by Doug


Internet Marketing

Build your own “look-a-like” audiences using the user explorer

This is a post for non-GA-experts about building Google Analytics Audiences.

Here’s the idea, you have a hypothesis along the lines of:

“We believe that users who do things x, y and z on the site are hugely valuable. We’d like to know where they come from and what else they do”.

If you can identify these magical “silver bullet” users, you can analyse their behaviour, choose an appropriate marketing strategy and focus on acquisition of likely converters.

Cool. Get after the $$$!

How about a similar hypothesis that looks at user behaviour slightly differently:

“We think potentially valuable users are doing x and y on the site but not z. We want to be able to reconnect with these users to persuade them to do z. We need to know what else they did on the site and which channel to reconnect with them.”

See how valuable these users could be? They got so close to converting but didn’t. These are potentially high value folks who may well be ready to listen to an offer.

The question is, how do you go about connecting or reconnecting with users like these or users who look like them?


In case you haven’t come across Audiences yet, Google provide a wealth of background reading to get you up to speed.

The second paragraph on that page refers to “Identifying behaviour”. This is the task of looking into your data and finding groups of users who did similar (valuable) things on your site or app.

Having identified a valuable group (audience), you can then use this grouping as a target for:

  • Advertising
  • Optimisation (testing)
  • Personalisation

See, that last paragraph is hateful if you haven’t done this before. “Just do this…” or “Simply do that…”

Argh! Not helpful.

This is “Lullaby Language“. Let’s explore audience building made simple.

Building Audiences from segments

Assuming you’ve read a recent blog post on getting more value from GA 360, you’ll have a User ID view set up. Open up that view in your browser and go to the User Explorer report in the Audience section:

User Explorer Menu

You’ll see something like this (details redacted):

User Explorer top level

Now you can dive into the session data for each user, click around and hope to find the behaviour that matches your hypothesis. We say this will take a bunch of time you don’t have. Don’t rely on luck to find the data. Go and make your own data!

  1. Go to your site
  2. Log in
  3. Do the thing(s) in your hypothesis

Now you can find you in the User Explorer and build a segment based on your behaviour. The trick is to find your User ID in the User Explorer though…the observant reader will notice there’s no table filter in the report. Hmmm…

Having done steps 1-3 above, change the date range on the User Explorer to today (the day you did steps 1-3).

Assuming you know your User ID value, you need to build a segment to apply to the User Explorer to show only your data. You can find the User ID in your browser cookies. If you don’t know how to do this or where to look, ask your engineers.

You need to make sure you’re recording the User ID value in a custom dimension. The User ID dimension used in the User Explorer isn’t available for use in segments so use the custom dimension in a user based filter like this:

User ID Segment

The name of the custom dimension is “Site UserID” and the value is “ABC123”. Now your segment will show only your data in the User Explorer:

Your data in User Explorer

Cool. Now we can dig for treasure we know to be there:

Valuable data

See the “Create Segment” button in the top left?  Click it:

Create segment

You’ll notice some private details are covered up here but the important things to notice and do are to use a better segment name than shown here and make sure you click “Any View” in the “Enable Views” section.

Save the segment.

Now you can use this segment to analyse User ID view data to find the scale of the segment or apply it to the normal reporting view to widen the net and find the full scope of the users who fit into your segment.

Top level silver bullet data

Yep, plenty of meat on the bone here – worth exploiting in a campaign.

Segment to Audience

Again, the sharp eyed reader will have spotted the use of segments so far with not even a shred of audience-ness apparent. We’ll fix that right now.

Having applied the segment to your report, click the little down arrow at the right of the segment and choose “Build Audience”:

Build Audience button

Now I’ll pass the reigns over to the fantastic writers at Google to explain the rest of the audience building process.

Conclusion and what next

So there you go. The User Explorer is super useful for segment building. With thought you’ll begin to derive more and more actionable behaviour based hypotheses. Build segments easily based on data you control. Then analyse the full body of GA data with these segments. Turn the best opportunities into Audiences and use these audiences in advertising campaigns, optimisation tests and personalisation treatments.

You can do this with confidence as the data will show you how potentially lucrative these audiences can be.


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