Last updated Nov 20 2020

Audiences and audience reports in Google Analytics

What are audiences in Google Analytics?

In Google Analytics, audiences are groups of website visitors with shared attributes, for example gender, device type, country, or browsing behavior.

Audience dimensions and metrics are collected in the Audience report; when you navigate to Audience > Audiences, you can examine traffic data based on whichever attribute you need.

For example, to get an overview of how your ecommerce website performs for new versus returning users, you would quickly navigate to Audience > Audiences > Behavior > New vs Returning.

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ECOMMERCE CONVERSION RATE FOR NEW VS RETURNING AUDIENCES IN GOOGLE ANALYTICS

Categorizing visitors into well-defined groups helps you identify the most valuable users for your business, and optimize accordingly.

For example, if you find that your best-converting visitors are located in a specific country (using the Audience > Audiences > Geo > Location report), you can use this information to better allocate your time and marketing budgets.

Audiences and Google Analytics 4

google analytics 4 user demographics

Since October 14th 2020, Google Analytics 4 is the default version for all new accounts, replacing Universal Analytics. Until you migrate, your dashboard will remain the same.

GA 4 has a new layout that includes additional audience options. For example, demographic audience segmentation is now available under the “USER” tab.

What type of audience reports can GA generate?

google-analytics-demographic-audience-report
DEMOGRAPHICS AUDIENCE OVERVIEW IN GOOGLE ANALYTICS

There are nine different audience report categories in Google Analytics:

  • Demographics: split data by gender (female or male only) and age range (18-24, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, 65+)
  • Interests: view audience lifestyle categories called Affinity Categories (e.g. Light TV Viewers, Travel Buffs, Technophiles) and product-purchase intent called In-Market Segments (e.g. Business Services, Employment, Education)
  • Geo: segment analytics by language and location
  • Behavior: segment by users’ browsing behavior (e.g. New vs Returning, Frequency & Recency, Engagement)
  • Technology: segment by browser, operating system, and ISP (Internet service provider)
  • Mobile: view visitor device types (i.e. desktop, mobile, tablet)
  • Cross Device: see when users use multiple device types to browse your website
  • Custom: create and edit your own audience (see the FAQs below for a how-to)
  • Benchmarking: compare your audience data with aggregated industry data

Using the Demographics and Interests Report

google analytics enable demographic interest reports

Some audience reports won’t work out-of-the-box. Before you get started, you need to enable Demographics and Interest Reports to allow Google Analytics to collect additional data on your users from third-party sources. You’ll need to update your privacy policy and notify visitors so they can opt out if desired.

Note: you can use the Geo, Behavior, Technology, and Mobile audience reports without making any changes, since they use standard metrics like average session duration and bounce rate.

The benefits of using Google Analytics audiences

By segmenting your Google Analytics data by audience, you can determine which path led users to take action toward your desired conversion goal (e.g. a purchase or sign up), which helps you choose where to focus your marketing efforts and optimize your funnel.

Here are some practical examples of how you can use Google Analytics audiences:

  • Find the conversion performance of a specific group of users (e.g. new visitors who followed a link from Twitter or returning visitors from organic search)
  • Identify a particular audience segment that you can involve in further research (including A/B testing)
  • Determine the ROI of your marketing campaigns and channels like SEO, social media, and PPC
  • Launch remarketing campaigns (using Google’s audience smart list, or your own custom audience list)

You should know…

google chrome incognito mode

Google doesn’t really have a full picture of who is browsing your website. Demographic and interest reports in particular can mislead you into thinking you know your customers more than you do.

Because Google collects demographics and interest data by tracking users via third-party advertising cookies, its reporting is never going to be completely accurate. Not all users allow third-party cookies, or keep them for long. People use ad blockers, share computers and devices, and browse in incognito or private mode. Chrome’s incognito mode even blocks third-party cookies as standard.

Google itself acknowledges the limitations of its audience analytics data: “Demographics and interests data may only be available for a subset of your users, and may not represent the overall composition of your traffic.”

So if you rely on the demographics and interest reports to understand the composition of your audience, you may be building a (very) incomplete picture.

Spoiler alert: we’re about to share a solution. Keep reading! 👇

What Google Audiences data can’t tell you

When it comes to defining your ideal user persona, the demographics and interests reports look like a good starting point. But that’s just on the surface.

