Segments in Google Analytics are vital if you want to get better answers to your analytics questions. If you don’t use segments, well you should, because looking at all of your Google Analytics data at once sucks like a sour lemon.
Segments, can be super sweet and juicy, but there are a few pips that you’ll want to avoid, the kind of pips that get lodge in your reporting throat and choke you on your own “insights.”
One of those pips, is knowing the difference between user and session segments.
Let’s use a hypothetical example to help explain the difference.
You work for a shop that sells pens, and you have a marketing budget that you spend to drive traffic to your website, with the aim of selling your really nice pens.
Imagine that you are doing a bunch of SEO, Email Campaigns and some PPC. This is working a treat in driving traffic to your website, and when people arrive at your website they interact with something, hopefully anyway. They read your blog, look at your product pages, watch the videos, read the reviews, add to cart, then part with their cash and buy the pen.
Let’s imagine for a moment that the customer, let’s call him Tim, is looking for a nice bit of stationery. Tim is one user and within our journey example here, he has four sessions, as well as-as interactions with your website (playing video, adding to cart, which needs Event Tracking setup btw).
Tim types into Google ‘what is a fountain pen’ and he watches a video on your website.
You send a newsletter to Tim about how ace your pens are and he clicks through and checks out the product as well as reads the reviews.
Tim goes off to chat with his sister about the type of pen he is going to buy, and knowing the brand, types in the company brand name and clicks on a PPC ad, he ads to cart, but the phone rings and he forgets to complete the transaction.
Tim sits down later in the day and remembers he needs to buy the pen, he types the URL directly into her browser and buys the pen. Happy days.
Show me the money!
Now then, your boss has walked in and says to you; “can you tell me how SEO is working to drive conversions, and based on that budget you spent on videos, do those people that watch the videos spend more money?”
This is where segments are going to help you, however, you need to know the difference between user and session-based segments, otherwise, you could end up with low inaccurate data and insights that lead to bad decisions. So, on to the distinction then.
User and Session Segments
A user segment will look at all session that belongs to that user and will show you all the interactions that they had on the site. With user-based segments, you can apply a maximum date range of 90 days to your reports. It’ll capture all of the sessions, involving that user, in that time frame.
A session segment will look at a session that matches your requirements, and therefore will ignore all the other sessions belonging to that user that do not match. If you add a conversion to the segment it will include the final session that the user converted, and will ignore the rest for reporting purposes.
Let’s say I start with a basic segment to show me everyone coming from Organic sources, and I select the ‘Filter Users’ option, it will show me all users and their sessions with interactions to my site that came from Organic.
Now, your boss again, asks you if the video is making a difference to the bottom line. To answer this you could build an Advanced Segment, in effect allowing you to ‘layer’ on different conditions as necessary. If you selected ‘Sessions’ as the filter, using our basic example of Tim going about his pen buying business, the video is going to look like it didn’t do much for you – as it is looking for a session where a video played and they bought the pen. And no such session might exist.
If however, you changed this to ‘User’ it would pick it up – and you demonstrate that value you’ve been asked for.
It can get a bit blurry here depending on which filter you are using, and on that note, a little tip. I’ve used system segments for ages, as these are the pre-baked into the tool, thereby saving you time building, and I assumed, quite wrongly, that all the system segments where session segments.
They are not, they’re a mix of users or sessions, depending on which ones you select.
System Segments that are user based are the following:
- Made a purchase
- Multi-session Users
- Performed Site Search
System Segments that are session based are the following:
- Direct Traffic
- Mobile and Tablet Traffic
- Mobile Traffic
- New Users
- Organic Traffic
- Paid Traffic
- Referral Traffic
- Returning Users
- Search Traffic
Now, off you pop, go have a play with segments, and remember to check if the segment is set to User or Session.