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How to use secondary dimensions in Google Analytics to uncover website and customer insights

Imagine your local librarian asks what you’re looking for today, and you respond with, ‘A book.’ While they can certainly help you find one of those, a little more detail goes a long way in seeking out the most satisfying experience.

Similarly, extra context and details—secondary dimensions—help you leverage Google Analytics (GA) to answer questions, identify problems, and improve your customer experience (CX).

Last updated

17 Mar 2023

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7 min

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This guide explores secondary dimensions in Google Analytics so you can look at your data from all directions for comprehensive product and user insights. Skip to the sections you need:

What is a secondary dimension in Google Analytics?

A secondary dimension in Google Analytics is an additional parameter added to your data analysis for more detailed information about your visitors’ activity on your product or website. 

Secondary dimensions create subsets of data to find nuances. For example, new users in South America may interact with your website differently than new users in Asia. Learning these differences helps you tailor your digital marketing, site content, and customer experience for different user personas. 

As you add secondary dimensions and look at website analytics from new angles, you gain detailed insights that help you make important product decisions.

Dimensions vs. metrics: understanding the difference 

A dimension in Google Analytics is an attribute, like your website page or a visitor’s language. Every Google Analytics report has a primary dimension, and you don’t have to add a secondary dimension. 

A metric is a quantitative measurement—like a bounce rate percentage—that applies to the dimension.

Dimensions and metrics in action

Imagine you’re a marketing manager wanting to know how different customers interact with a product page. 

First, you view the average time on the product page (a metric) for new vs. returning users (a primary dimension). You notice returning users spend more time on the page, and you want to investigate further. 

So, you compare time spent on the product page for returning users who visit on a mobile vs. desktop device (a secondary dimension). Looking into these specific subsets of visitors proves desktop users stick around much longer than mobile visitors. 

Altogether, these insights could indicate that returning customers are more interested in the item than new ones, but your mobile site isn’t easy to use.

Which version of Google Analytics do you use? 

Google is finalizing a transition from its Universal Analytics (UA) platform to the new Google Analytics 4 (GA4), set to complete in July 2023. You need to know which version you currently use because available primary and secondary dimensions and combinations vary between the platforms.

For example, GA4 has dimensions for gaming, like character and level, while UA does not. Commonly used dimensions, like session duration, exist across both versions. For reference, this guide refers to primary and secondary dimensions found in Google Analytics 4.

Universal Analytics (left) and Google Analytics 4 (right) have slightly different dimension groups

The benefits of using secondary dimensions

Narrowing your product analytics focus reveals the nuance in the data you might miss if you only review reports with primary dimensions. GA’s secondary dimension feature also helps you compare data sets to understand user behavior across audience subsegments. 

Let’s look at a few scenarios where secondary dimensions give teams additional context to make informed decisions. 

Become aware of website issues

Let’s say your product team wants to know if recent feature updates increase engagement. They review the user engagement metric with the ‘month’ as the primary dimension and the ‘device category’ as a secondary dimension. 

If the team only assessed engagement before and after updates, they’d see the change after the updates but wouldn’t understand the details. By breaking the data further into device type, they find Android users have dramatically lower engagement rates, signaling an issue on that operating system in particular. 

Now that you’ve found a potential issue, you need to pinpoint exactly what causes the low engagement rate for Android users. (Keep reading—we’ll teach you how to do this a little later.) 

Learn how to use resources effectively 

Imagine the marketing team wants to find its most profitable user segment, so they review the transactions per purchaser metric by ‘location’ as the primary dimension and ‘campaign ID’ as the secondary dimension. 

Looking at their most profitable audience’s location is useful for finding regions where they should invest more marketing resources, but adding a secondary dimension to identify the highest-performing ad campaigns helps the team spend their budget even more wisely and decide which landing pages to direct website traffic to. 

Analyze your sales funnel

Suppose the sales team wants to analyze its sales funnel to find correlations between traffic sources and the items customers purchase. The team looks at three metrics: items viewed, add-to-cart rate, and total sales. Then, they set the ‘item category’ as their primary dimension and the ‘session source/medium’ as the secondary dimension. 

The ‘item category’ primary dimension reveals top-selling items, which would influence future product development. However, there’s more to learn.

Since they set a secondary dimension, they also uncover that social media traffic to product category A pages generates the highest sales. With that information, they can either drive more traffic through that funnel or increase the efficacy of other funnels. 