We already explained why audience reports are always going to be incomplete, given that Google uses third-party cookies to make assumptions about a user’s gender, age, and interests.

But let’s say you could rely on the data completely, and you know for sure that 27% of your goal conversions come from women aged 35-44 that use an iPhone...

...now what?

You still don’t know:

  • Why they came to your site
  • What they were looking for
  • What really influences their buying decisions

You can make some general guesses about how to market to them or guide them through the funnel, but people’s behavior is not so easily generalized.

In other words, if you only rely on GA audience data, you’re probably making quite a few assumptions, and that will cost you money in the long term.

2 ways to use qualitative data + GA for better insight

Instead of guessing who your customers are, you can observe their behavior and collect their feedback on strategic pages to find out what they really need.

Here are two ideas to get you started:

1. Use an on-site survey to learn what’s making people leave

Placing an on-site survey on pages of interest lets you discover more about your visitors; for example, an exit pop-up survey helps you find out why people are leaving.

GA data will help you find the perfect page to trigger an exit poll: just look at your pages with the highest exit rates.

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PAGES BY EXIT RATE PERCENTAGE IN GOOGLE ANALYTICS

When you have this information, you can use complementary behavior analytics software like Hotjar to display a survey on the page and even target users by device.

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HOTJAR POLL TARGETING BY PAGE AND DEVICE

You’ll get the best insights by asking an open-ended question. For example:

  • Why are you leaving the site?
  • What stopped you from completing your order?
  • What should we do to improve your experience?
  • What’s missing from this page?

💡 If you’re stuck for ideas of what to ask, have a look at our list of the best website survey questions to ask customers.

2. Observe segmented customer behavior

You can also get qualitative audience data with session recordings, which let you see renderings of real actions taken by visitors as they browse your website.

hotjar recording
AN EXAMPLE SESSION RECORDING

Session recordings help you segment your audience by session attributes, technology, and behavior—but, unlike GA, they won’t ‘guess’ a user’s gender or age.

Segmenting by user behavior is useful when, for example, you want to look at recordings of customers who left your pages in frustration after rage-clicking, or customers who followed a specific path around your website.

recordings-filters-not-business
HOTJAR SESSION RECORDING FILTERS

By filtering your session recordings, you will see a recreation of the on-page actions real users took. Coupled with your GA audience data, this will give you a big-picture understanding of how people experience your website and help you optimize it for better engagement and higher conversions.

Use GA and Hotjar together to improve conversions

hotjar CRO action plan

Follow our 3-step conversion rate optimization (CRO) action plan, and use data from GA and Hotjar to determine:

  • What drives people to your website
  • What might stop potential users
  • What really persuades visitors to act

Editor's note: Google recently launched Google Analytics 4, which includes minor changes to some reports; however, this article is still relevant for standard GA. As more users migrate, we will release updates to this and other articles as needed, with references and steps to obtain results in GA 4.

FAQs about audiences in Google Analytics

  1. Log into your Google Analytics account.
  2. Click the “Admin” tab, go to the Property column and select Audience Definitions > Audiences.
  3. Click the “+ NEW AUDIENCE” button.
  4. Under “Audience definition”, click the “Create New” button.
  5. Select a preconfigured audience, or go through the Audience Builder and select the audience attributes you wish to segment by. Click “Apply” when you’re done.
  6. Give your audience a descriptive name so you know what it is later on, then click “Next step”.
  7. [Optional] Send your custom audience to Google Ads to use it in a remarketing campaign by selecting “+ Add destinations
  8. Click “Publish” and you’re done!

These instructions are for Universal Analytics; here’s how to create custom audiences in Google Analytics 4.

Google collects demographics and interest data by tracking users via third-party advertising cookies, which are small text files that are stored on a user’s browser when they visit a website. This leads to a few issues:

  • Data reliability, since not all users allow third-party cookies
  • Data accuracy, since demographic and interest information gets deduced from the user’s previous activity
  • Privacy policy updates required, to allow users to opt out

Google Analytics can identify individual users by unique user ID, but not by name or any PII (personally identifiable information).

Given that people may choose to block or delete cookies, users are not always correctly identified in GA.