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A Click-By-Click Guide to Using Filters in Google Analytics

Applied correctly, Google Analytics filters can create better reports and help you make better business decisions. And they're easier to use than you think.

“I need to massage the data first.”

That’s an answer a systems administrator used to give me a lot. It was around 1998 – just about when “the commercial internet” was about to change the world.

We didn’t have sophisticated reporting programs like we have today. And it seemed like to do anything, we needed to “massage the data” first.

A lot of things were kinda strange back then (especially compared to now). But “massaging the data” always sounded particularly strange.

Until, of course, I started dealing with big data sets. And doing “bootstrapping” in graduate school, which back then was not a financial strategy for startups, but a way to use customer data to make predictions about how people might behave.

That was when I had to start massaging my own data.

“Massaging the data” means, of course, to throw out the outlier information. To clean up the data, as most data scientists would say.

While most marketers are not full-fledged data scientists, we often do have to massage or clean up our data if we want it to make sense. We need clean, reliable, relevant data if we want reliable, readable reports that are safe to take action on.

That’s where Google Filters comes in. Filters are, as some might say, a way to “massage the data” or to clean up the data so your reports are more clear. So you have more reliable data. And so you can make better decisions about your business.

So, to help you make better data decisions, and ultimately better business decisions, here are five handy ways to clean up (or massage) your Google Analytics data so your reports look even better.

Get permission first

Before we start, make sure you have “Edit” permission at the account level to manage filters.

To see your permission level, go to Admin > User Management. You’ll see every user on the account and what their level of permissions is.

Here’s what that screen will look like (but with your data, not mine):

Google Analytics Permissions screen

 1. An employee traffic filter.

You’ve got a website. You’ve got customers. And that’s great – the customers use the website, and so you can use Google Analytics to see what those customers do on your website.

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Trouble is, you’ve also got employees. (Well, hopefully most of your employees aren’t trouble.) Those employees are using your website, too. So when you run your weekly traffic reports, your employees’ use of your website is kind of mucking up the view of how your customers use your site.

Here’s how to fix that:

  1. Log into your Google Analytics account. Find the site you want to add the employee filter to.
  2. Click the little “wrench” symbol in the lower left-hand corner of the screen to get to the Admin area.
  3. On the next page, in the third column, find the “Filters” item in the list. Click it.
  4. Next you’ll see the filters page. If you have any pre-existing filters, you’ll see them here.
  5. Click the red “Add Filter” button.
  6. The next screen is really where the magic happens. Here, make sure:
    • “Create new filter” is selected (NOT “Apply existing filter”)
    • You’ve included the filter name. The one I’m using here is “Screen employees out”
  7. Pick a filter type.
  8.  For this particular filter, we want to select “Predefined” (not “Custom”).

  9.  Then, from the three pull-down menus right below “Predefined”, select “Exclude”, “traffic from IP addresses” and “that contain”. Like this:
  10.  Enter your company’s IP address.

    Don’t know your IP address? There are a bunch of free online tools that can show you what it is in a couple of clicks.

    Your IP address could be a series of numbers and periods, like this: “216.3.128.12” or a series of letters and numbers and periods.

    If you didn’t know already, your IP address basically just shows computers where you are in the world. Think of it as your digital address.

  11. Once you’ve got the form filled out, click “Save”.

 You’ll see your new filter in the list now.

Google Analytics filters view

Word to the wise: Filter order matters.

Google Analytics applies one filter at a time, in order. So if you set up, say, the mobile users only filter, and then put the Canadian users only filter below it, you’d get a view of mobile users from Canada – and nobody else.

You might have noticed that the main filter page has changed in one important way since we added the second filter. It’s now got an “Assign Filter Order” button near the top, just to the right of the red “Add Filter” button.

Use that Assign Filter Order page to arrange your filters in a way that gives you the right data for your reports.

Google Analytics Assign Filter Order page

2. You want to see website visitor behavior from a certain campaign.

Now that you’ve created your first filter, creating this next one will be a snap.

  1. Click “Add filter”.
  2. Choose “Create new filter”.
  3. Name the new filter. I chose a date/campaign format for this test filter of “091517_AdWords”.
  4. Choose a “Custom” filter.
  5. Click “Include” from the list of radio buttons.
  6. Choose “Campaign Medium” from the pull-down menu.
  7. Type in the medium you want to view. I choose “email” for this example.

