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Pop Quiz: Test Your Knowledge of Google Analytics Funnels

This post was inspired when someone asked me: “Why isn’t the number of goal completions the same as the number of funnel completions for Goal X?” Answering that question reminded me of several common misconceptions about Google Analytics funnels.

Our own Jonathan Weber leading a Google Analytics Seminar for Success

“Funnel” is one of the top site search terms here on the LunaMetrics blog and we’ve written about them before, but it’s been a couple years. So I invite you to test your knowledge of Google Analytics funnels with this short true/false quiz and see if you can spot the misconceptions. One of them is the key to answering the question that inspired this post.

Let’s say your website has multiple paths a visitor can follow to complete a purchase, all leading to the same receipt page. You want to see which paths convert better, so you set up different funnels for each path. Will this approach lead to useable results, or is it based on misconceptions?

Question #1: True or False? When you define funnel steps for a goal, it won’t count as a completed goal unless a visitor goes through all the steps.

Answer: False. The goal counts as completed as long as a visitor views the final Goal URL. A visitor may visit any other number of steps (in any order) and may even visit zero other steps, and it still counts as a completed goal.

See the image below for some example goals I set up in a test profile. In each, the final Goal URL is the same (the receipt page for a completed order). The result is the same number of goal completions, even though the funnel steps are different in each goal.

Goals with different funnel steps but the same Goal URL

Question #2: True or False? You can get around the above problem (and make sure goal completions only count for trips through the funnel) by checking the box for “required step” on Step 1 of your funnel.

Answer: False. Nice try, but the goal will still count as completed as long as a visitor views the final Goal URL, even if they do not view Step 1. See the image below, which shows the results of requiring Step 1 for the same goals in my test profile.

Goals with different first steps required but the same Goal URL

Okay, I admit I’m withholding some important information, but the answer to the next question will make everything clear. If setting up a funnel and even requiring Step 1 has no effect on the number of goal completions, you may be wondering about the following:

Question #3: True or False? There’s no good reason ever to check “required step” on Step 1 of your funnel.

Answer: False. Even though the number of goal completions is the same, the number of funnel completions is less when you require Step 1. This won’t help you see which paths convert better (because you can’t require more than the first step), but it can show how much influence a particular page has on conversions.

To see how much influence different pages have on the same goal conversion, set up multiple funnels all leading to the same Goal URL, each with a different page as the required Step 1. The page in Step 1 doesn’t have to be part of the checkout process (and the funnels can be as simple as Step 1 plus the Goal URL).

For example, set Step 1 as your Sale page or Featured Special page to see how those pages influence conversions. You could even measure the influence of events on conversions (did a visitor view a video before converting?) by setting Step 1 as a virtual pageview. How do the funnel completions (not goal completions) compare?

The key point is that you can see funnel completions only in the Funnel Visualization report (under Conversions and Goals in the left navigation). Everywhere else in Google Analytics the goal completions depend only on the final Goal URL.

The image below shows the Funnel Visualization report for a goal where Step 1 was required. You’ve already seen there were 976 goal completions for this goal. But there were only 923 funnel completions. I discovered the same situation (first step required) when answering the question that prompted this post.

You can only see funnel completions in the Funnel Visualization report

Additionally, note that the funnel conversion rate is based on the 6,664 visits that entered the funnel on the required first step. No other visits are counted in this funnel visualization, even if those visits included other funnel steps – and even if one of those steps was the final step (the Goal URL).

That’s why the left side of the funnel except for the first step is all zeroes. When the first step is required, the funnel completions do not come from entrances at any other steps.

How did you do on the quiz? Yes, the answer to every question was “False” – after all, this post was inspired by common misconceptions. Read more in our previous posts about common funnel problems and mysterious funnel exits.

What issues do you continue to address when working with Google Analytics funnels? Do you have interesting use cases for funnels that require Step 1? Please share in the comments.

