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Setting up more profiles in Google Analytics

by Tim Leighton-Boyce

Why would you want to set up more than one profile for each website in Google Analytics?

  1. There are things which GA advanced segments cannot do
  2. You should always have two sets of data

One of the classic uses of profile in the early days of Google Analytics was to look at chunks of traffic. Segmentation. So when Advanced Custom Segment appeared the days of using profiles to look at the behaviour of different types of visitor seemed over.

Advanced segments have many advantages over profiles for this purpose.

You can see the different segments alongside each other in the same report in order to make comparisons. This is particularly useful when looking at charts.

Example of graph showing Google Analytics custom segment in use

You’ll find this a great way of establishing which type of traffic was responsible for a change which you have noticed in the overall numbers.

Techniques like this allow you to see things at a glance in an illuminating way. Try setting up a segment for ‘medium contains email’ and then comparing it with the default ‘search’ segment (or, better still, a ‘medium=cpc|ppc|organic and keywords=your brand terms’ one). You may well find that surges in email traffic are also matched by simultaneous rises in navigational search visits. This would suggest that your emails are reminding people to visit the site, via search, even if they’re not clicking on the email itself. Those emails are worth more to you than the basic clicks suggest.

Custom Advanced Segments are also much better than the old ‘profiles’ approach, because you can think up new ones on the spur of the moment and they will be applied to all your historic data.

I used to love the old Clicktracks system because it allowed me to do something similar. If I suddenly thought “I wonder if…” and wanted to delve into the data, I could set up a set of rules-based conditions and use them to segment all my data. Except in those days you could go for a coffee, or maybe lunch, while the data was processed. GA does it so fast some people even use the ‘test’ feature in segment configuration to extract a set of numbers and never bother to save the segment.


There are some things which GA advanced segments can’t do

The most limiting of these is that you cannot segment funnel reports. So you cannot use segments to see how different types of visitor behave in your checkout or your other micro-conversion funnels.

This is a significant loss.

Common sense says that an existing customer returning because of an email about a very strong offer is going to have a very different reaction to your shopping cart page from someone landing from a generic search and who has never heard of you, let alone already been through your checkout. So how would you set about optimising the shopping cart page for that last group when their data is mixed in with all the others?

Segmented profiles also mean that you could give different people access to only the data which is relevant to their work. For example only the email traffic, or only the unpaid search traffic. Even if the ‘different people’ is actually just you with a different hat on, it can be useful to have this task-specific view of the data without all the other noise.

So, although Advanced Segments are one of the greatest features in Google Analytics, I think every site should still set up a series of profiles, rather than just rely on the basic two.


Why you need at least two Google Analytics profiles

Yes, two. You should always have one set of raw, unmodified data being captured alongside your main working profile so that you have something to cross-check against. Or fall back to.

But I’ll go into more detail about what you should and shouldn’t do with your raw profile next time in a post explaining how to set up a raw profile in Google Analytics.

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