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Optimize Conversions by Using the Reverse Goal Path Report in Google Analytics

Published September 29, 2016
It is one thing to set a goal for yourself, to plot a course for how you will achieve it, and then to relish in your success when you inevitably do. Working this way gives you a plan for the future to help accomplish your goals time and time again. You know not only that the goal was hit, but the path that was used to get there.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, you may stumble upon a goal without a clear understanding of how you achieved it. When this happens, trying to replicate the process can require, well, the same blind luck that helped you reach it in the first place. That’s not exactly the formula for a high-converting website.
As marketers, we want to hone in not only on what happened, but how it happened.
Any digital marketing professional worth his or her salt will tell you that step one of customizing your website analytics is setting up goal tracking. While total conversions and conversion rate are both important metrics to review, they won’t tell the full story on their own. Sure, a visitor may have reached your Contact page, but did they do so via the homepage, a product page or an About page? Which page does the best job leading someone to reach out for services? What path is more successful? With just a single number you can’t know for sure.
So where do we get a closer look at the user journey that ultimately created a lead or a sale for you?
Enter, the Reverse Goal Path.
The Reverse Goal Path report allows you to see the steps that led a person to the point of conversion. This article provides an overview to help you understand the Reverse Goal Path, along with tips to help you get the most out of the data through customization.

 

 

Accessing the Reverse Goal Path Report

To access the Reverse Goal Path report, go to Conversions > Goals > Reverse Goal Path. In this example from an HVAC company, you’ll see a table of URL paths leading up to conversion, along with a completion count for each.

 

Reverse Goal Path

 

The far left column (Goal Completion Location) contains the final URL where a conversion took place. Goal Previous Step - 1 shows the last page before conversion, with Step 2 and Step 3 being the pages before that. The higher the step number, the further away from conversion a URL was viewed.

The data shows us that some people take considerably less time than others to make a decision, with a few users converting in fewer than four steps. In these cases, the step before the first pageview shows up as (entrance), with any previous steps showing as (not set).

Looking at Specific Goals

By default, this report aggregates data from all Goals tracked within the Analytics view. If you’re tracking multiple Goals, you should take time to zero in on the pathways for each Goal. For example, you may be tracking Goals for special offers on your site separately from the form on the main contact page.

 

Choose the Google Analytics Goal

 

To choose a specific Goal, use the dropdown just above the table. Here, we’ve selected the Contact Form Submission to track conversions from a general contact form that appears across the site. Other Goals are primarily focused on tracking landing pages separate from the main site, narrowing to the Contact Form allows us to zero in on the main website’s performance.

By looking at the data, we can determine what services and offers are popular. This example shows that duct cleaning appears to be the highest-performing service-specific page driving conversions. In addition, a rebates page also appears high on the list.

We can also review how many of the top results in this report involved fewer than three steps. For instance, the duct cleaning submissions shown involved people coming directly to that page, as opposed to finding it through a list of services. This data can help indicate how effective paid and organic tactics are at driving conversions from inner pages within your site. We’ll cover more on segmenting data by channel a little later.

The fact that people are finding your site via pages other than the homepage is a good sign, as this allows them to come in through the section most relevant to their needs or interests. Seeing that this page leads to conversions without additional steps is a sign that the call to action (CTA) here is effective.

Filtering the Report

In the previous example some job searches appeared in the contact form conversion results. Looking at the URLs, we see pageviews for an employment opportunities page leading to a resume submission page. If we want to look at only sales or service leads, we should exclude these job-related conversions from the report to eliminate extraneous data.

Click advanced next to the search bar at the upper right of the report to begin filtering the results. In looking at the report, /contact-us/submit-your-resume appears to be the final page of “conversion” for job searches, so we’ll exclude any cases where this page showed up. We select Exclude and Goal Previous Step - 1, and then enter /contact-us/submit-your-resume in the text field.

 

Google Analytics Advanced Filtering of Reverse Goal Report

 

Once this search filter is applied to the report, the results will be limited to those more likely to relate to lead generation. While hiring may be important, and a completely separate pathway to analyze, it doesn’t directly relate to the business’s bottom line. This filtered data will give us a more accurate perspective of how the site is contributing to actual business revenue.

Segmenting Data

Taking a step further, you may want to analyze goal path by channel. For instance, visitors who come in via paid sources are likely to behave differently from those arriving via organic search. Segments allow us to look only at traffic arriving from a particular channel to break out behavior. If you’re unfamiliar with Segments, see Google’s guide here. The Segments we’ll reference are both included by default in your Analytics account.

First, we know that significant paid search and display advertising efforts are driving traffic to this site. We’ll apply the Paid Traffic segment to limit this report only to visits from online advertising.

 

Paid Traffic Segment of Google Analytics Reverse Goal Report

 

Here, we can immediately identify a trend correlating to paid visits. Most paid visitors who convert are likely to do so right away from the page they landed on. In part, this behavior is due to driving a significant percentage of traffic to custom-built landing pages. However, we also see this pattern reflected on pages existing within the main site, such as the duct cleaning and hot water heaters pages.

Next, we’ll switch to the Organic Traffic segment to contrast behavior from organic search visitors.

 

Organic Traffic Segment of Reverse Goal Report

 

Here, we can see that many top paths contain more steps than paid; however, most contain three or fewer. We notice a lot of people making their way to the online request form, with some others submitting forms from the current offers section or product/service pages.

Evaluating the pages that precede conversions can help you focus on efforts that are working, whether it’s cultivating testimonials, creating educational content or special promotions. When a page, or a type of page, is feeding into the customer journey there may be insight there that can inform everything from your content marketing to your seasonal offers.

Exporting to a Spreadsheet

For more advanced marketers, if you want to look at data on a grander scale, you can easily export this report to an Excel file. The spreadsheet format can be helpful in aggregating pages from multiple page paths together. For instance, you may want to see how many times the duct cleaning page appears across all three page paths.

Conclusion

The Reverse Goal Path report offers you a window into a user’s interaction with your website that goes beyond simply counting conversions and measuring conversion rate. By viewing the pages that led to the point of conversion, you can develop a more complete picture of what experiences led your customers to inquire about your services or purchase a product. Analyzing the Reverse Goal Path to better understand your online audience, and their patterns, is crucial in guiding priorities and new strategies. More than that, it helps you understand the common themes your customers find compelling.

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The same rules can apply to data. If you’re too close, you may miss the patterns and trends that are crucial to understanding your website’s performance. You can’t judge a site’s performance looking at data in the bubble of a single day, you must consider any day’s traffic compared to the days before and after.

Google Analytics makes it fairly easy to analyze trends over long periods of time. But it also allows you to stand right in front of that TV, to look at more granular levels of time, right down to the hour.
There’s a better way to get that close to the data, without burning your retinas. We’ll cover how to analyze traffic effectively in today’s post.
When the client first came to you, you talked up the value of Google Analytics. You emphasized the importance of seeing where your traffic was coming from. You went on and on about how Google Analytics can show traffic sources to pinpoint whether people came from search, social media or a specific site referral, and how valuable this data was. You sold them on it, so much so that your client looked forward to receiving that first report, the magical day when they would finally understand where visitors were coming from.
But then the report came, and it looked like this:

 

 

It showed that 10% of your client’s traffic came from “(direct)/(none)”. What does this label mean? How do you explain Direct traffic to your client? Better yet, how do you explain “none”?
Let’s take a closer look at understanding Direct traffic in Google Analytics and how we can address it with clients.
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We put a tremendous amount of the effort we put into reviewing organic search data and PPC campaign performance in analytics. But how closely do we monitor referral reports?

If that’s not a channel you review regularly, you may be missing out on seeing traffic that is coming directly from links you’ve obtained around the web, local business listings, news mentions, and more. Many times, links are only considered as a means to an end, a metric that Google uses in determining how to rank sites in the SERPs (search engine results pages). But the fact is, many of a site’s links may be directly contributing to its traffic.

In this article, we’ll review how to look at referral reports in Google Analytics, and some of the many ways to use that data to better inform your web marketing decisions.