Google Analytics Segments vs Filters

Table of Contents for Google Analytics Segments vs Filters

  1. Basic differences between segments and filters
  2. How to create segments and filters in Google Analytics
  3. Impact of filters and segments on data in Google Analytics reports
  4. How do segment and filters impact data historically?
  5. Access levels required to create segments and filters in Google Analytics
  6. Impact time of filters and segments in Google Analytics
  7. When to use segments and filters in Google Analytics
  8. Configuration differences between filters and segments

In this article we will discuss the key differences between segments and filters. In most cases the results of both of these are the same, however, they are fundamentally different.

Basic differences between segments and filters

Segments in Google Analytics let you view subsets of your data in reports. For example, only paid traffic, only organic traffic. They allows you to change your data on the fly, which means as soon as you apply the segment, the data is filtered out immediately.

Filters in Google Analytics change the data permanently rather than changing the data on the fly. This means when only filters are applied in your reports, it will permanently change the data. For example, if you create a view with a filter (country specific) to include only United States country traffic, then that view would only have data from the United States.

 
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How to create segments and filters in Google Analytics

Segments can be created both from the reporting interface and also from the view settings in the admin section.

Creation of segment from admin section

Admin > View > Segments

Creation of segment from reporting interface

Login > Audience overview report > Add segment

For more about segment creation, follow this article: How to create segments in Google Analytics

Filters can be created from the admin section or from the reporting view.

Admin > View > Filters

Filters can also be created at account level and then be applied to the view.

Impact of filters and segments on data in Google Analytics reports

Segments in Google Analytics reports are used to analyse a subset of data, for example, to view traffic from a specific browser or specific device.

Segments don’t impact the data permanently, they work only for the time they are applied to the reports and, once the segment is removed, the data goes back to normal immediately.

Filters in Google Analytics can be used to collect only specific sets of data. For example, create a view filter to include only paid traffic or organic traffic.

Filters change the data permanently, that means once you apply a filter in any reporting view then data is affected permanently. You will not be able to retrieve any data if you applied an incorrect configuration.

How do segment and filters impact data historically?

Segments have an impact on historical data as well as future data. Let us consider an example, you have created a segment today to include traffic from only the Chrome browser. You can apply this segment to any date in the historical data as well as the future dates.

Filters do not work in this way. Filters start collecting data from the day they have been created. They will not change any historical data but future data is changed based on the configuration of the filter that we have created.

For example, if you have created a filter to include only traffic from ‘United States’ and applied it to a specific view. Going forward all the data in the view would include only from the United States and it will not change any historical data.

Access levels required to create segments and filters in Google Analytics

To create a filter in Google Analytics you should have edit access for the view in which you are creating.

Since filters affect the data permanently it is best that only users with high levels of access can make the changes.

Segments, on the other hand, can be created by anyone who has access to Google Analytics.

Impact time of filters and segments in Google Analytics

Once the segments are applied to the report, you can see the impact immediately. It will change the data immediately based on the configuration provided.

Filters take some time once they are applied to any reporting view. Generally, it would be only a few minutes once the data is changed based on the filter configuration.

When to use segments and filters in Google Analytics

Segments should be used when you want to analyse subsets of data in your reports and it is best for ad hoc analysis. Basically, they should be used when you do not want to alter the data in your reports permanently.

Filters should be used for long term segmentation purposes. Create a filtered view to collect only traffic from specific regions or countries.

Configuration differences between filters and segments

Segments are more powerful and have more options available while creating one. You can create segments by using different kinds of statements, string matches, as well as numerical conditions.

Segments can be created based on traffic sources, technology, behaviour and sequences as well, as shown below.

Filters don’t have an option for sequences. However, you can use cascading filters for combinational effects. Generally, filters work in the order of application, so the output of the first filter will be the input of the second filter, and so on.

I hope this article has given you an idea about what exactly segments and filters are and when they should be used.

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