Google Analytics has several tools allowing you to visualize users' navigation:

1 - Navigation summary
Content -> Site Content -> All Pages (Navigation summary tab)
Table showing, for any given page, which pages where visited previously and next.

2 - Visitors Flow
Audience -> Visitors Flow
Flow chart showing how traffic is flowing through the various sections of the website.

3 - Goal Flow
Conversions -> Goals -> Goal Flow
Flow chart showing the steps completed by your users leading up to the conversion.

My understanding is that 2 does not represent flows from end-to-end: it's just the aggregation of previous/next pages data available in 1 put together in a chart. The reason for suspecting that is that when looking at the data available via the Google Analytics API you can only retrieve previous/next pages data, either via ga:landingPagePath + ga:secondPagePath or ga:previousPagePath + ga:nextPagePath. This makes sense because the number of possible flows grows exponentially with the number of steps and pages in the flow (and that's not something Google want to get into).

Accordingly you cannot use 1 or 2 to identify loops (e.g. users visiting page A, then page B, then page A again), you can only compare pages with the previous/next one (e.g. X users visiting page A then went to page B, Y users visiting page B then went to page A).

Q1: Do you confirm that one cannot identify navigation loops neither with the Navigation summary nor the Visitors flow?

Now about 3. The documentation states that it is possible to identify loops:

You can also see where visitors loop back from one node to another: A loopback from search-results to the search page can indicate that visitors are not finding what they’re looking for.

When looking at 3 for one of our goals, here is what we see:

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As you can see, there is a flow from Account log... or create (step 2) back to Cart view (step 1) as indicated by the backward arrow. My understanding is that the order of the steps doesn't matter in how Google reports the Goals which means we can have:

scenario A: step 1 -> step 2 -> step 1 -> conversion page
scenario B: step 2 -> step 1 -> conversion page

When clicking on the flow from step 2 to step 1, we don't see any more details (it just highlights it). Accordingly, I'm wondering:

Q2: Within that flow from step 2 to step 1, how can you tell scenarios A and B apart?

Q3: If it isn't possible to identify loops with either 1,2, or 3, are there any other built-in features of GA that allow it?

  • I'm not too sure your interpretation of Visitors Flow is correct. In that view, the initial interaction is fixed, and the following interactions are condition on the previous ones. (If you keep adding steps, your visits will shrink to zero). – Brendon May 30 '13 at 17:41

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