The HOTSAUCE agenda is live! Join us in NYC Nov. 2–3. Tickets 50% off using the code 2HOT

Learn / Guides / GA glossary (A-Z)

Back to guides

Google analytics segments: the ultimate guide to user discovery

Imagine you're checking your Landing Pages report in Google Analytics. You’ve noticed that some pages have a higher bounce rate than others, but before you start making changes, you want to understand why users are leaving those pages in the first place.

You have questions: 

Who are these people? How did they find you? Are they new users, old customers, casual visitors, buyers? Are they on mobile or tablet? And most importantly: why aren’t they finding what they're looking for on your site?

The data you're looking at most likely won't have the answers—you have to dig deeper. 

Google Analytics (GA) segments can help: they let you filter data to focus on specific kinds of users. But to get the most out of GA segments, you also need to know what they can’t tell you—and by solving this problem, you’ll discover even more about your users.

In this guide, you'll learn why you should use segments, how to get started, and what else you need to maximize your website and user insights. But first, let’s answer some key questions.

Discover more about your users with Hotjar

Use Hotjar Heatmaps, Recordings, and Surveys alongside Google Analytics Segments to understand more about what users want.

What are segments in Google Analytics?

Segments in Google Analytics (GA) are subsets of your website traffic. 

Google Analytics users can apply segments to filter user data and focus on particular groups of website visitors—for example, visitors from a certain country, visitors using mobile, or visitors who found your site from a specific search query.

When applying segments, you can choose between pre-created segments (System Segments) or create your own (Custom Segments).

GA analytics segments

What are the main benefits of GA segments?

Segments can make GA reports more focused and useful by filtering aggregate data to give you specific information about the traffic in your reports

Here are three practical examples of the benefits of using segments:

  1. If you were trying to understand why a section of your site was getting more user engagement, you could use segments to see who’s engaging with that section. You could then use that insight to make other parts of your site more geared towards those visitors.

  2. With segments, you can see if users found your site organically or from a paid ad, which would tell you how useful your paid campaigns are, so you can decide whether to invest more in similar campaigns—or stop them altogether.

  3. Let's say you’re doing customer research to develop buyer personas. If you segment traffic by age and gender, you can build buyer personas for different demographic groups, then build your site or product to appeal to their individual wants, needs, and preferences.

But there's more: you could also segment users who watched a video on a landing page to see if videos are helping your business, contrast the user behavior between Facebook and Twitter visitors to see which platform is best to advertise on, or look at ecommerce tracking data to see how people shop on your site.

By using segments to find out more about your users and their behavior, you can better inform your decisions about how to drive traffic, convert users, and develop your product—but there are limitations to segments, which we’ll come to a little later.

Note: creating or looking at segmented data in GA won't harm or delete any of your existing GA reports. You can play around with the tool, safe in knowing that you’re not going to mess up or lose any of your GA data.

System Segments

Here are some examples of the most commonly used System Segments

  • Bounced sessions: bounces happen when a user visits and exits your site without interacting with any of your content or features. Use the bounced sessions segment to determine which pages are stopping users from spending time on your site. (To find out why they're bouncing, you need qualitative insight. More on that later.)

  • Converters: in GA, converters are users who complete a transaction on your site. You can use this segment across different reports to see who your most valuable users are and their various actions across your platform.

  • New users: first-time visitors to your site form a segment called new users. With this segment, you can compare new and returning visitors, see which pages new users engage with, and which they exit from. This can tell you what kind of content keeps new users on your site, what sends them away, and what drives conversions.

Custom Segments

Here are some examples of the most commonly used Custom Segments:

  • Behavior: with custom behavioral segments, you can view reports by the number of sessions, the days since users’ last session, the number of transactions, or how long people stayed on your site (aka session duration). Use behavior segments to learn what actions people take while on your site (but don’t expect any UX insights—keep reading to learn how to get those).

  • Demographics: you can segment your users by demographic information, like gender, age, language, and location. Customized demographic segments can tell you how different user groups use your site.

  • Technology: custom technology segments tell you how the user visited your site—for example, the operating system, browser, device, or screen resolution they used. This segment can tell you if your website performs poorly on some devices or systems, which is important feedback for your developers.

You can also use segments in combination to create conditions and sequences. Conditions and sequences show you how engagement is affected by multiple factors. For example, 25–35-year-old women from Asia who found your site by a paid ad.

In this example, this kind of specificity with segmentation can tell you more about who your paid campaigns are reaching. Keep reading: we talk more about this below.

What are conditions and sequences in Google Analytics Segments?

Conditions combine GA metrics and dimensions, while sequences are different user interactions, made up of page views and events.

For example, let’s say you want to compare paid search and referral users who exited your site from the 'thank you' page. 

  1. First, create a paid search filter, then add a second filter for the exit page—well done, you’ve now created a condition! 

  2. Now, create a referral filter, and add a second filter for the exit page. Now you have two conditions, and you can see the differences or similarities.

To get even more granular, let’s say you want to look at users who visited a landing page, played a video, then made a purchase. 

  1. First, you create a landing page step (you can specify which one) within the Sequences tab.

  2. Now, you add a started video step (a pre-created event).

  3. Lastly, you create a transactions step, and your work is done!

This is a sequence made up of a page view and two events. Again, it’s quick to set up and tells you about the relationship between specific groups of users and what they do on your site.

Pro tip: when making data comparisons in GA, you may notice that some of your numbers don’t add up. This is because Google Analytics pulls its data from a wide range of complex sources and sometimes contains missing data or inaccuracies. This is one of the reasons you need to combine quantitative analytics with qualitative data to understand your users.

