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Advanced Segments vs. Profiles & Filters

Google announced lots of new features last week, and one of the most exciting is Advanced Segments. There are already some great posts out there in the analytics blogosphere explaining what Advanced Segments are all about and how to use them (here’s one from Justin Cutroni, and one from Avinash Kaushik). But we wanted to take a few minutes to compare and contrast using Advanced Segments vs. using profiles and filters to get a different view of the same site.

Up until now, there were some reports in Google Analytics, like the Visitor Loyalty reports and the Funnel Visualization report, that you could only segment by creating a new profile for your site with filters on it to get just the traffic you want. For example, do you want to see the Visitor Loyalty report just for your paid search visitors? Create a profile that only includes your paid search traffic. We’ve done lots of posts about filters in the past detailing how they work to set up exactly these kinds of things.

With Advanced Segments, though, many of these reports can be segmented. Here’s a screenshot of a segmented Visitor Loyalty report. (The Funnel Visualization report, sadly, remains un-segmentable.)

And the real upshot of using Advanced Segmentation is, you can look back historically on the data! With profiles and filters, the changes you make only have an effect from the time you make the change going forward. With Advanced Segmentation, the report instantly shows you the segments for the historical data you have.

Advanced Segmentation has several other advantages as well. You can see multiple advanced segments simultaneously in the same report.

You can also create advanced segments that wouldn’t have been easy or even possible with filters, such as segments for visits with metrics in a certain range (more than 3 pageviews, more than 2:00 on site, and so on).

And finally, the interface for creating advanced segments is much more intuitive than creating filters — you don’t necessarily need to understand regular expression to create most advanced segments you can dream up.

So given all this, who even needs to use profiles and filters any more? Forget them! Well, not exactly. There are still several very good reasons for using profiles and filters. One is for kinds of traffic you almost always want to exclude from your reports, such as internal traffic from your organization to your website (you don’t want your employees counted as visitors in most cases — and IP address isn’t a dimension you can use for creating Advanced Segments anyway). You’ll also still want additional profiles to handle more than four goals. And lastly, you can manage access to profiles with the User Manager, so it’s easy to keep track of who can see which sets of data — you can assign different users to different profiles as either read-only users or administrators. (Advanced Segments, on the other hand, are tied to a particular user’s login, like the Dashboard or email preferences. Each user has their own set of Advanced Segments that are available on whatever accounts or profiles they have access to.)

So here’s a summary of the differences between the two approaches…

Advanced Segments:

  1. Segment previously un-segmentable reports (except Funnel Visualization), including historic data.
  2. See multiple advanced segments at once in the same report.
  3. Types of segmentation that weren’t possible with filters: visits with conversion, visits with more than 3 pageviews, visits that spent more than 2:00 on the site, etc.
  4. More intuitive to set up for non-technical users.
  5. Tied to a user login.

Filters & Profiles:

  1. Still useful for filtering certain kinds of traffic you almost always want to exclude, like your internal traffic.
  2. Segment the Funnel Visualization report.
  3. Use multiple profiles for more than four goals.
  4. Tied to the Google Analytics account, manage access with the User Manager.

- Jonathan

Jonathan Weber

About Jonathan Weber

Jonathan Weber is the Data Evangelist at LunaMetrics. He spreads the principles of analytics through our training seminars all over the East coast. The next seminar he'll be leading will be a Google Analytics training in Boston. Before he caught the analytics bug, he worked in information architecture. He holds a Master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences. Jonathan’s breadth of knowledge – from statistics to analysis to library science – is somewhat overwhelming.

http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2008/10/30/advanced-segments-profiles-filters/

7 Responses to “Advanced Segments vs. Profiles & Filters”

There is another thing Advanced Segments can not cover. Data manipulation. The best example is the AdWords Advanced (http://www.getelastic.com/exact-keywords-google-analytics/) tracking that allows you to see the keywords user are searching together with the keywords set up in your AdWords account. Add segmentation to that and, voila, pure gold :)

Jonathan says:

Claudiu –

You’re exactly right. Filters are the only way to go for something like the exact keyword match for PPC advertising like you described, or matching e-commerce transactions to keywords (http://www.roirevolution.com/blog/2007/05/matching_specific_transactions_to_specific_keyword.html).

Ed says:

I am trying to segment traffic to specific parts of a site. For example: example.com/channels/channelname currently this is done via a filter that includes traffic only to ^/channels/channelname.

How can this be done with the Advanced Segmentation feature of GA on the example.com progile.

Thanks.

Jonathan says:

Ed –

The way Advanced Segments work (at least, right now — remember this is still beta) is that they only segment *visits*. So, while it is possible to create an Advanced Segment based on the Page dimension, matching your regular expression, the results won’t be exactly what you’re looking for. Rather than getting a segment with only pageviews in /channels/channelname on your site, you’ll get a segment of all *visits* where those pages were viewed (which will also include pageviews in other sections of the site that occurred during those visits).

Currently, the best way to get at this kind of segment remains using profiles and filters. You can create a filter on Request URI to get pageviews that match only ^/channels/channelname.

I didnt understand that how can use for filters :S

Amy G says:

I have set up one account with multiple profiles, so I can see both the traffic to our overall site and the individual subdomains broken out separately.
I’d like to see my goals be calculated the same way. All in one account – with goals in both the global profile and broken out in each sub domain profile. Currently I only see completed goal data coming through my profile with the sub domain only (not the global profile). Can a goal be tracked in only one place?

Also, how would I set up a separate filter to track the data from my main domain (xxx.org)?
I tested using:
filter type “Custom filter”
Include
Filter Field “Hostname”
Filter Pattern “xxx\.org”

The test brought in data from everything in my global account, include all of my subdomains like: blog.xxx.org, my.xxx.org, and xxx.org. I’d like to see only xxx.org without including blog.xxx.org, my.xxx.org, etc. How should I rework the filter to accommodate this?

Robbin says:

Hi Amy. Try this filter pattern:

(^name\.org)|(www\.name\.org)