How to set up secondary dimensions in Google Analytics in 4 steps

Ready to analyze your website data? Here’s how to set up secondary dimensions in Google Analytics.

Step 1: choose your Google Analytics report

Access the detail reports panel by clicking the report icon on the left side of your GA4 dashboard and choosing the report you want to view, like visitor acquisition or user demographics. Be sure to set the date range.

Step 2: click the ‘+ ’next to the dropdown on the far left of the table

Each detail report has a default dimension you can change. When you want to add a secondary dimension, click the plus sign to the right of the primary dimension.

Step 3: browse secondary dimensions to find what you need

Browse the secondary dimensions’ drop-down menu by category, like demographics and geography, or use the search bar.

Step 4: select the secondary dimension you want to add

The report automatically updates when you choose a secondary dimension.

How to combine GA data with behavior analytics to pinpoint site issues and opportunities 

Google Analytics is undoubtedly a powerful tool, but website analytics only begin to tell the customer experience story. Actionable insights and user behavior patterns reveal themselves when you combine qualitative and quantitative metrics.

Primary and secondary dimensions offer a quantitative look at outcomes—like how long someone spent on your mobile site or how often new users in Canada complete a transaction

But you need qualitative information to understand causes—like discovering that new users in Canada want to learn about shipping costs before they start a purchase or they’ll abandon the checkout process.

How do you unlock these customer insights to optimize your conversion rate? Through digital experience insights. 

Digital experience insights, or behavior analytics, teach you exactly how customers interact with your website, web app, or service, so you can expand on what you find through your Google Analytics account and make business decisions

Let’s look at how these tools help the teams from our earlier examples.

1. Review recordings and heatmaps to find and fix website bugs

Think back to the example of a product team using secondary dimensions in Google Analytics to find that engagement on Android devices plummeted after recent updates. Without additional qualitative insights, they wouldn’t know the exact problem—is it slow load times on Android, a website bug, a missing banner, or something else entirely? 

The team views recordings and heatmaps to see how Android users interact with the page so they can immediately pinpoint the issue.

#Hotjar Recordings are playbacks of user sessions that let you see exactly what customers do on your site
Hotjar Recordings are playbacks of user sessions that let you see exactly what customers do on your site

2. Learn about customer motivations to create content that connects

Now let’s revisit the scenario with the marketing team looking for their most profitable user segment. Their Google Analytics analysis indicated that their Q1 marketing campaign in South America produced the highest engagement and conversion rates. But why?

The marketing team uses surveys, feedback widgets, and interviews to learn about that segment’s goals, preferences, and reactions to the campaigns to create similarly successful campaigns in the future.

#Use Hotjar Surveys to ask customers about their experiences and preferences
Use Hotjar Surveys to ask customers about their experiences and preferences

3. Optimize key customer touchpoints to increase conversions

Finally, think back to the sales team who wanted to learn more about their funnels. They started their investigation with Google Analytics to get quantitative data about each step of the sales process and what customer segments engaged with which products.

While GA reveals where customers tend to leave the sales funnel, like between viewing a product and adding it to their cart, its website analytics don’t reveal why. So, the team uses Hotjar Funnels to understand how customers behave at each touchpoint

They see that the customers who drop off before adding an item to their cart don’t scroll far enough to see testimonials, while customers who convert do. Rather than guessing at ways to increase conversions, the sales team simply makes testimonials more prominent on the page. 

#Hotjar Funnels lets you filter customer journeys to analyze experiences for specific marketing channels or customer locations
Hotjar Funnels lets you filter customer journeys to analyze experiences for specific marketing channels or customer locations

Make curiosity and user empathy part of your analysis

Secondary dimensions in Google Analytics are an opportunity to look at website analytics from new angles—but they’re just one tool you can use to create a positive customer experience. 

Each time you use website analytics to learn the outcomes of a visit, like which pages someone views or what they buy, be sure to stay curious and empathize with your users to understand them on a deeper level.

Prioritizing the people on the other side of the data helps you combine website analytics with behavior analytics to fully recognize opportunities and issues. Plus, the more connected and knowledgeable you are about your customers, the better the product and experience you create.

Go beyond basic analytics

Pair data from secondary dimensions in Google Analytics with Hotjar’s tools to answer questions, find opportunities, and improve customer experiences. 

FAQs about secondary dimensions in Google Analytics