Filter website visitors from a certain campaign

Now, what if you don’t want to track your email campaign traffic? Well, you’ve got some options.

You can set up a name for any campaign you want by creating a tracking URL with Google’s Campaign URL Builder. It’s free, widely used, and easy to use. You can name your campaign “Lulu_Belle_Extravaganza” if you want (though we do recommend a naming convention that’s easy for you and your team to recognize).

You could also put in one of the default campaign parameters.

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According to Google, “Every referral to a website also has a medium. Possible medium include: “organic” (unpaid search), “cpc” (cost per click, i.e. paid search), “referral” (referral), “email” (the name of a custom medium you have created), “none” (direct traffic has a medium of “none”).”

3. You want to see behavior from a certain country (or countries).

This one’s even easier to set up than the last.

  1. Click “Add filter.”
  2. Choose “Create new filter”.
  3. Name the new filter. I chose this “Canada_and_Mexico_ONLY”.
  4. Choose a “Custom” filter.
  5. Click “Include” from the list of radio buttons.
  6. Choose “Country” from the pull-down menu.
  7. Fill out the parameters field like this: “Canada|Mexico”. That symbol between them is called the “pipe” symbol. Use it like an “and” to add multiple countries (or multiple parameter fields for anything else).

Google has a nice help page on using geography and geographic names as parameters.

Just be careful… because depending where you put this filter in your list of filters, you might only see (for instance), mobile email clicks from people in Canada and Mexico. If that’s what you want, fabulous. If not, consider rearranging your filters or deleting a couple. Hopefully, by now you’re reasonably confident enough with filters that re-creating one doesn’t seem like too much work.

4. You want to see how only mobile users behave.

  1. Click the “Add filter” button.
  2. Choose “Create new filter”.
  3. Name the new filter. Name it something you and everyone on your team will immediately recognize and understand. I went with “Mobile traffic only” for this filter.
  4. Choose a “custom” filter.
  5. Select “Include” for the filter type.
  6. Scroll down (it’s a long list) until you get to the “Mobile Device” section. Then pick “Device Category” from the menu.
  7. Select “Mobile” from the next pull-down menu.
  8. Click “save”.

And you’re done! Not too hard, right?

There’s more than one way to see mobile traffic

You can also view mobile traffic without a filter.

Just so you know how to do this, bring up, say, your top content pages. Look for “Page” > “Secondary dimension”.

Google Analytics secondary dimensions

When you click on that secondary dimension menu, you’ll see this. Click on the submenu “Users”.

Google Analytics secondary dimension 2

Scroll down until you get to the mobile options. There are quite a few.

In the view below, I’ve already selected “Mobile (Including Tablet)”, so it doesn’t show in the pull-down menu anymore – it shows in the pull-down menu label.

Google Analytics secondary dimension: mobile

You can select any one of those mobile options you want, depending on how granular a view of your website traffic you want to get.

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5. You want to see how only Facebook users behave.

Do a lot of work on Facebook? Wonder about what those users do when they get to your website? This filter can show you that.

  1. Click “Add Filter” from the main filter screen.
  2. Click “Create New Filter”.
  3. Name your filter.
  4. Choose a “Custom” filter type.
  5. Choose the “Include” radio button from the options list below.
  6. Scroll all the way down to “Social Network”.
  7. Enter “facebook” in the filter Pattern field.
  8. Click “Save”.

Here’s what the completed screen looked like just before I clicked “Save”.

Google Analytics filter setup

Take note: You can also see Facebook user activity on your site by using “Segments” which are similar (but different!) than filters. There’s a good article here about how to set up a segment to see how your Facebook visitors behave.

Further thoughts 

Filters are definitely cool and absolutely useful. But we recommend you use them sparingly.

Part of why we suggest that is because if you have lots of filters, you could get into trouble with the filter order skewing your data. And besides - as you’ve read about throughout this article - there are plenty of other ways besides filters to clean up the data for your reports.

So use filters… but like you’d use salt. Use a pinch of filters where you need them – but not a pound of them at a time.

Pam Neely
Written By Pam Neely
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