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One of the scariest reports in all of Google Analytics is Visitors Flow. The twists of red, green and gray can look monstrously complex and make even the most courageous of webmasters turn tail and run.
But Visitors Flow can be extremely useful if used correctly. In this blog post, I’ll demystify this report and show you how it can help you get an amazingly in-depth analysis of your visitors’ behavior.
Visitors Flow Basics
First, let’s take a look at the most basic Visitors Flow page that many users see in Google Analytics. This is the scariest thing we’ll see, so buck up!
On the left side you can see a home button and arrows to the left and right. These let you move horizontally along the report. The vertical slider below that button lets you “zoom in” by making each green or red section larger or smaller.
Each rectangle represents a chunk of your traffic. The white rectangles on the left show the countries or territories from which your visitors came. But you can change that first option to be one of any number of variables, from browser, to age, to search engine. Let’s stick with Country/Territory for now.
The gray lines between the boxes show the “flow” of visitors from one page to another. The thickness of the lines indicates the proportion of visitors—a thicker line means more users, just like the thicker rectangles indicate more visitors on a page. In this case, we can see that a big chunk of our visitors land on the free website analysis, another big chunk arrive at the home page, and a large proportion come to Blue Corona through the blog.
But the real advantage of the Visitors Flow report is that we can see what visitors do next. A big proportion head back to the homepage—that’s interesting. Plenty head to the free SEO analysis. A bunch go to the contact page. And many go to the blog or the team page.
Those red “waterfalls” coming off the right side of the pages are also an important metric. They indicate the page’s drop-off rate—how many visitors leave our website after landing on this page.
Before we do any more analysis, we need to cut some of the visitors out of this report. The default view shows all of your traffic, which is way too much to manage! So let’s cut it down to U.S. visitors. Feel free to follow along on your own site’s Google Analytics page.
How to Manage the Visitors Flow Report
Click the XXX to the right of the Country/Territory dropdown to open the Customize Dimension Items window. Country/Territory should be selected already, but if not, click the dropdown and choose Visitors > Country/Territory.
Click the + Add an item link. Leave the dropdown on the left set to equals and enter United States. Then click Apply. Your filtered report should look a little cleaner:
Before we filter any further, I want to point out the Level of Detail button near the top of the page. Click it to get a slider that allows you to increase or decrease the number of connections (those wiggly gray lines) between each page. This can help you get a clearer high-level view, or really dig into the details of a “zoomed-in” analysis.
Come in with a Question
Once you’ve got your Visitors Flow report filtered to just the population you want to analyze, it’s time to think of a question you want to answer. Like a lot of the reports in Google Analytics, it doesn’t really pay to just click around. You want to have a problem that needs solving when you jump into Visitors Flow. In this case, let’s say our question is, “How do people behave once they’ve arrived on the Contact Us page?”
We can click the /contact-us box and select Explore traffic through here to “zoom in” on only visitors that touch the Contact Us page.
I should mention also that I’ve amped up the Level of Detail slider to maximum. Since we’re so zoomed in, the tangle of connections is less confusing at this level, and it provides an additional level of detail. Here we can see that most of our visitors to the Contact Us page come from the home page. Get that number by mousing over the gray connection line. Plenty of others come from the blog, the Meet the Team page, and others.
Once they’ve arrived, nearly the same proportion drop off the site at that point. That might be worrisome on any other page, but this is Contact Us—so we can assume that at least some of those drop-offs left because they got the information they needed (like a phone number or email address).
But look—a good chunk of visitors headed to the home page after going to Contact Us. That probably means they didn’t get the information they wanted from it—more on that latter. Here’s the rest of the most common actions visitors take
- Go to the Meet the Team page
- Fill out the contact form to get in touch
- Head to the Careers page (probably job-seekers)
- Fill out the form to get a free SEO analysis
About a quarter go elsewhere. I can click the (+50 more pages) box and select Group details to get a line-by-line view of exactly where this smaller proportion of visitors is going.
So, what’s the answer to our question? Well, most of the visitors to Contact Us leave the website after visiting. That makes sense for a contact page. The next-highest proportion either complete the contact form or submit their website for a free SEO analysis. That’s great, since one of the main objectives of our site is to generate leads. Another decent proportion go to Meet the Team, so maybe we should look into providing direct links to the Meet the Team page from Contact Us. Same story with Careers, since a good four percent of Contact Us visitors go there.
Going a Step Further
Visitors Flow is powerful enough to allow us to analyze many steps beyond this first one. As an example, let’s see where those visitors who returned to the home page from Contact Us went after that.
First we’ll click the + Step text to the far right side. That adds another layer of connections. Then we’ll click the homepage box (represented by a single /) and click Highlight traffic through here.
From this, we can see that nearly a third of our visitors go back to the Contact Us page after visiting it the first time. That’s interesting and warrants further investigation. A lot of them to go to Meet the Team page, and plenty also go to the Careers page. That confirms our earlier suspicion—many of those returning to the home page were looking for contact information for specific employees, or for the Careers page.
Beyond the Basics
There is so much more you can do with Visitors Flow—this post is truly just an introduction to the basics. If you’ve got the time and interest, there are lots of great resources that can teach you more. But if you’re busy running a business, you might want someone else to do it for you. Blue Corona can help.
About The Author:
Blue Corona is a data-driven online marketing company with offices in Gaithersburg, MD and Charlotte, N.C.
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