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The Art of Analytics: Filters vs. Advanced Segments

By Kate Alany, PBS Digital

This post was originally intended to be a guide to filtering out internal traffic (that is, traffic from within your organization), but then we thought it might be useful to take a step back and start by defining Filters and Advanced Segments in Google Analytics. Not to worry, though, we’ve still included instructions on how to exclude internal traffic at the end of this post!

Filters and Advanced Segments are both great tools that allow you to look at your data in a deeper way and gain more actionable insights about the people visiting your site. Here are some of the basics about each.

Filters

A profile filter is used to limit or modify the data that is included in a Google Analytics profile. They are permanent solutions because they are applied to a profile before data is collected so whatever you are filtering out, will not be available in your data.  One of the most common uses of filters (and one that we highly recommend) is filtering to exclude internal traffic. But don’t forget, the effects of applying profile filters cannot be undone. That's why we advise you to keep an original or “raw” data profile within your Google Analytics account. Then, if something goes wrong, you’ll have untouched data for backup as well as to use for comparison. The other thing to remember is that a filtered profile will only contain data starting from the date you created it. Other uses for filters would be to look only at a certain subdirectory of your site or to view traffic only from a particular geographic area.

Advanced Segments

Advanced segments allow you to isolate similar visitors into groups. For example, you might want to compare the behavior of mobile users vs. desktop users or look only at new visitors to your site. Google has a set of predefined segments, but you can create custom segments as well. Advanced segments can be applied to any report or profile in your data and can be added and removed without making any permanent changes to your data.
Finally, here are the main differences between filters and advanced segments, according to Google:

Differences Between Filters and Advanced Segments

  • You can examine historical data for an advanced segment, even if you just created the segment today. In contrast, a filtered view will only contain data starting from the date you created it.
  • You can see and compare multiple advanced segments side by side in reports. In contrast, you can only view data for one filtered view at a time.
  • A filtered view is usually the best choice if you want to always exclude a certain kind of traffic from your analysis. For example, while you can create an advanced segment that only includes external traffic, it would be better to create a view that excludes internal traffic instead. That way, you won't have to remember to apply the segment each time you look at reports. Also, you can always apply other advanced segments to the filtered view data.
  • If you want to limit some users' access to only a subset of data, you should set up filtered views for this instead of using advanced segments.

We will talk more about advanced segments as well as other useful filters in upcoming posts, but in the meantime, take a look at the instructions on excluding internal traffic and reach out with any questions!