By Oliver Walker

Flex your analytics muscles with a beefed up version of your new visit and returning visit segments to get even better data insight from your analytics tool.

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Technological amnesia

Most analytics tools rely on cookies to establish whether a visitor has been to your website before or not. In the case of Google Analytics it 'records a visitor as 'returning' when the _utma cookie for your domain exists on the browser accessing your site'.

This is great. It means you get metrics like % new visits sent to the site over a given time period and allows you to understand any differences between the two groups.

But. But but but - don't you have a work and a home laptop? Or a tablet? And you definitely have a smartphone...? And when you know the name of the website you want to go to, you probably type it directly into the URL bar. Or (and lets be frank - more of us are in this group) you just search for the brand name of the site to get there. This is where using solely cookies to identify new and returning visitors gets more tricky. So consider the following example:

Relevant (but sock heavy) example

Day 1: At work (in your lunchtime obviously!), you search for snazzy new pair of socks with the phrase 'snazzy turquoise socks'. You find yourself at and, as you've never been there before, you've been tracked as a new visitor. You don't buy but you happily sign up for the newsletter.

Day 2: At home in the evening, you decide that is too darn tempting so you grab your tablet, type '' straight into the navigation bar and buy those socks. Here, you've never been to the site before on your tablet, so again you're tracked as a new visitor.

I could have used the example that you clicked a link in an email that was viewed on a phone; got a new browser on your machine and made a brand search to get to the site; or simply cleared your cookies before returning to the site - in all instances you'd look like a new visitor when you were not.

If only there was a way to sort this out....

Create Advanced Segments!

Luckily, there is.. Using the advanced segments feature of Google Analytics you can flesh out your 'returning visits' segment to become 'true, returning visits' and include:

  • email sign ups
  • any remarketing activity

If a visitor has the remarketing cookie or has signed up to your emails, they must have been on your site before. So classify them correctly as 'true returning'.

We also advocate including:

  • visitors that navigate to the site directly
  • via branded search keywords

in your true returning segment. Although it's certainly possible to have never been to a site before and still find it through one of these mediums, we'd argue that anyone coming to the site directly/through brand keywords must at least know about the website. Although knowing of, and having been to a site are not the same, someone who goes through one of these mediums is likely to have had a recommendation and/or have an expectation of what they'll see when they get there; and so are not 'new' in the same sense. Including these guys in your returning visits segments ensures your 'true new' segment is full of visitors who haven't had any exposure to your brand/site before, and means you can get some fantastic insight into how to improve your website and marketing activity.


Here at Periscopix we aren't greedy so I've created some example segments for you. All you have to do is save them to the profile you want to analyse and tweak according to your brand name and marketing activity!

True Returning:

True New:

Now what?

Get analysing!

Now you have got an awesome body of data to get stuck into and analyse! Focussing on your 'true' new visitors is so important if you are to grow your business - whatever industry you are in, converting new visitors into customers is the only avenue to success. That's why it is vital for you to understand how the site performs from their perspective. Given that they know very little about you before landing on your site, they are also the most likely to bounce straight off again. Start to think about:

  • How did they find me? What pages were they landing on? Were these landing pages the most relevant? You can easily see this information by looking at your Traffic Sources > All Traffic report and adding a secondary dimension for Landing Page. Click the Bounce Rate column to sort by this metric then whack on a Weighted Sort to see the top 10 or 25 landing pages by bounce rate. If you're looking at Search traffic, drill down to look at the keywords driving visits to each landing page - are they the most relevant or can we send them somewhere else? Or should new content be created to cater for these visitors? If this is the most relevant landing page then what is wrong with it which is causing visitors to leave straight away? Similarly look at the Exit Rate of pages to understand which pages need optimisation.
  • Which pages were often viewed in a converting visit? This is where the beautifulPage Value metric comes into its own (this requires that you have either E-commerce tracking set up, or that you have assigned values to your goals, something which you should be doing as a matter of best practice). Go to Content > Site Content > All Pages and then sort by the Page Value column - and exclude those pages which are goal pages or intrinsically linked to checkout pages, and then take a look at what's left.Why are those pages so often viewed in successful visits? Is there something which can be taken from those pages and applied to any others? For example, in a recent piece of analysis I analysed pages which the highest and those with the lowest page value to identify trends. Almost without fail, pages with the lowest value were those product categories which had a huge range of products on; whilst those with the highest value had a much smaller, easier to view number of products on. This allowed us to make a raft of recommendations including the implementation of filtering and sort by options to help improve conversion rate.
  • Check your internal site search. There's no reason to not track your internal site search function, if you have one on your website. If you don't have the right URL structure for this, you can still do it with some clever coding - and you can always speak to some geeks like us if you need some help. Analysing the keywords used by new visitors is hugely valuable as it is the same as a customer in a bricks-and-mortar store asking the sales assistance for help with something. Your visitors are telling you what they want or expect to find on your site and can't. This should inform everything you do - if visitors are searching for things you thought were easy to find, make them move obvious! If visitors are searching for things you don't stock, consider partnering with a company that does in exchange for return links. If visitors are consistently searching for something you didn't expect, create a page or feature or prominent link for this. Always, always be thinking about how you can make it as easy as possible for new visitors to get what they want.

These are just a few examples of things to start thinking about - there's a host more in GA to dig your teeth into.

And finally...

I'll leave you with one final, broad stroke recommendation which I frequently identify in my analysis: your business almost certainly has a USP. It certainly should. So make sure you shout about it! Returning visitors are likely to know what your USP is, but for new visitors who don't, you should make it clear what that is as early as possible in their visit. If you're the cheapest, have free delivery, price promises, the largest team, donate half your profits to obscure animal charities - it's likely to be one of the major drivers in visitors choosing to get their service/product/whatever from you, rather than a competitor. Think about whether you are promoting this enough, don't hide it away until the checkout process - it should be on the product/service category pages or even the homepage.

A long time ago we noticed that traffic to our site invariably found their way to the team page. We're a clever (and dare I say it, dashing-looking) bunch so we were delighted with this - so when website redesign time swung around, we decided to smother the site with our faces so even more people could see us for themselves.

So, you know what you need to do and how to do it - what are you waiting for? Start analysing, reap the rewards and let me know how you get on!