Google Analytics Goals and Sales Funnels – Tutorial

In order to make your business a success, you should be spending more time and resources converting existing traffic than acquiring more traffic. 

When you work with the mindset of increasing sales by just sending more traffic to your website, your cost per acquisition tends to be high and your revenue per acquisition tends to be low. So you may eventually end up making less profit and sometimes even a loss. 

The best way of converting existing traffic into sales is by mapping the entire conversion/sales process from lead generation ads to post-sales follow up and then looking for the biggest drop-offs from one step to the next. 

You do that mapping in Google Analytics through Funnel Visualization reports

funnels

Use this report, to determine the biggest drop-offs from one step of the funnel to the next. These drop-offs can help in explaining which part of the website/ conversion process needs urgent attention.

The Funnel Visualization report is available under Conversions > Goals in your GA view:

In order to truly benefit from funnel visualization reports, you must know how this report actually works. 

If you create the wrong funnels then you won’t be able to map customers’ conversion journey correctly and without correct mapping, there would be no conversion optimization.

Before we get into the funnels, we should understand that we will not be able to create a funnel without first setting up a goal. Follow the below steps in order to create a goal in Google Analytics.

Step-1: Log in to your Google Analytics account.

Step-2: Navigate to the view under which you would like to create a goal.

Step-3: Click on the ‘Goals’ tab.

Step-4: Click on ‘New Goal’.

Step-5: From ‘Goal set-up’, select the type of goal that you would like to create. Let’s select ‘Custom goal’.

Step-6: Now in the ‘Goal description’, enter a meaningful goal name and also select the type of goal. Let’s select ‘Destination goal’ and name it ‘Signup goal’.  Click on ‘Continue’.

Step-7: Now in the ‘Goal details’ section, enter the request URL for the goal page. For example, if you want to track the thank you page as a destination goal, instead of www.example.com/thankyou.html only enter /thankyou.html in the ‘Destination’ column.

Step-8: Before saving your goal, you have an option to set up a funnel. This is where a funnel comes into the picture. We will discuss funnels in detail below.

Note: You can learn about setting up goals and funnel visualization in Google Analytics from this help article: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1032415?hl=en-GB

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Introduction to Funnels in Google Analytics

In Google Analytics, a funnel is a navigation path (series of web pages) which you expect your website users to follow, to achieve website goals.

Generally, websites have a series of steps that it wants its users to take from start to finish. Google Analytics funnels tracks this journey so that you can optimize the journey and ensure that the goals of the website are completed. For example, when a user lands on the page, you want them to follow the below steps:

  • Land on the website and browse the products
  • Navigate to the category page
  • Select a specific product and view product details
  • Add an item to the cart
  • View the cart
  • Make a purchase
  • See the confirmation page

By analyzing how the user is behaving at each step, you can optimize your website. The Funnel report provides insights about drop off rates at each step.

If funnel analysis shows that there is high exit rate at the product page, then it means that the visitors aren’t finding what they are looking for and that page requires immediate investigation.

A funnel is made up of a goal page(s) and one or more funnel pages (also known as the funnel steps).

Through funnels, you can determine, where users enter and exit the conversion/sales process.

You can then determine and eliminate bottlenecks in your conversion/sales process in order to improve the website sales. 

You can set up to 20 pages as funnel pages in GA. However, don’t do that (more about that later).

Types of Google Analytics Funnels

There are 4 types of funnels available in Google Analytics:  

  1. Goal funnel – it is a series of web pages which you expect your website users to follow, to complete a non-transactional goal like ‘newsletter signups’, ‘downloads’ etc.
  2. Sales funnel – it is a series of web pages which you expect your website users to follow, to complete a transactional goal like placing an order on the website. The checkout process is a good example of a sales funnel.
  3. Multi-channel goal funnel – it is a goal funnel that takes into account, the role played by multiple marketing channels in the conversion path. 
  4. Multi-channel sales funnel – it is a sales funnel that takes into account, the role played by multiple marketing channels in the conversion path.

In this article, I will explain goal and sales funnels in great detail. But I won’t cover multi-channel goal/sales funnels.

Apart from above mentioned funnel types, we also have strict funnels and flexible funnels. Find out more about them below:

Strict funnel: In this type of funnel, you would like the user to follow the exact same steps that you have mentioned while creating a funnel.  They cannot skip or miss any step. For example:

Home Page > Product Page > Add to Cart > Checkout Page

In the example above, the users need to follow the exact same steps. The user has seen the product page and went straight to the checkout page, there are no other steps in between.

 This type of funnel is mainly used to highlight the drop off points in an idealized journey.

Flexible Funnel: In a flexible funnel, a user can take any paths or steps before they complete a purchase. Because not everyone follows the same path, they may like to view the product reviews, compare it with other products or may also like to add more products to the cart.

A user may still satisfy a flexible funnel criterion as long as they hit some defined pages in their journey. For example:

Home Page > Product Page > Product Review Page > Category Page > Product Detail Page > Cart > Checkout Page

At some point, visitors must visit the steps in bold but they can fulfil the funnel requirements no matter which pages they visit in between.

To learn more about multi-channel funnels, read the article: Google Analytics Attribution Modeling – Beginners Guide

In order to get the most out of goals and sales funnel, you need to know three things:

  1. How to correctly set up goals/sales funnel
  2. How to accurately interpret/read the funnel visualization report.
  3. How to optimize the goals/sales funnel to increase sales.

Common Issues while Setting up Funnels in Google Analytics

Following are the most common issues I have discovered while setting up funnels in Google Analytics :

  1. Selecting the wrong conversion path
  2. Not using descriptive names for funnel steps
  3. Entering incorrect data while defining goal and funnel pages
  4. Using the same goal page for different funnels
  5. Capitalization issues
  6. Assigning a monetary value to transactional goals
  7. Using incorrect REGEX (regular expressions) for Goal and Funnel Pages
  8. Not understanding the required first step
  9. Not Testing the Funnel Setup

Issue #1: Selecting the Wrong Conversion Path

Create a funnel only when there is a well-defined path you can see/expect your website users to follow, to complete your website goal.

If a website goal (like file downloads) can be easily achieved, by following dozens of different paths, then do not define a funnel. If you do, it won’t help you much in understanding how different traffic segments convert. Instead create filtered views (like one view for organic traffic, one for paid search, one for social media, etc).

I am often asked the question:

 How do I decide on pages for my funnel?

The answer is pretty simple, use those pages as funnel pages, which are most frequently viewed prior to goal completions and/or transactions. Use the page value metric to determine such pages.

You can also use the Reverse Goal Path report (under Conversions > Goals in your GA view) to determine the actual navigation paths that triggered goal conversions, and the number of conversions each navigation path triggered.

By default, the Reverse Goal Path report shows the last three steps the user took before viewing the goal page. To view the Reverse Goal Path report and decide on your funnel steps, follow the steps below:

Step-1: Log in to your Google Analytics reports.

Step-2: Click on the ‘Conversion’ tab from the left-hand side as shown below:

Step-3: Under ‘Goals’ menu, select the Reverse Goal Path report.

Step-4: You will see a report like below. Using this report you can decide on your funnel steps.

The navigation path that has triggered the maximum number of conversions, should be used as a funnel.

You can also apply advanced segments to the ‘reverse goal path’ report.

Note: You can only create funnels for URL based goals. So if you want to create funnels for event-based goals then you need to use virtual pageviews.

You can learn more about virtual pageviews from this article: Event Tracking & Virtual pageviews in Google Analytics – Complete Guide

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Issue #2: Not Using Descriptive Names for Funnel Steps

Make sure that you always use descriptive names for funnel steps, as they show up in your funnel visualization reports.

Use a name which describes what the goal/funnel page is all about. Do not use names like step-1, step-2 etc:

The correct set up is as follows:

Issue #3: Entering Incorrect Data while Defining Goal and Funnel Pages

When you set up a goal or funnel page you specify only the Request URI. The Request URI is what comes after the domain name. For example in the URL: https://www.abc.com/completed-purchase.php, the request URI is ‘/completed-purchase.php’.

Following is an example of an incorrect and then correct goal set up:

 

Following is an example of an incorrect and then correct funnel set up:

Issue #4: Using the Same Goal Page for Different Funnels

If you want to set up different funnels for the same goal, then consider using different goal URLs for each individual funnel. For example, let’s say, you want to understand, how people who view the service1 page, convert in comparison to the people, who view the service2 page on your website.

In order to understand this conversion behaviour, set up two different goals and two different funnels in your GA view.

Let us suppose the URI of the goal page for the two funnels is ‘/thank-you/‘.

So the first goal and its corresponding funnel setup could look something like the one below:

The second goals and its corresponding funnel setup could look something like the one below:

Now once you start collecting the data for the two goals, you will discover that the goal completions and goal conversion rate for both goals are reported the same, by Google Analytics:

This happened because both goal completions and goal conversion rates are independent of the funnel steps.

To fix this problem, you need to use a different goal page URL for the two goals.

1) You can use the request URI ‘/thank-you-service1/‘ for the first goal:

2) You can use the request URI ‘/thank-you-service2/‘ for another goal:

After such a setup, you would see the correct number of goal completions and accurate goal conversion rates for each goal and funnel.

Issue #5: Capitalization Issues

There are a lot of websites out there that have got URLs in uppercase and/or lowercase letters or in some weird combination of upper and lowercase letters.

So if your goal/funnel pages did not match the capitalization of visited URLs then you may get incorrect data in your funnel visualization reports. According to my analysis of hundreds of GA accounts, the capitalization issue is one of the most overlooked issues.

If you want to make the goal page URI and funnel page URIs to exactly match the capitalization of visited URIs then check the ‘case-sensitive’ checkbox while setting up a funnel:

Issue #6: Assigning a Monetary Value to Transactional Goals

You should never specify a goal value for transactional goals, as this can inflate the revenue metrics in your Google Analytics reports.

You should assign monetary value only to non-transactional goals (like ‘file downloads’, ‘newsletters signups’ etc) so that Google Analytics can calculate the ROI and per session goal value.

Note(1): Value (or goal value) is the monetary value assigned to a non-transactional conversion. It is determined by calculating what you will get when the goal is achieved. For e.g., if you sell leads then revenue per lead can be the value of each goal.

Note(2): A transactional conversion is counted as many time as it occurs during a GA session. For example, if the number of orders is one of your transactional conversions then GA will count each and every order placed by the same website user.

Note(3): A non-transactional conversion is counted, only once during a GA session, per user. For example, if PDF file download is one of your goals, then Google Analytics will count only one conversion in a single GA session, no matter how many times the same user downloaded the PDF file.

Issue #7: Using the Incorrect REGEX for Goal and Funnel Pages

One of the most common and quite difficult issues to resolve, while setting up funnels in GA, is to make sure that correct regular expression (or REGEX) is used for goal and funnel pages.

For example, in the funnel visualization report you may sometimes see, 100% continuation rate from one step to the next:

Like in our case, there is a 100% continuation rate from the shopping cart page to check out page and 100% continuation rate from the checkout page to the order review page. This usually happens when multiple funnel steps, match the same web pages.

If you look at the funnel set up above, the first step is the home page (/) which matches all other funnel pages, as they all contain ‘/’. This is because of the ‘regular expression’  match type, selected for the URL destination goal ( which is /completed-purchase.php)

The match type (like ‘Regular Expression’, ‘Begins With’, ‘Equal to’) you select for URL destination goal is continued throughout the funnel set up. So if you select a ‘regular expression’ match for the URL destination goal then it will be the same match type for each funnel step.

Similarly, if you select ‘Begins with’ match for the URL destination goal then it will be the same match type for each funnel step.

Remember funnel steps can accept regular expressions. 

In order to solve the 100% continuation issue, in the funnel visualization report here, you need to re-write the regex for the goal page and each of the funnel pages.

Another example

Let us suppose the goal URL is /.*/signup\.php

Now Google Analytics can match this regex with a signup page in any directory.

For example, the goal URL will match the following URLs:

  • https://www.abc.com/signup.php
  • https://www.abc.com/offer1/signup.php
  • https://www.abc.com/offer2/signup.php?query=jay
  • https://www.abc.com/offer3/signup.php?query=shoes&id=2013

To learn more about the uses of regular expressions in Google Analytics, check out this article: Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager Regex (Regular Expressions) Guide

Note: You can also use wild cards to define a goal or funnel page.

For example, you can use *.pdf to define a goal page.

Just like a 100% continuation rate, you can also see a 100% exit rate in your funnel visualization reports whenever two or more funnel steps match the same web pages.

In order to fix this issue, you would need to re-write the regex for the goal page and each of the funnel page.

Issue #8: Not Understanding the Required First Step

When you mark the first step of the funnel as required, the funnel visualization report includes only those conversions that pass through the required step:

That means your funnel conversion rate could be different for the funnel in which the first step is not marked as required.

Here, the order in which the ‘required funnel page’ was viewed during the GA session, which results in a conversion, does not matter. So it is not required that a website user, must first visit the required funnel page before visiting any other funnel page.

The funnel steps 1, 2, 3…. etc are meaningless unless users can’t proceed to the next step before visiting the previous funnel page.

As long as the required funnel page is viewed in a Google Analytics session (which resulted in conversion), regardless of the order in which it was viewed, the conversions will be counted by GA. In our case, the required funnel step is the home page.

So the funnel visualization report would include only those conversions, in which the home page was viewed in a GA session, regardless of the order in which it was viewed.

If you want the funnel visualization report to include only those conversions, in which one of the product category pages was viewed then set product category pages as the required step:

Similarly, if you want the funnel visualization report to include only those conversions, in which one of the product details pages was viewed then set product details page as the required step:

Note: You can create multiple funnels for a single website goal, using the ‘Required‘ funnel step and can thus get a deeper insight into, how people are converting on your website. But such set up is not really required as the goal flow report is a better alternative.

Issue #9: Not Testing the Funnel Set Up

Viewing an empty conversion funnel even after waiting for days, is one of the worst situations to be in. You can’t go back in time, fix the issue and get the historical data.

Even if you fix the funnel set up now, the funnel visualization report will only show data going forward. The funnel visualization report can’t show data retroactively. That means you lost days of data in your funnel visualization report for good.

If your regex for finding goal/funnel pages is incorrect or there are capitalization issues, then you won’t see any data or correct data in your funnel visualization report.

Therefore, before you set up any funnel in GA, always test the URI of the Goal and funnel pages. Always test the regex you are using.

You can test your regex, using the filters on the reporting interface:

You can also test the goal page in your funnel, by clicking on the ‘Verify this Goal’ link:

In the case of GA standard, it could take up to 24 hours, for the data to populate in your funnel visualization reports. Whereas, in the case of GA Premium (aka GA 360), it can take up to 4 hours, to get the funnel data.

Issue #10: Payment Gateway Issue

One of the most common errors in a funnel is with the payment gateways. You may notice that users drop off at the final step of conversion, but they actually return to the ‘Thank you’ page under the same order.

This is because users navigate to a third-party site to initiate the payment but they return back to your website once the payment process is completed. However, in the funnel data, you see that users have dropped off from the payment page.

The solution to this issue is to add the third-party site or the payment gateway domain to the referral exclusion list in Google Analytics.

Another option to solve this issue is to use a payment system that integrates with your cart. In this case, the users will not navigate away from your site and the funnel data remains correct.

Interpreting Funnel Visualization Report Data

One issue that can easily cripple your conversion optimization efforts, is the misinterpretation of funnel visualization report data. Such misinterpretation could lead to drawing wrong conclusions, which in turn, leads to making wrong marketing decisions.

Keep the following points in mind while interpreting the funnel visualization report:

#1 The funnel visualization report does not report on users but unique pageviews.
#2 The funnel visualization report does not always show the actual order in which the funnel pages were viewed.
#3 The funnel visualization report does not show loopback.
#4 Funnel Visualization Report shows continuation only from the funnel pages.
#5 Google Analytics reports the funnel pages in the order they were set up, not in the order they were actually viewed.

#6 Funnel Visualization Report can show multiple unique pageviews for a single user.
#7 The funnel visualization report can backfill certain skipped funnel steps
#8 Users repeating a goal funnel in a single GA session does not alter the conversion count.
#9 Users repeating the sales funnel alter the conversion count
#10 The funnel visualization report shows data only going forward

#11 The date comparison feature of GA doesn’t work on funnel visualization report
#12 You cannot segment the funnel visualization report via custom segments
#13 Always Segment the Google Analytics Funnel Data before you interpret it.
#14 The funnel visualization report can suffer from data sampling issues
#15 Avoid using small time frame or small data sets for your funnel analysis.

#16 There is no impact of funnel steps on conversion rate and conversion volume
#17 The funnel conversion rate is not the same as the goal conversion rate or ecommerce conversion rate.

#1 The funnel visualization report does not report on users but unique pageviews.

Many optimizers assume that the number 2,037 in the screenshot below, denotes the number of people (users) who completed a goal conversion:

But this is not true. The number 2,037 denotes the number of unique pageviews and not users.

A unique pageview is the number of sessions during which a page was viewed once or more times.

A unique pageview is counted only once during a GA session. So no matter how many times a user navigates to the same page in a given web session (or visit), the number of unique pageviews for the page will remain one.

For example, if a person navigates to the home page three times in a GA session then:

  • the number of pageviews for the home page will be 3
  • the number of unique pageviews for the home page will be 1

Also, the number of unique page views is not equal to the number of users.

This is because a user can navigate to the same page multiple times during multiple sessions and thus can generate multiple unique pageviews.

For example, if a person views the home page three times in the first GA session and 4 times in the second GA session then the number of unique pageviews for the home page would be 2 but the number of users would still be 1.

#2 The funnel visualization report does not always show the actual order in which the funnel pages were viewed.

Google Analytics reports the funnel pages in the order in which they were set up, not in the order they were viewed by your users.

GA simply checks whether a funnel page was viewed during a session and if it was, then that is represented in the funnel visualization report in the order in which you set up your funnel, regardless of the order in which the website users actually viewed the funnel pages/steps.

For example, consider the following funnel set up:

Here, from the actual conversion path of the user, we can conclude that:

  1. The user landed on the website via the home page.
  2. The user navigated to the shopping cart page
  3. The user again visited the home page.

All of this happened in a single GA session.

The funnel visualization report in GA will not show the actual order in which these funnel pages were viewed.

The funnel visualization report would show:

  1. An entrance to the home page.
  2. Continuation from the home page to the shopping cart page.
  3. An exit from shopping cart page to the home page.

The funnel visualization report showed an exit from the shopping cart page to the home page because the funnel visualization report does not show any loopbacks.

Loopback is an activity of going back to the previous step in a funnel.

In our case, the user went back to the home page from the shopping cart page and thus created a loopback.

It is important to remember that the users do not always move through your sales/conversion funnel in exactly the way you set it up in Google Analytics. They can also enter or exit the funnel midway.

Also, note the number of unique pageviews for the home page. It is 1 despite the page being visited twice.

This is because the home page has been visited twice in a single GA session. Had it been visited in two different GA sessions, the number of unique pageviews for the home page would be 2.

#3 The funnel visualization report does not show loopback.

Consider the following funnel set up:

Here, from the actual conversion path of the user, we can conclude that:

  1. The user landed on the website via the home page.
  2. The user navigated to the ‘shopping cart’ page.
  3. The user navigated back to the home page.
  4. The user refreshed the home page for some reason.

All of this happened in a single GA session.

We can also conclude that two ‘loopbacks’ occurred in the actual conversion path.

One loopback occurred when the user went back to the home page from the shopping cart page. The second loopback occurred when the user refreshed the home page via his browser.

Since the funnel visualization report doesn’t show ‘loop backs’, it would show:

  1. An entrance to the home page.
  2. A continuation to the shopping cart page.
  3. An exit from shopping cart page to the home page and
  4. An exit from the home page to the home page.

Consider another funnel set up:

Here, from the actual conversion path of the user, we can conclude that:

  1. The user landed on the website via the home page
  2. The user navigated to the ‘shopping cart’ page
  3. The user again navigated to the home page
  4. The user again navigated to the shopping cart page

All of this happened in a single GA session.

We can also conclude that two ‘loopbacks’ occurred in the actual conversion path.

The first loop back occurred when the user went back to the home page from the shopping cart page. The second loopback occurred when the user went back to the shopping cart page from the home page.

Since the funnel visualization report doesn’t show ‘loopback’, It would show:

  1. an entrance to the home page
  2. a continuation to the shopping cart page
  3. an exit from shopping cart page to the home page and
  4. an exit from the home page to the shopping cart page.

#4 Funnel Visualization Report shows continuation only from the funnel pages.

Consider the following funnel set up:

Here, from the actual conversion path of the user, we can conclude that:

  1. the user landed on the website via Product-A page.
  2. user navigated to the home page.
  3. user navigated to the ‘shopping cart’ page
  4. user navigated to the contact us page

All of this happened in a single GA session.

We can also conclude that no ‘loopback’ occurred in the actual conversion path, as the user did not return to any previous step in the funnel.

Now the funnel visualization report in GA would show:

#1 An entrance from the product-A page to the home page. (The report won’t show continuation from the product-A page to the home page. This is because the product-A page is not one of the funnel pages/steps)

#2 A continuation to the shopping cart page from the home page.

#3 An exit from the shopping cart page to the ‘Contact Us’ page. Since the ‘Contact Us’ page is not one of the funnel pages, the report won’t show continuation to the ‘Contact Us’ page. Instead, it will show the user exit from the funnel to the ‘Contact Us’ page.

#5 Google Analytics reports the funnel pages in the order they were set up, not in the order they were actually viewed.

Consider the following funnel set up:

Here, from the actual conversion path of the user, we can conclude that:

  1. The user landed on the website via the Product-A page.
  2. User navigated to the ‘shopping cart’ page.
  3. User navigated to the home page
  4. User navigated to the contact us page.

All of this happened in a single GA session.

We can also conclude that no ‘loop back’ occurred in the actual conversion path, as the user did not return to any previous step in the funnel.

The funnel visualization report would show:

  1. an entrance from the product-A page to the home page
  2. a continuation to the shopping cart page
  3. an exit from the shopping cart page to the ‘Contact Us’ page.

Google Analytics simply checks whether a funnel page was viewed during a session and if it was, then that is represented in the funnel visualization report in the order in which you set up your funnel, regardless of the order in which the website users actually viewed the funnel pages/steps.

#6 Funnel Visualization Report can show multiple unique pageviews for a single user.

Consider the following funnel set up:

Here, from the actual conversion path of the user, we can conclude that:

In the first GA session:

  1. the user landed on the website via the Home page
  2. user navigated to the Shopping Cart page.

In the second GA session:

  1. the user landed on the website via the Home page
  2. user navigated to the Shopping Cart page
  3. user navigated to the Checkout page.

We can also conclude that no ‘loopback’ occurred, because the user navigated back to the home page and back to the shopping cart page, in a different GA session.

However since the home page and the shopping cart pages were viewed in two different sessions, the number of unique pageviews for both home page and shopping cart pages would be 2.

Whereas the number of unique pageviews for the checkout page would be 1, as it is viewed in only one GA session (or visit).

#7 The funnel visualization report can backfill certain skipped funnel steps

Consider the following funnel set up:

Here, from the actual conversion path of the user, we can conclude that:

  1. the user landed on the website via the Home page.
  2. user navigated to the Checkout page
  3. user navigated to the ‘order review’ page.

Note: the user did not navigate to the shopping cart page and thus skipped it.

When a user skips one of the steps in a funnel, which comes after the step, at which the user entered the funnel, then the funnel visualization report backfills the skipped step.

Here, the shopping cart page is the skipped step, which comes after the home page (the step at which the user entered the funnel) and hence it will be backfilled by the funnel visualization report.

So the funnel visualization report would show:

  1. an entrance to the home page
  2. continuation to the shopping cart page
  3. continuation to the checkout page
  4. continuation to the order review page.

Consider another funnel set up:

Here, from the actual conversion path of the user, we can conclude that:

  1. the user landed on the website via Shopping Cart page
  2. user navigated to the Order Review page
  3. user navigated to the ‘Completed Purchase’ page (which is the goal page).

Note: The user did not navigate to the Home Page and Checkout pages and completed skipped them.

Since the home page is the skipped funnel step which comes before the ‘shopping cart’ page (the step at which the user entered the funnel), it will not be backfilled by the funnel visualization report.

So the number of unique pageviews for the home page would be 0.

The checkout page is also the skipped funnel step but it comes after the ‘shopping cart’ page (the step at which the user entered the funnel), therefore it will be backfilled by the funnel visualization report. So the number of unique pageviews for the checkout page would be 1.

So the funnel visualization report would show:

  1. an entrance to the shopping cart page.
  2. continuation to the checkout page.
  3. continuation to the order review page.
  4. continuation to the ‘competed purchase’ page.

#8 Users repeating a goal funnel in a single GA session does not alter the conversion count.

Consider the following funnel set up:

Here, from the actual conversion path of the user, we can conclude that:

  1. the user landed on the website via the Home page.
  2. the user navigated to the about us page.
  3. the user navigated to the membership page
  4. the user navigated to the signup page (which is the goal page).
  5. the user again navigated back to the home page.
  6. the user again navigated back to the membership page.
  7. the user again navigated back to the signup page but this time on behalf of his wife.

So here the user has repeated the goal funnel twice and completed the goal conversion (signup) twice.

But in the funnel visualization report, a goal is incremented only once during a GA session per unique user.

So no matter how many times the user signup for the membership, in a single session, you will see only one 1 signup in the funnel visualization report.

The goal will be incremented in the funnel visualization report, for the same user, only when he converts again in a different GA session.

#9 Users repeating the sales funnel alter the conversion count

Consider the following funnel set up:

Here, from the actual conversion path of the user, we can conclude that:

  1. the user landed on the website via the billing page
  2. the user navigated to the shipping page
  3. the user navigated to the payment page
  4. the user navigated to the purchase page (which is the goal page)
  5. the user again navigated to the billing page
  6. the user again navigated to the shipping page
  7. the user again navigated to the payment page
  8. the user again navigated to the purchase page (which is the goal page)

So here the user has repeated the sales funnel twice and placed the order twice.

In the case of the sales funnel, a transactional goal will be incremented in the funnel visualization report, for the same user, every time he/she places a new order, regardless of whether the order was placed in the same or different GA session.

#10 The funnel visualization report shows data only going forward

When you create a new funnel in GA, you will not be able to see historical data for that funnel. This is because the funnel visualization report only shows data going forward. It cannot show data retroactively.

Similarly, when you modify an existing funnel set up in GA, the changes will not apply to historical data. You will see the new funnel data only going forward.

#11 The date comparison feature of GA doesn’t work on funnel visualization report

When you use the date comparison feature of GA on the funnel visualization report, Google Analytics does not show you the difference for different funnel steps.

It will only show you the difference in the total conversion rate for the funnel goal.

#12 You cannot segment the funnel visualization report via custom segments

Google Analytics does not allow segmenting of the funnel visualization report on the fly via custom segments. However, you can segment the funnel data by using the goal flow report or by creating filtered views.

For example, if you want to see how organic search traffic converts on your website then follow the steps below:

Step-1: Create a filtered view for organic search traffic.

Step-2: Set up goals and funnel pages in the filtered view.

Step-3: Wait for at least one month so that enough traffic data populates into the funnel visualization report of the filtered view.

Step-4: Once at least 30 days of data has populated into the funnel visualization report, you are now ready to interpret your goals and sales funnel for organic traffic.

#13 Always Segment the Google Analytics Funnel Data before you interpret it

From the visualization report below, we can conclude that only 0.47% of 8266 website users (not technically users. They are unique pageviews) proceeded to the shopping cart page:

So if we can make more website users reach the shopping cart page, we can generate more sales.

Now the problem is, we do not know which website users (whether users from organic search, paid search, email campaign or social media etc) are exiting the funnel in great numbers.

Without segmenting this funnel, there is no way we can determine the main reason for users’ drop off from the home page to the shopping cart page.

In order to understand how different traffic segments convert in Google Analytics, you need to segment the funnel data.

Follow the steps below:

Step-1: Create filtered views for each of the following traffic sources:

  1. Organic Search Traffic
  2. Paid Search Traffic
  3. Referral Traffic
  4. Direct Traffic
  5. Social Media
  6. Mobile traffic
  7. Tablet Traffic
  8. Desktop Traffic

Step-2: Set up goals and funnel pages for each filtered view.

Step-3: Wait for at least a month, so that enough traffic data populates, into the funnel visualization report of each filtered view. Once the 30 days of data have populated into the funnel visualization reports, you are now ready to interpret goals and sales funnel for each traffic source.

#14 The funnel visualization report can suffer from data sampling issues

If you manage a high traffic website (i.e. millions of pageviews each month) then you simply cannot afford to ignore data sampling issues.

When Google Analytics is sampling your data badly, you cannot blindly rely on the metrics reported by it. There is always a strong possibility that the reported metrics are 10% to 80% off the mark.

If your funnel visualization report is based on more than 100k sessions then Google Analytics is going to sample the data, regardless of whether you use GA Premium/ 360.

To fix data sampling issues, run the funnel visualization report for a shorter time frame which should include less than 100k sessions.

To learn more about data sampling issues in Google Analytics, read the article: Google Analytics Data Sampling – Complete Guide

#15 Avoid using small time frame or small data sets for your funnel analysis.

Many optimizers make marketing decisions based on a small time frame or small data set.

You cannot determine the best conversion path used by your website users and then optimize your conversion funnel on the basis of a few weeks’ worths of data or a handful of conversions. This is because your sample size would be statistically insignificant.

You need at least one month of data in your funnel visualization report before you can make marketing decisions or even consider funnel optimization. If you have a low traffic website then getting enough conversions in the desired time frame could be difficult.

Your best bet is to buy some extra traffic via PPC or ads on social media so that you can validate your tests and assumptions faster.

#16 There is no impact of funnel steps on conversion rate and conversion volume

There is no impact of the funnel pages/steps you created, either on the conversion rate (both goal conversion rate and ecommerce conversion rate) or on the conversion volume (like goal completions, number of orders) in your funnel visualization report.

The funnels that you define affect only the visualization of your funnel visualization report.

#17 The funnel conversion rate is not the same as the goal conversion rate or ecommerce conversion rate.

The other thing which is worth mentioning is that the funnel conversion rate is not the same as the goal conversion rate or ecommerce conversion rate.

The Funnel conversion rate is the percentage of funnel sessions that resulted in conversions.

These conversions can be goal conversions or e-commerce transactions.

Funnel Conversion Rate = (Total Conversions/Total Funnel Sessions) * 100

For example:

Here the funnel conversion rate is calculated as:

Total Checkout Completions / Total Funnel Sessions = (26,346/73,333) * 100 = 35.93%

Note: Goal Abandonment Rate = 100 – Funnel Conversion Rate

Custom Funnels for visualization and analysis of customer journey

The custom funnels feature is only available in Google Analytics 360. It helps you to create user-level, ad-hoc funnels to visualize user behavior and action/task completion analysis.

How to create custom Funnels:

Go to Customization > Custom Reports > +New Custom Report > Select the Funnel tab

Next step, you need to set up or configure rules for each stage. You can mention up to 5 rules per stage.

For example, If you want to check the users who began on your home page and played the video:

Create the 1st rule: Include Landing Page Exact /home.html

Create the 2nd rule: Include Event Action Exact Play

You can also drill down to the next level to understand the video name by specifying the Event Label where you normally capture the video name.

Now, if needed, you add one more stage for ‘sign up’ action by clicking ‘+Add new stage’ or if you want to duplicate the previous stage then click on the ‘+duplicate previous stage’ button at the bottom of the custom funnels.

To add a ‘sign up’ action stage, create the rule: Include Page Exact /sign-up.html

Add one more for sign up confirmation by adding a new stage and creating the rule as Include Page Exact /sign-up-confirm.html

Now click on the ‘Save’ button to create the custom funnels. It will look something like below for the selected time frame.

If you notice the completion rate percentage is around “0.96%” and drop-off percentage at sign-up form is around “35.96%”, then you may ask: how can we improve the funnel completion rate?

Let’s take a look at the percentage of users that proceeded to the next stage in the above example. it is 51.26% which is a good percentage.

Here you can take the help of Google Optimize to test your hypotheses, create an A/B test for the sign-up form and check the custom funnels again to check the status of the test. If there is an improvement in the completion rate percentage then woo hoo cheers!! You simply did it 😊 If not then, no worries, try with another hypothesis 😊

This funnel also helps you to create the segments of audiences who drop-off at the stage and you can also create the remarketing audience from here, Just hover on any stage to create it.

Conclusion of custom funnels:

  1. Easy to manage/create custom funnel rules.
  2. Advance planning or additional implementation is not required.
  3. Custom funnels are flexible and contain up to five steps, each step is defined by up to five matching rules for various dimensions e.g. page URL, event label, campaign etc.
  4. You can apply only one segment to custom funnels.
  5. You can create remarketing audiences simply by clicking on any completed or not completed stage/step in the custom funnels graph.

To learn more about custom funnels, check out this article: How to use Custom funnels in Google Analytics 360

Quick Recap of Tips for Correctly Reading the Funnel Visualization Report in GA

#1 The funnel visualization report does not report on users/visitors but unique pageviews.

