About a month ago I was at the Conversion Conference in NYC. At the same time, there were 5 other conferences being held at the same facility as part of the Data Driven Business Week, one of these was a Google Analytics Users’ Great Event (Gauge).
Sure, I probably should have been attending Gauge, or IMC, but I wasn’t. Thankfully, the exhibit hall featured booths from all conferences and I was able to sneak a peek at the latest upgrade forthcoming to Google Analytics – Flow Analysis:
A Brief Preview
What’s Flow Analysis? Flow Analysis is the analysis of flow visualization, a relatively common technique for displaying how various paths/actions respond to one another in a given situation. For example, this image of a Harrier jet “pushing against the ground” shows how the engines exert force against the ground, while the airstream and aircraft’s position ensure that the Harrier stays airborne.
Charles Minard gained notoriety for his flow maps of Napoleon’s march on Russia and this visualization of French wine exports:
Now, let’s take a look at a much less blurry screenshot of the GA Flow Analysis tool:
This is one of Google’s 3 new Flow Analysis reports, the Goal Flow report. In this example, the goal appears to be “Dragon T-shirt in Cart” and the report is showing the flow of users based on their Source dimension.
There are 3 reports that can be viewed with Flow Analysis: Goal Flow, Visit Flow, and Navigation Flow.
- Goal Flow uses your goals to view visitors’ progress towards a conversion (lead, transaction)
- Visit Flow shows your visitors’ sources (medium, keyword, landing page, etc) and paths throughout your site
- Navigation Flow is a way to look at a start or stopping node (page, group of pages) on your site and the paths your visitors took to get there
With all of these reports comes some pretty in depth audience segmentation and the ability to view as many or as few connections as you would like. This leaves us with a very robust tool that can solve quite a few problems for the analytics junkie.
3 Uses for Flow Analysis
So how do you use it? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?
Goal Funnel & Overview
It’s not the most alternative use for Flow Analysis, but it is something that many people won’t think of right off the bat. One of the cool features of Goal Flow report is that you can quickly check and adjust your goal funnel setups both immediately and retroactively respectively.
This is because the Goal Flow report saves historical data, meaning that you can adjust goal funnels at any time based on historical performance and then view the results in the report.
Site Architecture & Usability
While Flow Analysis can be very useful in viewing goal funnels and conversion paths. Flow Analysis can be used to handle many usability issues as well. Using the Visit Flow report you can see just how your visitors are navigating your site, and which pages lead to users doubling back to previous pages on the site.
We’ve been able to see abandonment rates when viewing the goal funnel (provided you set one up) for years, but we’ve never been able to view site interaction this easily and on this scale before. Now, when a page (or pages) isn’t performing up to our standards (like in the image above), we can isolate those pages and target exactly why users keep returning to a previous page in the site.
This has tremendous impact on usability and site architecture. With the Visit Flow report, we can see the full impact that our site architecture has on visitors, visit paths, conversion funnels, etc. After analysis, we can then reorganize or redesign pages that have the highest instances of users backwards navigating.
Additionally, Visit Flow can assist with on-site page discovery. If a new page on your site isn’t receiving visits, Visit Flow can help you find out by tracking all the pages that link to the new page. If you’re seeing one or two that have high abandonment rates, then you can be sure that these pages are the culprits for your new page not being found. Optimize those, and you’ll be on the fast track to better site performance.
It goes without saying that Flow Analysis is going to make abandonment optimization much quicker and easier. With Flow Analysis, every page’s abandonment is highlighted with a red drop-off line seen below.
When viewed with a dozen pages at once, this is amazingly easy to read and useful tool. The added bonus here is path analysis, which allows us to view how users from a specific medium, source, landing page, keyword, etc. navigate through the site, by darkening the path and providing path specific stats. A path analysis example can be seen below:
In this example, email users navigated through 4 pages taking various different paths. Some went from the first page to the third, others visited each page in sequential order. There was 0 abandonment on each page, until the final page where the red box has a highlighted red arrow.
In this example, the abandonment rate is nearly optimal (you’re always bound to lose a few at the end), imagine if there was a high % of abandonment on the third page. Now imagine that it was only from those visitors that came directly from the first page. Just like that, you’ve figured out which users are abandoning your page. To test out your solution, perhaps the first step is to ensure all visitors go through the second page in case that page has valuable data to ensure the completion of the funnel.
It’s a powerful tool, for sure. Instead of working with limited data and few solutions for conversion funnels, site architecture & usability issues, and page findability, Google Analytics’ Flow Analysis tool will become a valuable assistant to all your site performance issues.
About The Author
This is a guest post written by Josh Patrice – SEM and UX specialist, and my colleague at Portent. Check him out on Twitter: