Google Analytics – Goal Flow or Funnel Visualization, Which Is Better?

Theo Bennett - August 6, 2021

Funnel visualization is a great method to understand how a user progresses through a structured flow of your site; e.g. a checkout flow that includes “cart”, “billing & shipping ”, “payment”, “review”, “purchase completed, can be visualized to see the drop-off at each step. This is useful for analyzing the user experience and to hypothesize ways to improve throughput in the funnel. In Google Analytics, there are two ways to do this. The legacy report is the Funnel Visualization report and the other is the Goal Flow report. So, which should you use?

First, it is important to note that to use either report, the same setup is required.

  1. Set up a goal that includes the pageview for the last step in the funnel, in our case outlined above this will be the URL with the “receipt” or thank-you page for “purchase completed”
  2. Add the URL for each step in the funnel – except the last step which
    is purchase completed or /ordercompleted\.html in this example. (This example and screenshot uses RegEx matching, you could also use the “Begins With” option and the page would be entered as /ordercompleted.html

Now that the goal and steps are configured, let’s look at each report – both of which are found under the Conversions section of Google Analytics.

Funnel Visualization Report

As you can see from the screenshot, each step that was created in the goal setup is visible. On the left you see how users enter the cart to include entrance to the site, the home page, the store, etc. In this case 1571 sessions entered the funnel and on the right you can see that 890 exited the funnel at the first step and users exited the site or went to other pages like store or home. This visualization continues to the bottom of the funnel, in this example, the purchase completed page.

While this is a useful report, there are four challenges.

  1. If a user enters mid-funnel (e.g. coming back to the payment page via bookmark) then the previous steps of billing and shipping and cart would have their counts backfilled or increased.
  2. It’s difficult to connect the exits from the funnel to real user behavior. For example, we can see exits from billing and shipping that go to basket, which is the previous step. What do these users do next? We can’t tell in this report.
  3. Like most reports in Google Analytics, this report works only for date ranges after its creation.
  4. The report can only be used to view all the data collected in the view in aggregate. There is no way to segment out different audiences.

Goal Flow Report

As we touched on earlier, the goal flow report is powered by the same setup as funnel visualization, namely a pageview goal with the use funnel checkbox selected and the funnel steps define; on first glance, the visualization is similar.

Right away you can see that we are viewing this as a horizontal funnel with the “Source” dimension selected and we can see the contributions in aggregate of each source AND we can simply click on a source (or many other dimensions) or we can apply a custom segment. This alone makes this report a winner!

Next this is an interactive report, and you can make selections within the data. First enhance the level of detail on the top left report menu and then interact with the report.

In this screenshot, Direct traffic was selected by clicking on the direct “node” and a further subset of 74 sessions in which the user looped between payment and billing and shipping. Here you can see just sessions that meet those criteria and view their progress through the funnel. If that isn’t enough, you can also add a custom segment to this report which is not possible in Funnel Visualization.

The last great benefit of this report is that it’s retroactive, so when the funnel steps change, you adjust the steps to match, and the report will work from the date of the change.

Summary

While both are good reports, it’s my view that the Funnel Visualization report can be used as a quick glance only and all analysis should be done in the Goal Flow report. If you have any questions or would like more help with Google Tag Manager, Google Data Studio, Google Optimize or Google Analytics, please contact us today.

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