Dorcas Alexander

About Dorcas Alexander

Dorcas Alexander is a Digital Analyst working with Google Analytics. Her path to LunaMetrics included stints in ad agency creative, math, computer science, language technology research, and corporate training. She loves to learn and teach what she’s learned. One of the top-rated tournament Scrabble players in Pennsylvania, Dorcas has an insatiable drive to compete and win. “Impossible” is not in her vocabulary.

http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2012/04/19/knowledge-google-analytics-funnels/

31 Responses to “Pop Quiz: Test Your Knowledge of Google Analytics Funnels”

Jon says:

Another misconception would have to be what the metric is – unique visitors, visitors, visits, page views? Clients complain when they’ve been dealing with visits on most of the reports, then come to goal funnels and can’t get their head round it being a different metric. I point them to visualisations to fry their brains completely ;)

Perhaps worth noting that some ‘funnel’ metrics are available for use in custom reports and dashboard widgets. For example, funnel starts, completions, abandons and abandonment rate. These can be very useful with techniques such as setting up micro-funnels like the ones you describe with a ‘required’ first step and a goal. Putting all these on one dashboard is a great way of making visual comparisons.

Brad says:

“Let’s say your website has multiple paths a visitor can follow to complete a purchase, all leading to the same receipt page. You want to see which paths convert better, so you set up different funnels for each path.”

If you create two goals with the same URL Destination, won’t you artificially double Goal Completions? And if you have e-commerce tracking or if you assign a conversion value to each goal, won’t you also double the conversion values associated with those goals?

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Brad, Good questions. And yes, if you are looking at the combined metric Total Goal Completions, it will be misleading. Then again, combined metrics are frequently misleading because they hide what’s really going on with the individual metrics. However, you can easily set up a separate profile to handle multiple goals with the same URL destination, especially if you have other folks looking at Total Goal Completions who rely on that number to come from truly unique goals. You are also right to consider the impact of goal values assigned to multiple goals with the same URL destination, which can be addressed similarly. That way the metric Per Visit Goal Value can be viewed properly combined across goals. However, you don’t need to worry about e-commerce transaction value, which appears in a different metric (Per Visit Value). E-commerce transaction values are not assigned to goals you may have defined for purchases.

Ojus Naravane says:

@Dorcas,

Finally a nice post to clear up this confusion. Thanks!

I have 4 different goals but they have the same acknowledgement page. Currently I am seeing the same number of conversions for each goal (just like you posted above).

What’s the best way to get accurate conversions for each goal. Is making a separate acknowledgement page for each goal the best possible method or did I miss anything in the above post?

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Ojus, In order to get separate conversion numbers you have to make the acknowledgement page appear differently in GA. You can either (a) make separate pages with unique URLs, or (b) use a little extra Javascript on the current acknowledgement page to send a different URL to GA depending on which conversion you want to track. For option (b) you have to be able to extract some information from the acknowledgement page to distinguish the 4 different conversions. If you can do that, then you can send a URL unique to each of the 4 conversions by re-writing the _trackPageview call that’s already on the page, like this: _gaq.push(['_trackPageview','/acknowledge-conversion-1']); You can identify the page any way you like; ‘/acknowledge-conversion-1′ is just an example. Of course it may be easier simply to create 4 different acknowledgement pages. As Tim points out in the comments above, another option is to look at funnel abandonment rates (either in dashboard widgets or custom reports) – because 100% minus the funnel abandonment rate is the funnel completion rate. Set up 4 two-step funnels where the required first step for each funnel is the page unique to each of your 4 conversions, and the second/final step is the acknowledgement page. It won’t put conversion data into your standard GA reports, but will give you some insight without changing source code on your website pages. Hope that helps!

Harry Harrold says:

That’s a really handy – and very timely – post.

If you’re considering a followup – I’m asking myself how, precisely, the numbers in intermediate steps in a funnel are calculated. I can see that the final step, the goal, is equal to Unique Page Views, and I’m almost certain the first step is too.

What’s got me is – how are those intermediate steps calculated? Obviously, exits will have an affect, but what else?

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Harry, The intermediate steps may or may not have been viewed by a visitor who reached the final step, due to backfilling. You can read more about that in our previous post. What that post does not address, since it was not yet available, are the differences between the new Goal Flow report and the old Funnel Visualization report. I’m adding that to my to-do list for future blog posts. Thanks for your comment!

Dmitri says:

Great article Dorcas!

A quick question if you don’t mind. We have one goal set up on a site as URL Destination. However we get the number of goals reported on average 50% lower than page views for that particular URL. How’s that possible? Shouldn’t be 1 to 1 type of match?

Thank you.

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Dmitri, A goal completion is counted only once per visit, even if a visitor views the same URL multiple times in his or her visit. So you could have 5 pageviews of a goal URL, but only one goal completion if all 5 pageviews occurred in the same visit. The number of unique pageviews should be much closer to the number of goal completions for a goal URL, although this may also not match exactly all the time. If the same URL is recorded with different page titles, then each URL/title combination is counted as a separate unique pageview.

Michael says:

Hi Dorcas. Thanks for the interesting read. One question that we have but I still can’t find a concrete answer for is: If someone leaves the website but returns to the same step of the funnel and completes the funnel, does it count a 1 funnel completion or is the first attempt an exit? I would assume GA funnels are looked at on more of an individual visit bases.

Thanks so much,
Michael

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Michael, That’s right, GA funnels count the number of visits that hit each step. With regard to your scenario, the first attempt is an exit. The subsequent visit is a goal completion. The subsequent visit is also a funnel completion, unless you required the first step when you defined the funnel.

Julius says:

Hi Dorcas, so I’m gathering from this that no matter which or how many pages on your site a user goes to, as long as the conversion page is reached, the goal will show as being completed for every one of those pages. Is that correct? So if user goes from homepage to contact page, to step one of my funnel to goal URL, my goal completion percentage for all of those pages goes up?

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Julius, Google Analytics only counts one completion of a goal per visit. It doesn’t count goal completions per page. So if you have 5 different goals defined, you could have a maximum of 5 goal completions in a single visit, one completion of each different goal. The first half of your question is correct, “no matter which or how many pages on your site a user goes to, as long as the conversion page is reached, the goal will show as being completed” … but it’s only one completion for that visit, not an extra goal completion for every page of the funnel. If I have 10 funnel steps, I don’t get 10 goal completions just because the visitor reaches the conversion page. It’s still only one goal completion.

Julius says:

Thank you, Dorcas! Just to clarify a little bit on my actual situation, if a visitor goes to my homepage, then goes to step one, then goes to the goal URL, completes the goal, then I take a look at the analytics for the homepage in relation to conversions, does that conversion show for my homepage? Even though the homepage actually has nothing to do with my goal? I’m seeing conversions for pages that don’t have anything to do with the goals. Will any page that they go to during that visit show that conversion?

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Julius, What report are you looking at, when you say “I take a look at the analytics for the homepage in relation to conversions”? I’m wondering where you “see conversions for pages” because the content reports do not contain goal conversion rates. If you are looking at the Goal URLs report and you see your home page there, then one or more of your goal definitions may be too broad, and may be counting a pageview of your home page as a completion of one or more of your goals.

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

If you are looking at the Landing Pages report, that just means the visit with the conversion started with that page. Naturally it would be very common for a visit with a conversion to start on the home page, since most visits usually start on the home page. The interesting pages to look at here are pages you might not expect to lead to a conversion, or pages you have specifically designed to lead to conversions (are they succeeding or not?) even if you haven’t made them part of your goal funnel definition.

Julius says:

Hi Dorcas, I’m looking unde Content > Site Content > Landing Pages. Under explorer, I view the page under Goal Set 1 instead of Site Usage. Under there, I can see conversions for my goals for all of the landing pages. The only thing is, some of these landing pages aren’t in any way part of my goals. I’m wondering if every page visited–from the landing page to the goal URL–gets a conversion showing up in that report, or if it’s just the landing page, or if something’s set up wrong on my account.

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

In the Landing Pages report, you see only the first page of any visit. So you won’t see the second, third, etc. page of a funnel here unless for some reason the visitor started his or her visit on that page. It is possible for other steps to be counted as the first page of a visit if a session times out (30 minutes of inactivity) and then the visitor resumes the session later and loads another page.

Julius says:

I’m sorry, I probably didn’t pose my question right. If the conversion shows up in that report, and the page has nothing to do with my goal, does that mean they went straight from the landing page to my step 1 then the goal URL? Or does that simply mean they landed on that page and eventually got to the goal URL? Or am I reading that totally wrong and it doesn’t necessarily mean they even completed the goal? Then I’ll quit bothering you :)

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

It doesn’t imply that the visitor went directly from the landing page to step 1 or any other step in your goal. It just means that the page was the first page of the visit that had the conversion, i.e. the visitor landed on that page and eventually got to the goal URL.

Jim says:

Hi Dorcas, great post.

You say “To see how much influence different pages have on the same goal conversion, set up multiple funnels all leading to the same Goal URL, each with a different page as the required Step 1. The page in Step 1 doesn’t have to be part of the checkout process (and the funnels can be as simple as Step 1 plus the Goal URL).”

How can one set up multiple funnels for one goal?

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Jim, You can’t set up multiple funnels for a single goal. What I’m suggesting is that you set up multiple goals. In each goal you enter the same URL in the Goal URL slot. However, in each goal you enter a different URL in funnel step 1 (and check the box for required step). So you end up with several goals, and each goal funnel consists of Step 1 (plus any other steps, optional) plus the Goal URL. Hope that helps!

Lydia says:

Hi Dorcas, thanks for that wonderful post. My problem is that my email sign up conversions are double the number of the people who actually signed up in the database.

The Goal URL is the same for the Three Goals but the required step is unique to each Goal.

What might be causing this?

Lydia says:

What I forgot to say is that this is in the Funnel Visualisation report!

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Lydia, Required steps can only reduce the number of goal completions, i.e. funnel completions in the Funnel Visualization report will always be equal to or lower than goal completions shown in the Goal Overview report. So a unique required step wouldn’t explain the discrepancy between your GA data and your database numbers. If you have 3 goals all with the same Goal URL, then the goal completions (not funnel completions) for one of those goals should ideally match your database signups. If GA is reporting more, then it may be matching some URLs that you didn’t intend (simply check the Goal URLs report and fix your goal definition if necessary) or else the same visitor is viewing the Goal URL in more than one visit (may require troubleshooting on your site).

Henrique Zambonin says:

Hi, I’m having a issue with one of my funnels. I have a four steps funnel, plus the conversion. So, all my steps matches my unique pageviews or are realy close to them.

Except the second one. The second step of my goal is usually higher than my Pageviews number for that page, and way higher than my Unique Pageviews.

I’ve never noticed this issue in any other of my websites. Since you are kindly answering a few questions about goals, can I humbly ask for your help on that issue?

Thanks so much.

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Henrique, The most common reason that a funnel step shows higher numbers than the unique pageviews for a page is that the goal definition is actually matching some pages that you didn’t intend for it to match. If you have administrative access, go look at the goal definition and copy/paste that expression into the advanced filter of your Content Pages report. Or get an administrator to email you the expression (and the match type) from the goal definition. Then see what pages you’re actually matching for that goal step. Thanks for reading!

Henrique Zambonin says:

Hi, thank you so much for your reply. Unfortunately, it doesn’t explain my issue. My funnel is defined using regular expressions. Somethink like: ^/match/just/that/specific/page$.

I’ve tried to find the answer filtering pages on my top content report, but I have just one page that matches that filter. Crazy, right? :)

I’ve created a few profiles with different filters. If I find a answer, I’ll post it here.

Kind regards.

Adam says:

Hi, thanks for your post. There is one thing, what I’dont understand. If I would have 2 goals with same Goal URL, then I can accomplish only one funnel completion per visit?

Dorcas Alexander Dorcas Alexander says:

Hi Adam, Google Analytics will count 1 goal completion for each goal that has the same URL. You could set up 20 goals all with the same goal URL, and GA will count 1 goal completion for each of your 20 goals. GA won’t count more than 1 goal completion per visit for Goal #1 (or Goal #2, etc.) but it will count 1 for each goal if they all have the same goal URL. GA will count 1 funnel completion for each goal that has the same goal URL only when a visitor meets the first step requirement, if you checked that option. If you didn’t require the first step, then funnel completions are the same as goal completions. To see any difference in what each funnel recorded, you need to look at the Funnel Visualization report or the Goal Flow report. See my post about what’s really happening in your goal funnels.