Understanding the Funnel Visualization in Google Analytics

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A conversion is a conversion right? A customer bought something. An interested party requested more info. Touchdown.
We love to measure the wins, but we all know it’s not that black and white. The people who did convert went through a series of steps to get there, but what were those steps? Were they ones we carefully laid out or are users creating their own pathways?
More importantly, what about the conversions we didn’t get? How many times were we so close and then lost the sale for one reason or another? Finally, what were those reasons and how do we fix the holes that are costing us money?
Measuring conversions is crucial for any online brand. However, simply measuring the final conversion point doesn’t tell the full story for many sites. For example, an ecommerce site generally involves a multi-stage checkout process: placing an item in your cart, entering payment details, reviewing the final order, and deciding to purchase. An event ticketing site or a site promoting class signups may also contain a similar setup.
In the marketing world, we talk about the “funnel,” the sequence of steps a user takes to convert to a qualified lead or sale. On the Google Analytics end, this funnel translates to a sequence of pages the user goes through to complete a conversion. The user may drop off on any page in the process due to poor experience, a slow site, unexpected costs, or other factors influencing the final decision.
According to research by Kissmetrics, 79% of people who experience less than optimal website performance are less likely to return to make a purchase from that site. Analyzing funnel performance helps to identify potential barriers that people may experience on your site.
In this post, we’ll cover how to view and analyze the funnel performance within your Google Analytics account.


Google Analytics Conversion Funnel


Setting Up a Goal Funnel

When setting up a Goal in Google Analytics, you’ll see an option at the bottom of “Goal details” to create a funnel. Here, you can add the URLs for each step you want to track.

In this example, we’re setting up a Goal Funnel for a site selling tickets for local classes. The process entails placing an item in a cart and submitting a payment. The entire process covers multiple pages, and we want to be able to see each step separately and as part of the whole.


Google Analytics Conversion Funnel Setup


The final confirmation URL (in this case the page that appears after payment completion) goes into the “Destination” box under “Goal details.” Next, to create the Funnel, toggle the Funnel switch to the “on” position. You can now enter the sequence of steps that a user would take to get to the final payment page, providing page URLs with descriptive names that will appear in the report.

In this example, the user places an item in the cart (/cart/), goes to the cart profile page to enter personal details (/cart-profile/), and reviews a confirmation page (/cart-confirmation/) before pulling the trigger on the final purchase. If you turn the “Required” toggle bar on, Google Analytics will only count funnel entries that come in via the first step. With this option off, Google could count entries to the funnel from any later step, no matter how many previous steps the user skips.

Once you’ve saved your funnel steps, click Save, and Analytics will begin tracking entries from that point forward. You can edit the funnel steps at any time, but no retroactive data will appear in the report.

Understanding the Funnel Visualization Report

Once data starts accumulating, you can view performance under Conversions > Goals > Funnel Visualization. Here, we can see performance of the cart setup where class tickets are purchased.


Google Analytics Conversion Funnel


Each section of the funnel shows the percentage of people who continued to the next step, as well as a final funnel conversion rate at the bottom. The funnel conversion rate measures the percentage of people who entered the funnel and completed the final Goal. This metric is not the same as the main Goal Conversion Rate, which accounts for all visitors to the site.

In this example, we can see that 1,133 people entered the cart checkout process and 682 (60%) actually completed it. We can also see that the largest dropoff was from the initial Cart page, where people added a class to the cart.

To analyze why people actually dropped out, we should take a closer look at the cart process on the site. Was the next step not clearly labeled? Should there be a stronger call to action to move people ahead through the process? Was there a usability issue? Was a lengthy form potentially too intimidating?

In addition, look at pages where people went after dropping out of the cart. These are listed beside each stage of the funnel. In this case, many people seem to be jumping back to previous stages; for instance, going from the Cart Profile back to the initial Cart page.

Uses for Funnel Visualization

You don’t need to have a multi-step shopping cart on your site to take advantage of funnel visualization. You can set up funnels to measure how any page impacts the final completion of conversions. Simply enter the pages in the order you want to track them as funnel steps when setting up a Goal.

For example, if you’re promoting a newsletter signup from a form on your blog, you can create a goal funnel measuring how many people go from the /blog/ section of your site to the conversion page. If you’re promoting college admissions inquiries, you could measure how many people go from the /admissions/ section of your site to complete a form asking for more information.

Since Google Analytics by default calculates the Goal Conversion Rate off of the total number of Sessions to the site, you can also use a funnel to calculate the conversion rate of people who viewed a specific page. For instance, you can see what percentage of people view a Contact page and actually complete the form on that page.


Google Analytics Conversions Chart and Funnel


In this example, we’re measuring conversions for people who visited a Contact page on a pest control site and completed a form indicating interest in service. First, note how we selected our desired form from the dropdown at the top. Next, we can see that the overall conversion rate is just 0.12%. However, this doesn’t accurately reflect the effectiveness of the form, as people have many other options to convert on the site.

Further down, we can see the final results. 6.33% of people who visit the Contact page actually complete the form and indicated that they need help with pests. People on this page have other options, including asking questions about a bill as a current customer, so this conversion measures the most lead-focused form submission from this page.


The Funnel Visualization report allows you to take a step beyond simply looking at total conversions and overall conversion rate as a part of website performance analysis. When setting up a conversion to track, be sure to think about all of the funnel steps that you can also track in the process.

A football player never gets better by only watching the game tape from the times they won. The real lessons come from reviewing our losses, and asking what went wrong and where can we do better. Funnel visualization is your game tape.

This report excels at helping to locate possible usability issues and identify opportunities for conversion rate optimization. Ideally, like any report in analytics, the end result should be the guidance you need to improve lead generation and sales.

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  • David R

    In the first example you can see that people drop out of the purchase process from the shopping cart to go to /cart/, which is the exact same page. Does that mean that the user reloaded the page (or triggered another page request to analytics using the path /cart/ in any other way)? If so, this makes funnels rather unreliable (say e.g. that increasing the number of items you want to purchase triggers a reload and thus actual buyers are leave the funnel). I read at
    https://blog.kissmetrics.com/conversion-funnel-survival-guide/ that funnels use unique pageviews, which would prevent this behaviour, yet it does not explain why users leave the funnel to head to the exact funnel step they are already at.

    • Paul A

      I have the same question. Without knowing for sure, my best bet (if it’s worth anything) is that the goal funnel records the first entry someone makes in a funnel step. If that person just leave right away, it’s a clean exit. If that person refreshes the page or go to an equivalent page ( if you have a slight difference in the way it is named: “/” or without” /”) or even if it’s another page destination that you included by the regex and that person leaves the site from there, GA would still count it as a drop unless that same user gets to any further step down.

      Again, I’m not sure of this at all but this would make sense I think.

      On another note, it would be great to have condition combination including the possibility to add certain steps as events in the “goal creation” setup. It would add so much more flexibility to funnel optimization.

      • markdhansen

        If you require the first step, then GA will not display entries in the intermediate steps. If the user never goes through the first step, and still hits the goal, they don’t show up in the funnel. Backfilling is another point of confusion. If a user enters the funnel, and goes right to goal – all the intermediate steps get filled in by GA.

      • David R

        I know from one of our funnels that this is not the case. There are no slight derivations. So the reload should be the only cause to trigger an exit from the funnel.

    • markdhansen

      Yes, when the user refreshes /cart/, in this funnel, that is a path from /cart/ –> /cart/, and the funnel shows the pageview of /cart/ after the top step.

      • David R

        Does the reload cause Analytics to assume that the user left the funnel then, such as that, e.g., a reload triggers an exit at step one of the funnel and an entrance at step two (assuming step one is not required)?

        • markdhansen

          No. The funnel shows an exit only when the Session ends without reaching the goal. And there is only 1 entrance per Session – at the step representing the earliest page in the funnel that the user visited. See the section labeled “Order of Funnel Steps” here: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/2976313?hl=en

          • David R

            Thanks for the quick reply, Mark! My wording was imprecise. I didn’t actually mean (exit), but a user reloading a page resulting in the mentioned /cart/ -> /cart/ (let’s call this a leave). Since users who eventually trigger the last funnel step, will also cause backfilling (despite reloading), I was wondering if the “leave” triggered by these users also trigger an “entry” at the next funnel step? I tried to depict it in the attached image. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ce547ed1122400a32c6fd42b93b56503e3bb851d1197f25c922a850bb7a63594.png