Reverse Goal Path: An Underappreciated Google Analytics Report

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May 22, 2013

You probably already know about the Funnel Visualization and Goal Flow reports in Google Analytics. They’re a great way to understand how users complete (or don’t) some kind of process on your website, such as filling out a series of forms, like a registration or checkout.

Sometimes, though, there isn’t a clear path. On this site, for example, we have a contact form that doesn’t just appear on one page, it appears in lots of pages, and this isn’t an uncommon feature of lead generation sites. Likewise, sometimes people say things like, “Well, page X is our goal. But you can actually get here either by going A > B > X, or by A > P > Q > X, depending on what options you choose.” How do we know which way people got to X?

The Reverse Goal Path is a report that helps fill in these details. You’ll find it under Conversions > Goals in the left-hand navigation in Google Analytics, and like all the goal reports, you can select a particular goal you want to see from the drop-down at the top. It’s very simple: it gives you the goal completion URL and the URL of each of the 3 pages that came immediately before. You don’t have to predefine a funnel or anything, it simply looks 3 pages back in the visit and tells you what they were.

The Reverse Goal Path Report in Google Analytics

So here’s an example from our contact form. The first column is the “Goal Completion Location”, which in this case is always /about-us/contact/thank-you/. Then each of the subsequent columns walks back one page, telling us whether someone was on the home page, the contact details page, the client list, etc. No funnel necessary!

To sort out this information, note that you can use the advanced filter. So if you’re only interested in one particular path or page, you can narrow down the possibilities you’ll see here.
setting up an advanced filter in Google Analytics

Of course, this report only tells you about completed goals, not abandoned ones, so it’s not as if it replaces the funnel or goal flow reports. But it can be a handy way to fill in information that funnels might not otherwise help you with.

Jonathan Weber is our Data Evangelist, focusing on bringing the strategic value of data analysis to our customers. He spreads the principles of analytics through our training seminars and is currently writing a book on Google Analytics & Tag Manager. Before he caught the analytics bug, he worked in information architecture. Away from the computer you can find him as a flower farmer and plant geek.

  • Michael

    What is your explanation for (entrance), especially when it falls in Steps 2 or 3? At first I thought (entrance) was indicating that the Goal URL was the (entrance) page but I’m not positive. Thanks for any feedback here.

  • Jonathan Weber

    Hi Michael — Right, (entrance) means that the visit began at that step. So if you see it right before the goal URL in step -1, the goal URL was the entrance page. If you see it at step -2 or -3, they entered, went to another page(s), then the goal URL.

  • Dominic

    Hi Jonathan.

    A client of mine has a goal that is the user has visited one of a number of pages (defined by url structure and created using regex) Using the reverse goal path 99% of goal previous step 1 are entrance, which i know isnt right. Is this because the goal is a number of pages?

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