#2 Technically speaking the number of unique page views is not equal to the number of users. But for the sake of easy funnel data interpretation, we treat unique page views as users. 

#3 The funnel visualization report does not always show the actual order in which the funnel pages were viewed. 

#4 The funnel visualization report does not show loopbacks (i.e. the activity of going back to the previous step in a funnel).

#5 A loopback is not counted if the same funnel page is viewed in two or more different GA sessions.

#6 The Funnel Visualization Report shows continuation only from the funnel pages.

#7 Google Analytics reports the funnel pages in the order in which they were set up, not in the order they were viewed by your users. In other words, the order in which you have set up your funnels steps in GA is the order in which your funnel steps will appear in the funnel visualization report.

#8 The Funnel Visualization Report can show multiple unique pageviews for a single user.

#9 The funnel visualization report can backfill certain skipped funnel steps. So GA can report unique pageview(s) for funnel pages which were not actually viewed/visited by users.

#10 When a user skips one of the steps in a funnel, which comes after the step, at which the user entered the funnel, then the funnel visualization report backfills the skipped funnel step.

#11 When a user skips one of the steps in a funnel, which comes before the step, at which the user entered the funnel, then the funnel visualization report does not backfill the skipped funnel step.

#12 Users repeating a goal funnel in a single GA session does not alter the conversion count. This is because a non-transactional goal is counted only once in a GA session no matter how many times a user completes that goal.

#13 A non-transactional goal will be incremented in the funnel visualization report, for the same user, only when they convert again but in a different GA session.

#14 Users repeating the sales funnel alter the conversion count. This is because a transactional goal will be incremented in the funnel visualization report, for the same user, every time they place a new order, regardless of whether the order was placed in the same or different GA session.

#15 When you create a new funnel in GA, you will not be able to see historical data for that funnel. This is because the funnel visualization report only shows data going forward. It cannot show data retroactively.

#16 When you modify an existing funnel set up in GA, the changes will not apply to historical data. You will see the new funnel data only going forward.

#17 The date comparison feature of GA doesn’t work on the funnel visualization report.

#18 You cannot segment the funnel visualization report via custom segments.

#19 If you want to segment the funnel data then use the goal flow report or create filtered reporting views.

#20 Always Segment the GA Funnel data before you interpret it. Without segmenting the funnel, there is no way we can determine the main reason for users’ drop off from one funnel step to the next.

#21 The funnel visualization report can suffer from data sampling issues. If your report is based on more than 100k sessions then GA is going to sample the data, regardless of whether you use GA 360. 

#22 Avoid using small time frame or small data sets for your funnel analysis. This is because your sample size would be statistically insignificant for meaningful analysis.

#23 There is no impact of the funnel pages/steps you created, either on the conversion rate or on the conversion volume in your funnel visualization report. The funnels that you define affect only the visualization of your funnel visualization report.

#24  The funnel conversion rate is not the same as the goal conversion rate or ecommerce conversion rate. The Funnel conversion rate is the percentage of funnel sessions that resulted in conversions. 

Optimizing Google Analytics Sales Funnels

In order to increase sales you need to make sure that following two activities happen on your e-commerce website as often as possible:

  1. Website Users add items to the shopping cart.
  2. The users who have added items to their shopping cart make a purchase.

Google Analytics enhanced ecommerce Product performance report provide the following metrics through which you can optimize your website sales funnel:

#1 Cart to detail rate – it is the rate at which users add a product to the shopping cart after viewing the product details.

#2 Buy to detail rate – it the rate at which users buy products after viewing the product details.

#3 Product Adds to cart – it is the number of times a product was added to the shopping cart.

#4 Product Removes from the cart – it is the number of times a product was removed from the shopping cart.

#5 Product Checkouts – Number of times a product was included in the checkout process.

Tips to Increase Your ‘Product Adds to Cart’ Rate

You website users will add products to the shopping cart when:

#1 You send highly targeted traffic to the website. This is one of the main requirements.

#2 Your website is visually appealing. Design matters a lot.

#3 Your products are enticing.

#4 Your offers create a sense of urgency. For example: “Order in the next 2 hours and get …….  “.

#5 Your landing pages have got a clear call to action.

#6 Your website has got no major usability issues

#7 Your website has got no credibility issues

Focus on improving your ‘Product Adds to cart’ rate to increase the probability of generating more sales.

Note: Make sure that you segment the ‘Product Adds to cart’ rate to its most granular level before you interpret it. All the data in aggregate form is crap.

Tips to Reduce the Checkout Abandonment Rate

Asking people to add items to the shopping cart is the easy bit. Asking them to complete the purchase is hard.

If you want website users who have added items to their shopping cart, to make a purchase then don’t give them nasty surprises during the checkout process.

Following are the top reasons for high checkout abandonment rate and how you can reduce the abandonment:

1. A very loooong checkout process

Each additional funnel step gives the opportunity to a customer to leave the funnel and not convert. Therefore you should aim to minimize the number of funnel steps.

2. Hidden charges

Any extra charge/fees during the checkout process, can immediately put off a customer and can cause him to exit the funnel straightaway. Therefore be upfront with your prices as much as possible.

3. Forced registration

It is one of the best ways, to put off a customer from converting. Never force a person to register in order to complete a purchase. Ask him to register only after the sale has been made.

Sometimes people don’t convert just because they don’t want to register. For such people provide a guest checkout option. Your first priority should always be generating the sale.

4. Out of stock product

The last thing you want your potential client to do is to add a product to his shopping cart, which is out of stock and he comes to know about it, only during the checkout.

Make sure that the out of stock products can’t be added to the shopping cart by any person.