As we've said, segments can’t explain why a user exited from a specific page, and they won’t tell you what a user thought of it, but they make a huge difference to the value of the data that Google Analytics provides, as we discuss next.

Why are Google Analytics Segments important?

Without segments, Google Analytics quantitative data is broad—and although it can give you useful generalized information about website performance, it can’t tell you about the different kinds of people that visit your site.

With segments, though, you can delve into who your traffic is made up of, how users found you, and how different types of users behave when they visit your site. With this information, you can make better choices about how to engage those users. Segmentation therefore helps you improve customer experience.

For example, if you found that users from Europe make up only 3% of your traffic, you might decide to focus all your new content on US and Canadian users. If you saw that paid search users accounted for only 5% of your traffic but had high conversion rates, you could act on that insight by investing more in Google Ads campaigns.

In summary, GA Segments is a powerful tool for understanding more about your visitors, but it doesn’t tell you about user intent, expectations, problems, or hopes.

How to set up Google Analytics segments

Creating segments in Google Analytics is very simple—here’s a step-by-step guide:

Enter Google Analytics and open the report whose data you wish to segment. We’ll use the Audience Overview report as an example, which by default gives us the 'All Users' segment to start with:

GA analytics segments audience overview

Now click the grey 'Add Segment' box to bring up the segment builder:

GA analytics segments Add segment to audience overview

To choose from one of the pre-created segments, click 'System' in the VIEW SEGMENTS menu, select the segments you’d like to view, and click 'Apply':

GA analytics segments pre-created segments

To create a customized segment, repeat steps 1 and 2, then click the red 'NEW SEGMENT' box.

Let’s choose 'Demographics' and look at women over the age of 45 (remember to create a name for your new segment before saving—let’s go with 'Females 45+'):

 GA analytics segments demographics

Pro tip: as you create your segment, you can see the percentage of traffic being filtered in the Summary box on the right-hand side (you can also see this summary when you hover over a segment, once it’s been created). This is a handy way of double-checking you’re doing everything correctly and can also give you a quick (sometimes surprising) snapshot of your users.

Finally, to delete a segment, just click the small arrow within the box and select remove:

GA analytics segments remove segments

As you can see, creating segments is super-quick (and fun!). For a more detailed, technical look at creating segments, see Google's official Analytics Help page.

How to get the most out of Google Analytics Segments

As we’ve seen, Google Analytics Segments lets you investigate user behavior and website activity—but there are gaps in the insight it offers.

What Google Analytics segments don't tell you

Google Analytics segments don’t tell you about your users’ intentions, opinions, or experiences—so, what does this mean?

Imagine you want to look at user activity by location, so you create segments to compare US and Asian users. Great, now you can track some fundamental user interactions, for example:

  • Clicks on buttons or outbound links

  • Form submissions

  • Video plays

  • Downloads

But what if you need to make a complete comparison? For example, you want to compare how those users scroll down a page—did they even see that video? Did they look past the option to download or hover over it? Segments won’t tell you this.

Or what if Google Analytics sessions data showed that users were spending a long time on a specific page but with very few interactions—why? Are they engaging with the content? Is there a broken video element or form? Segments won’t tell you this, either.

Once you’ve used segments to study the data more closely, these are the most obvious questions to ask—but it's also where the answers stop. You can go deep into traffic subsets, make comparisons, and even develop informed conclusions—but you still have no visibility on user intent, opinion, or experience.

If you did have this visibility, you would be able to unlock the full potential in Segments for user discovery.

Combining quantitative and qualitative data

Segmented quantitative data provides information into user groups, the pages they visit, and their actions, but it doesn’t give you information about the user experience. 

To gain user experience (UX) insights, you need to watch visitors use your site, visualize their journey, and ask them questions along the way—you need the qualitative data that user behavior analytics offer. 

UX insights help you empathize with the user, which, once you’ve identified the trends and patterns that segments reveal, is the next step in actionable business insight.

How to use Hotjar’s tools alongside Google Analytics segments


Filter Hotjar Heatmaps by device to give you insight into how users experience your site whether they’re on a desktop, tablet, or mobile. GA Segments can give you insight into button clicks and other element interactions, but they don’t help you visualize how users scroll down a page or what areas attract their attention—that's what heatmaps do.


Surveys and Incoming Feedback

Hotjar Surveys are quick to build and give you actionable qualitative insight. Use them alongside your insights from Google Analytics to find out what users actually need.

For example, if segments tell you that male users under 25 aren’t using one of your features, and the bounce rate on a key landing page has gone up, you can place a Hotjar Survey on that page to learn more about why users are leaving.

Or, let's say you’ve just created a new resource for returning users and want some instant insight into their opinion of it. Set up an Incoming Feedback widget to ask, “How would you rate this resource?” It’s a fast and efficient way to get the user insight you need to improve your site and product.


Session Recordings

Use Hotjar Recordings to observe the complete user journey in a session—from entry to exit—and see where and why they got frustrated, what caught their eye, and what they responded to. Once you’ve used Google Analytics to identify a segment you want to focus on, you can upload custom data into Hotjar to filter relevant recordings.


Discover more about your users

Google Analytics Segments is a fantastic tool for gaining quantitative insights about your site’s visitors. It’s easy to get started and to experiment, and it turns aggregate GA data—which is comprehensive but generalized—into user-focused information that you can study and utilize for key business decision-making. 

But even with segments, conditions, and sequences in place, you can’t get into your users’ minds and see your website from their point of view. Hotjar's product experience insights and behavior analytics tools let you empathize with your users and connect Google Analytics data with people’s feelings and experiences.

Discover more about your users with Hotjar

Use Hotjar Heatmaps, Recordings, and Surveys alongside Google Analytics Segments to understand more about what users want.

FAQs about Google Analytics Segments