Path Analysis in Google Analytics with Flow Visualization

Google Recently announced a new feature in Google Analytics, Flow Visualization. These reports, the Visit Flow report, Navigation Flow report, and Goal Flow report are a new take on analyzing how people navigate through content.

Flow Visualization report in Google Anlaytics

Flow Visualization report in Google Anlaytics

For a long time click path analysis was not really possible in Google Analytics. Sure, we had the Navigation Summary and Entrance Paths reports, but these were very limited. This was by design. Most click path reports, no matter the analytics tool, has little to no value. They usually show 9,845 different paths to conversion. How does that help?

The new Flow Visualizations reports hope to remedy this problem and make it easier to understand visitor behavior regarding how they move through content.

Nodes: Foundation of Flow Visualizations

All flow visualization reports are built using nodes. Nodes are groups of pages. The cool thing is that the nodes are automatically created using an intelligence algorithm. For example, nodes will automatically group the same page that may only differ by a couple of query parameter.

Don’t worry, you can create your own nodes, and I’ll show you how to do that in a minute.

The new reports show visitor flow through nodes, and where people drop out of the flow (ie leave the site). The really important thing here is the visualization AND our ability to manipulate the visualization. So if you a specific issue or scenario that you are analyzing it’s easy to drill down on the scenario you want. But the visualization also supports ad-hoc analysis.

These new reports are in the Home > Intelligence > Flow Visualization section.

On to the Visits Flow report.

Visit Flow Report

The Visit Flow report is a nice refresh of the traditional click path report. Rather than looking at clicks from one page to another, we’re seeing visitors moving between nodes. The ‘story’ starts on the left side of the visualization where you can choose a to view a starting segment, like Campaign, Traffic Source, Country, Region, etc.

This is AMAZING! Now you can easily segment traffic through a site based on various dimensions of data! The next time someone asks what campaign traffic did, now you can provide some very detailed flow information.

Connections in blue represent the number of visits that move between the nodes.

Connections in red represent the drop off from a particular node.

How easy is that to understand? The brilliance is the simplicity.

Let’s say you want to focus on a particular segment of data, like the state of Texas. Just choose a dimension from the drop down, in this case Region. Then click on the Texas node at the far left and choose ‘Highlight traffic through here’. The path of traffic from Texas will appear a bit darker.

View the path for a specific dimension of data in the Flow Visualization report.

View the path for a specific dimension of data in the Flow Visualization report.

I know there can be a lot to take in. If you are a bit confused, then perhaps we should reduce the number of paths that are visible. Use the ‘Connections’ slider at the top to view more, or less paths and make the analysis easier.

Alter the number of paths visible in Flow visualization

The reason why click path reporting has sucked for SO LONG was the vast amount of data stuffed into a really crappy display. Google is trying to solve that using this new visualization, the Dimension drop down AND the Connections slider. You have control over the amount of data you are looking thus making analysis area.

Using this interface you can identify where people come from, follow them to various pages and evaluate the bounce rate, and then see what they look at after the landing page.

The interactivity is just awesome.

[ By the way, you can scroll to the right by dragging the visualization when you see the fist. You can also add more steps by clicking on the arrow at the far right. ]

Let’s say you want to learn more about a particular node. Just hover over a node and you’ll see something like this:

Node details in Google Analytics Flow Visualization

The first thing we learn is how many pages are in this node. Remember, an algorithm initially created this node. We can also see how many dropped off and how many moved on. Very useful.

Now, perhaps I want to understand this page a little better. I can click on the node and choose ‘Explore Traffic through here.’ That brings us to the next report

Navigation Flow Report

The Navigation Flow report is similar to the old Navigation Path report in Google Analytics. Now you can see the nodes before, and after, your chosen node.

Google Analytics Flow Navigation Report

Google Analytics Flow Navigation Report

Let’s talk about how we can create and edit your nodes.

Click on the small gear at the top of the node. You can use a reg ex, or other basic pattern, to group a set of pages together into a node.

For example, if I’m a publisher, I may want to group all my Sports pages together into a Sports node, like this:

The Name field is the name that will be displayed in the report, it’s nice and human readable :)

The value here is you can group your content together so you can analyze your site your way.

Ecommerce people, want to understand the flow of traffic through your product pages? Group them together in a node.

