By Jon McBride

Most people are familiar with flowcharts. They are often used in business to design and document complex processes. Their purpose is to help users understand a process, and find trends, flaws, bottlenecks, and other less-obvious features within it. Google Analytics introduced this style of reporting in the fall of 2011 to give you a visual aid to see the flow of traffic through your websites. “Flow Visualization” is a tool that gives you a quick, easy, and graphic way to analyze how visitors flow across pages on your sites. There are four flow reports that you can access from the menu bar on the left side of the Google Analytics interface. They are the Visitors Flow report, the Social Visitors Flow report, the Events flow report, and the Goal Flow report.

Visitors Flow ReportVisitors Flow Report

Visitors Flow Report

You will find the Visitors Flow report in the Audience menu. It shows you where visitors come to your site from, the pages they navigate through, and where they exit. You are able to segment visitor data using different variables such as new vs. returning, paid vs. unpaid, visits with a transaction or conversion, etc. This is done in the “Select a Segment” drop down menu at the top of the report. You can split this segment data using different dimensions in the “User Defined Value” drop down menu. These include demographic, traffic source, content and system data as well as the option to create custom values. So for example, you can see the flow of paid traffic split by region, or traffic with a goal conversion split by keyword or campaign. When you click on a starting point, a pop up window gives you the option to highlight traffic through that segment or to view only that segment.

Node details in Google Analytics flow visualization reportsMetrics are displayed when you hover over a node.

The User Defined Values create horizontal starting points to see how traffic flows through different nodes. Nodes are lists of pages on your site, represented vertically on the report, which indicate the starting page, 1st interaction, 2nd interaction, 3rd interaction, etc. According to Google, “Nodes are automatically clustered according to an intelligence algorithm that groups together the most likely visitor flow through a site”. When you hover over or click on a node, it gives you a display of detailed metrics about that specific point.

Social Visitors Flow Report

The Social Visitors flow report is found in the Traffic Sources menu under Social. As with the other flow reports, you are able to segment the traffic and view it through different dimensions using drop down menus. It shows you the path visitors from social networks took through your site. This can be especially useful to see data about campaigns that you run on different social networks and whether visitors from those social networks follow the intended path through your site.

Events Flow Report

The Events Flow report is in the Content menu under Events. In order for it to show data, you need to set up event tracking in Google Analytics. Event tracking is a feature that gives you the ability to track visitor actions such as interaction with Adobe Flash object, playing embedded videos or Mp3’s, downloading PDF files, etc., without altering your pageview count. It requires adding a javascript snippet to the object you intend to track. You can find detailed instructions on how to set this up here. With this in place, you can use the flow report to see the path that lead visitors to your event, how many drop off without interacting with it, and where they go afterwards.

Goal Flow Report

The Goal Flow report is in the Conversions menu under Goals. In order for it to have data to display, you must set up goals in Google Analytics. Goals can be related to dimensions like time on site, page views, etc., or to eCommerce or Event conversions. With clear goals established, changing the variables in the flow report gives you multiple ways to view your data and understand the success and failure of traffic to meet those goals.

Date Comparison with Flow Visualization

It is possible to compare two date ranges within a flow visualization report within a single screen. This allows you to track changes in behavior over time. You can do this by clicking on the date range menu at the top of the report. When you select the “Compare to Past” option, you will be able to choose a second date range to compare your report with.

Flow visualization reports within Google Analytics are an excellent way to get an easy-to-understand diagram of visitor behavior on your site. The ability to quickly change the dimensions of the data being viewed and highlight different streams within the reports makes them a valuable tool to see how traffic flows through your site. For many people, they are a more intuitive way to present traffic data than charts and graphs. The Google Analytics Youtube channel is a great place to learn more about using flow reports with your site.


Jon McBride is an SEO consultant and writer interested in technology, sustainability, consciousness and funky roots music. He has been a trusted voice to business owners and creative professionals in Los Angeles for more than 15 years bringing experience, vision and humor to the challenge of developing compelling digital content.


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