by an anomalous spike in the 0-10 second group?


This can be a small anomaly or a huge one, but it is always there. It’s caused by one or more of a few factors:

  • Bots

    Bots are programs that scrape your site looking for content or data, and they’re everywhere. They are always crawling our sites and mucking up our analytics. They can come on in waves or steadily over time, but there are a few things you can do about them.

  • Junk search

    Let’s face it, you might attract some people that should never have hit your site in the first place. Maybe they clicked on the wrong search result, maybe your ads are misleading, maybe they don’t know the difference between etymology and entomology. Whatever the case, it would be nice to cut them our of your reporting sometimes.

  • Drive-by surfers

    These guys are the most annoying. (I know, I’m one of them!) They hit your site because they want to see what you’re all about, but they’re not customers and never will be.

So how to we limit the damage these site users do to our otherwise valuable analytics that track likely buyer behaviors on our site? First, we think of what they all have in common: they tend to bounce (hit the site and leave before clicking on a second page.) This is very important because Google Analytics needs a user to click a second link before it can figure out how long that user was on the first page. If a user bounces, GA cannot ascribe a time to the session, hence the anomalous 0-10 seconds.

To correct for bounces, simply open Segments and select the preconfigured “Non-bounce Sessions.” Now you’re looking at only data of users who have hit more than one page on your site.

3. Tracking users from a third-party ad campaign

Let’s say you’re using an ad platform other than Google Adwords (you can create ad, ad group and campaign segments right in GA for Adwords) and you want to track only users who clicked on your ad and see what they’re doing on your site. You can create a segment that looks at all traffic from a certain source, but that won’t be helpful if you have multiple ads. The solution has two parts, and you need to set up both before you can begin tracking.

  • Step 1: Edit your ad destination url

    You need to add a unique identifier to the destination url of your ad (unless each ad hits a unique landing page). Let’s say your ad sends users to You can add a tag to the end of the url that the browser will ignore, but that Google Analytics will log as part of the URL (GA keeps track of entire URL strings with all tags). Simply at “?tag=“ and then some name of your devising. Here’s an example: Set up your tags and edit the ad destinations on your advertising platform.

  • Step 2: Set up a segment in GA

    Now you can create a custom segment that tracks these visits. In the + Add Segment window, select “Conditions” under Advanced. Once again, set the filter to Sessions >> Include >> Page >> contains. This time fill in the tag string (“?tag=ad101” in our example). Title the segment and click Save.

Remember, you will only see results for URL hits that occur after you update the ad URL, so be patient while Google collects results.

A word of warning: as the phrase popularized by Mark Twain points out, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Be careful what conclusions you draw from Google Analytics. You may not be looking at the data from the best angle.

Join me next time when I talk about how to tap into the power of Goal and eCommerce tracking in Google Analytics.

Photo by Yuko Honda

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