Unveiled at the Web 2.0 Summit , the introduction of Flow Visualisation to Google Analytics is being lauded as a ‘game changer’ in online discussions. Currently being rolled out in V5 of Google Analytics, the interactive graph modelling of visitor paths has been aimed at addressing the difficulties users have had with limits surrounding traditional funnel visualisation. As with the general layout of V5, the emphasis of these new reports is on speed and usability, further evidence Google is striving to deliver quick and clear insights into the data most relevant to users.
The visualisation reports provide users with easily digested graphic data about flow paths through a website. The visualizers feature interlinked ‘nodes’ representing varying stages of the flow path such as landing pages and the page visitors interact with after navigating away from the landing page. The links between nodes illustrate the path taken by visitors, and these are given a visual indicator of importance in the form of varying degrees of shading so users are able to identify the busiest paths at a glance.
In order to prevent the reports becoming incomprehensibly complex, rather than document the path of every single visitor in exact detail the visualisations instead show flow generalisations calculated by an intelligence algorithm which works out most likely visitor path.
There are currently two visualisation reports in the initial release…
Visitor Flow generates a visual map of visitor progression through a website, graphically charting movement between pages by chosen dimension (source/medium/term etc). This visualizer is currently found in the ‘Visitors Flow’ link under the ‘Flow Visualisation’ section in the Home tab although in future, access will be from the visitors section of the ‘Standard Reporting’ tab. By hovering over each node, users are given a snapshot report of how much traffic arrived at that stage of the flow path, the drop off rate at that stage, and the volume of traffic continuing onto other pages.
Users can achieve greater granularity of data by drilling into individual nodes. Users can highlight traffic flow though a specific node, explore traffic in greater detail, and also group data related to that node. In the example below, data from a chosen node has been grouped by traffic break-down:
Users can also group data by Incoming Traffic, Outgoing Traffic and Top Pages
Like Visitor Flow, Goal Flow provides a visual representation of the progression of a defined segment of visitors, this time specifically through a user defined set of stages constituting a goal conversion process:
This visualizer can arguably be seen as a more dynamic expansion of previous funnel visualisation reports in earlier versions of Google analytics and will be found under Goals in the Conversions section of the ‘Standard Reporting’ tab. At present, Goal Flow visualisations are restricted to URL goals, but given Google’s recent display of commitment to improving the Google Analytics platform it seems reasonable to expect this be extended further.
It is worth noting that in line with other recent developments with V5 such as the incorporation of Webmaster Tools data, users are able to apply advanced segments to both of the Visualizers and also apply them to historical data.
This development offers exciting possibilities to web analysts and site optimizers, and the positive buzz surrounding report visualisations appears justified. The encouraging reception is likely to be especially welcome given the negative views voiced in response to the recent announcement of Google’s move to encrypt organic searches and outbound clicks by default to those logged in with SSL search.
The above visualisations have the potential to greatly aid site navigation decisions since they permit swift identification of pages which are performing as they should be and perpetuating user interest as well as highlighting those which are turning visitors away. In terms of goals, user attention is instantly drawn to telling trends, making pages in need of optimisation far more obvious. In addition, the ability to segment visitor behaviour allows marketers to quickly identify the quality of traffic from a given source, referrer or medium.
By giving clearer insights into user path behaviour, Google is hoping user experience will be improved as web site optimisers are encouraged to develop sites to accommodate user trends. From the perspective of analysts and site developers, knowing at a glance where sites are failing to operate as desired is extremely handy.
In sum, the Visualisation reports are not only extremely useful, but also mark Google’s continued dedication to improving the standard platform in the wake of the launch of GA Premium. Google has declared its intention to expand this visual style of reporting, so look forward to seeing more visual report options in the future.