Google Analytics has launched its new Visitors Flow feature - is this the future of website analytics?
I would agree with Google that traditional path analysis tools can be hard to get your head around. I sympathise with the Analytics providers - it can't be easy to write a program that visualises something as complex as visitors' route through a website - especially for large, high traffic websites. So have Google found the answer?
It's early days, but so far the results look promising. I had a look at the Visitors Flow diagrams for the Barn2 Media site and some of our clients' websites and at first glance, they do look effective.
The Visitors Flow diagram is laid out as a simple series of boxes. The left hand column shows whatever factor you're looking at (country of origin, traffic source etc.); the next column shows the first page that each visitor accessed; the next column shows the next page they navigated to; and so on. There are intuitively designed wavy lines linking the boxes together, visually demonstrating the various paths people take through your website. But it's easier to see for yourself - log into Google Analytics for your own site and take a look.
The good points
- Easy to find from the Analytics dashboard.
- Easy to filter by whatever data you're interested in - the default is Country/Territory but since Barn2 Media focusses on the UK market, I prefer to filter by factors such as Traffic Source. You can even define your own values to filter by.
- Simple numbers in each box, clearly showing how many visitors each path refers to.
- Easy-to-understand colours - blue lines illustrate visitors' movement between the pages of your site, with thicker lines showing the most popular routes. The bounce rate - where people left the site after visiting a particular page - is shown by a red line. Again, the red line is thicker for pages with the highest bounce rate so you can see any problem areas at a glance.
Room for improvement?
As always, the main issue is how well the Visitors Flow diagram scales up to cater for large, high traffic websites. It's easy enough to illustrate the path of a small number of visitors through a small static website, so the real test is what happens when things get more complex.
The Visitors Flow diagram manages to keep things simple by illustrating the most popular visitor routes, with an expandable box at the bottom of each column to represent the less popular pages. This keeps things simple for even the most complex websites, as you can instantly see the most relevant information for your site.
When I clicked one of the 'more pages' boxes, I expected the diagram to expand to include the additional pages and paths. Instead, it opened a popup window containing a table listing the other pages visited, with no information about visitors' paths through these pages. There's a dropdown list to show traffic breakdown and outgoing traffic, but this is combined for all the pages. This won't be satisfactory for larger websites needing a more complex analysis.
A more intuitive option would be to expand the diagram itself when you click on the box at the bottom of the column. I realise this could make the digram quite complicated for larger websites, but the beauty of Google Analytics has always been that it can be infinitely scaled up or down for all types of website. So why have Google limited their Visitors Flow diagram in this way?
So, is this the future of Analytics? Well, my first impressions are positive, but Google should put more time into allowing the Visitors Flow diagram to be expanded to show more complex visitor paths - rather than taking the lazy option and adding tables for the lower-level data.