5. Please also buy this and that…

Cross-promotion can result in increased sales when done in a moderate amount. But when you try to shove multiple products down a person’s throat, it can put him off from converting.

GoDaddy is pretty notorious in cross-promoting its products. You try to buy one domain and it will try to shove every product in its catalog right down your throat. Avoid doing too much upselling.

6. Do not ask for the same information multiple times

When you ask for the same information multiple times during the checkout, you are literally telling your customers to exit the funnel right now, or I will haunt you by asking the same question over and over again.

Make sure that you do not ask for the same information again

7. You must collect users email addresses in the first few steps of the checkout process

Then you can use the email later for remarketing purposes, in case the user abandons the shopping cart. Remarketing is a proven technique to decrease the checkout abandonment rate.

8. Poor Navigation

Sometimes poor navigation does not allow a person to go back to a funnel step to make some changes. In such a case, he can either choose to restart the checkout process or exit the funnel for good. A lot of people choose the latter option.

9. Limited Payment Options

The worst thing your customer could experience during checkout is that his desired payment option (like PayPal) is not available.

So even when he was ready to pay, he could not pay to you. Provide as many payment options as possible.

10. Website Errors

Any technical error can cause your customer to lose all the filled information on a form. Forcing your customer to retype the information is a fire shot way to lose him for good.

So always make sure that your checkout process is error-free.

The Checkout abandonment rate is calculated as

(100- Total number of orders placed on the website / the total number of clicks on the ‘checkout’ button) * 100

You should aim to keep your Checkout abandonment rate as low as possible.

In order to better understand the Checkout abandonment rate, segment this metric to its most granular level using Google Analytics filtered views.

Setting up a Funnel for a Single Page Application where the Page URL Does Not Change

Single page applications are websites that use Ajax to load new content on a web page without page refresh or navigation to different pages, and hence there is no change in URL.

Whenever new content is loaded using Ajax on the website no page view is being sent to Google Analytics and it makes it difficult to understand user interaction on such platforms.

Well, in this case, you can use virtual pageviews to track the multiscreen conversion process. Basically, virtual pageviews are page view hits which are sent to Google Analytics without loading a page in the browser.

More on virtual pageview here: Tracking Virtual Pageviews in Google Tag Manager – Tutorial

As you cannot add events in funnel steps, you need to pass virtual pageview while setting up a funnel for a single page application,

Following are such users interactions where you can pass virtual pageviews to set up a funnel.

  • Loading of a new single-page checkout step
  • Loading of popups or lightboxes.
  • Downloading a file.
  • Scrolling down a page
  • Loading new text contents on a web page via Ajax

You will need to fire a virtual pageview on every event that you would like to be a part of your goal funnel or purchase funnel. Once you set up virtual pageview, you can configure the funnel steps.

Frequently asked questions about Google Analytics Goals and Sales Funnels

What is a funnel in Google Analytics?

In Google Analytics, a funnel is a navigation path (series of web pages) which you expect your website users to follow, to achieve website goals. A funnel is made up of a goal page(s) and one or more funnel pages (also known as the funnel steps).

Through funnels, you can determine where users enter and exit the conversion/sales process. You can then determine and eliminate bottlenecks in your conversion/sales process in order to improve the website sales. You can set up to 20 pages as funnel pages in GA.

What are the different types of funnels in Google Analytics?

There are 4 types of funnels available in Google Analytics:

#1 Goal funnel – it is a series of web pages which you expect your website users to follow, to complete a non-transactional goal like ‘newsletter signups’, ‘downloads’ etc.

#2 Sales funnel – it is a series of web pages which you expect your website users to follow, to complete a transactional goal like placing an order on the website. The checkout process is a good example of a sales funnel.

#3 Multi channel goal funnel – it is a goal funnel that takes into account, the role played by multiple marketing channels in the conversion path.

#4 Multi channel sales funnel – it is a sales funnel which takes into account, the role played by multiple marketing channels in the conversion path.

What are the most common issues while setting up funnels in Google Analytics?

Following are the most common issues:
#1 Selecting the wrong conversion path
#2 Entering incorrect data while defining goal and funnel pages
#3 Using Same Goal page for different funnels
#4 Capitalization issues
#5 Assigning a monetary value to transactional goals
#6 Using incorrect REGEX (regular expressions) for Goal and Funnel Pages
#7 Not understanding the required first step
#8 Not Testing the Funnel Setup

When you should create a funnel?

Create a funnel only when there is a well-defined path you can see/expect your website users to follow, to complete your website goal. If a website goal (like file downloads) can be easily achieved, by following dozens of different paths, then do not define a funnel.

If you do, it won’t help you much in understanding how different traffic segments convert. Instead create filtered views (like one view for organic traffic, one for paid search, one for social media etc).

How do I decide pages for my funnel?

The answer is pretty simple, use those pages as funnel pages, which are most frequently viewed prior to goal completions and/or transactions. Use the page value metric to determine such pages.

You can also use the ‘Reverse Goal Path’ report (under Conversions > Goals in your GA view) to determine the actual navigation paths that triggered goal conversions, and the number of conversions each navigation path triggered. The navigation path that has triggered maximum number of conversions, should be used as a funnel.

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My best selling books on Digital Analytics and Conversion Optimization

Maths and Stats for Web Analytics and Conversion Optimization
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About the Author

Himanshu Sharma

  • Founder, OptimizeSmart.com
  • Over 15 years of experience in digital analytics and marketing
  • Author of four best-selling books on digital analytics and conversion optimization
  • Nominated for Digital Analytics Association Awards for Excellence
  • Runs one of the most popular blogs in the world on digital analytics
  • Consultant to countless small and big businesses over the decade
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