Publishers people, want to see where people go after the last page in all your articles? Group those pages together in a node.

Another really cool feature of the Flow Visualization reports is our ability to segment the entire graphic. Use the drop down at the top of the report to apply a segment, like new visits, return visits, etc.

Apply a segment to a Flow Visualization

Apply a segment to a Flow Visualization

Combine that with the dimension drop down and I can slice and dice the behavior of different groups as they move around the site. Crazy awesome.

Goal Flow Analysis

In addition to the basic flow reporting, there is also a Goal Flow report that provides insight into your conversion paths.

Goal Flow report in Google Analytics.

Goal Flow report in Google Analytics. Click to enlarge.

Again, you can choose a dimension of data, here I chose the medium, and view how that traffic moved through your funnels. I hope you have a funnel configured!

NOTE: At this time the Goal Flow report only works for URL based goals and funnels. Events will follow soon.

Notice the loops? Those show traffic that ‘loops back’ to other steps. I think this is a HUGE improvement over the existing Goal Funnel reports. It’s much easier to see holes in the funnel (drop offs) and behavior (looping).

Is this just the beginning?

Hopefully this gives you a basic idea of how the flow visualization reports work and how you can manipulate them. The key here is that you can segment the data to isolate the behavior that you want to investigate.

I’ve got to say, I think this is going to have a much bigger impact on Google Analytics than most people know. Sure, these reports are sexy. And we’ll start to do more path analysis.

But this visualization of data is the key change. I believe we’re going to see Google include more creative data visualizations to help aid analysis. That’s truly exciting.

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    1. Ulrik says

      How does table limits in Google Analytics work with this feature. I am assuming this will easily fill 20.000 rows of data in absolutely no time?

    2. says

      Hi Justine,

      I want to track action by Google analytics event tracking. But the challenge that customer needs to make account first, and then verify it from his email to have the permission to do that action (that I want to track). The problem here is that Google analytics will consider this visitor after verifying his email as a new visit. So, I will not be able to track from where visitor who make this action/Goal come from.

    3. Chris G says

      These are so beautiful. For their sexiness alone they should be shown to clients. Curves! Shading! The only thing missing is gradients. Oh wait.

      I look forward to seeing examples, someday, of instances where an analyst actually learned something that they didn’t already get from a good look at other reports. It’s really hard to eyeball-compare things like this for different segments and not make a mistake. Give me cluster analysis any day.

    4. says

      I have been toying around with some of the new features in GA, but haven’t really had the time to spend setting up some custom reports and nodes, especially with the visualization funnels. This is really great stuff.

      This will not only help me with my top content but will really help me to figure out if users are getting to the homes they are looking for or if they are falling off somewhere in the process.

      This should help me see quite a lift in my Mirasol internet buyers’ inquiries. So excited!!


    5. Dave Searle says

      Great to see this kind of visualisation coming into use. I first saw this being used in the Visual Sciences (now Adobe Insight) product about 4 years ago. I wonder when we’ll see process maps in GA :)

    6. says

      Hey Justin,

      great post. I’ve been playing for a couple of days with Google Analytics and Visitor Flow mostly for understanding how my app is being used. Grouping different pages is a must, as I’ve got tens of URL pointing to the same page.

      However, after I create a group, do the analysis and start looking for something else I lose all the information that I entered regarding them. Can the group configuration be saved somehow for future usage ?

      • says

        @Bogdan: Unfortunately no, once you change screens the custom grouping goes away. I think this is something that will improve over time. While I love the flow visualization there are lots of little things, like ‘saving’, that could make it much better.

      • says

        @Bogdan: I have solved this sort of problem by setting up a different GA profile in which I use filter to rewrite the URL and group different page into 1 URL. You can then use all the GA features with this grouping.
        I would think that if you can group your URL in Visitor Flow, you should be able to do it in the filter setting


    1. […] Path analysis in Google Analytics with Flow Visualization (Analytics Talk/Justin Cutroni)  “The reason why click path reporting has sucked for SO LONG was the vast amount of data stuffed into a really crappy display. Google is trying to solve that using this new visualization[…]. Using this interface you can identify where people come from, follow them to various pages and evaluate the bounce rate, and then see what they look at after the landing page.” […]

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