Google Analytics has so many tools packed in to one interface that it’s easy to miss several of its features. For example, I used Analytics for years before finding the Navigation Summary in the Pages Report.
Sure, you can get a quick overview of whether you’re getting more or less viewers without digging in to find the details of your web traffic, but truly optimizing the experience for your visitors requires a more complete understanding of how people are using your website. Are they finding what they’re looking for? Are they completing the actions you want them to take?
Previously, we looked at different types of user flow to see the whole picture. The Navigation Summary gives us a zoomed-in view on a single page at a time.
The Navigation Summary in Action
To find the Navigation Summary, you’ll first need to look on the left side of the screen to find the “Content” section.
- Click on “Behavior” to expand the menu
- Click on “Site Content” to expand yet another dropdown menu
- Click on “All Pages”
- On the right side of the screen, look for the “Navigation Summary” tab above your chart (see screenshot below)
How could we have ever missed that report, right? It’s so easy to find.
Like a lot of little features inside Google Analytics (GA), the tab reports becomes quite useful – after you know how to easily get to them.
In the screenshot above, I’m examining traffic to a blog category page. From the available dropdown, you can easily select any page on your site to see which pages visitors viewed before arriving at the page and which pages they saw after the selected page.
The graph you’ll see when viewing this report diplays pageviews of your selected page. If you’re new to Analytics, this is a great way to examine your most popular posts or the page you need visitors to view the most. This drilled-down view can let you know exactly how those pages are performing.
The Meat of the Report
Scrolling down, you’ll find the details of the report. This is the information that you cannot easily find in any of the other GA reports and why it’s worth your time to occasionally visit this screen.
In the screenshot, you’ll see four gray boxes: Entrances and Previous Pages on one side and Exits and Next Pages on the other. As the little illustration reveals, the left side is the way that visitors arrived at your desired page, and the right side is how they left.
The most important stats to grab out of this section are the percentages. Are visitors arriving from outside of your site (e.g. from another site, from a search engine)? Then they’ll be a part of the “Entrances” category. If they’ve arrived from another page on your website, then they’ll be grouped in the “Previous Pages” category.
A similar path works for the right side, as well. “Exits” are people who left the site entirely, and “Next Pages” are the people who visited other pages on your site.
Below those gray boxes, you can get more details to see exactly which pages are leading visitors to your desired page and which pages visitors are viewing after going to your desired page. In the case of a blog category page (like I’ve selected here), lots of entries in the “Next Page Path” is a good thing. If I was tracking a landing page where I meant to get a visitor to sign up for a newsletter or make a purchase, I wouldn’t want to see a lot of other pages on that side. I would just want to see the “thank you” page.
Some Scenarios for Using This Report
Ok, now you know how to find the report. We’re off to a good start.
Now, what do we do with it?
I briefly touched on the ideas of seeing category pages and landing pages, but let’s dig in a bit deeper.
In order for the navigation summary report to be useful, you’ll have to pick a page that gets enough traffic. So, you either need to view a large enough time period to understand user behavior over a the long term, or you need to pick a highly popular page.
While a popular landing page may yield a helpful report, you’re not going to see much on the “Previous Page Path” side of the report if the vast majority of your users are starting their site journey with your selected page.
Your best case scenario is a page that is important to your user journey but is located in the middle of a browsing experience.
In the image above, let’s assume we want to understand how the related blog post plays a role in the experience of the user. Does the desired blog journey actually occur, or does the user go from the related blog post to the homepage?
The navigation summary can give us answers.
Okay, let’s get a little more concrete with our example. On the site you’re viewing now, I have a Resources section that contains several book reviews of some of my favorite business books. Let’s pretend that I made money each time you went to one of those review pages and proceeded to buy a book. (I don’t, but let’s pretend for now.)
If I see that visitors are abandoning the site after viewing my Resources page (not clicking through to the book reviews), I now have a few choices to make.
- Improve the quality of the Resources page. This may mean adding imagery or more compelling descriptions. There’s a lot of opportunity there.
- Create more opportunities to get directly to the book reviews. Maybe I should add book review previews in the sidebar of every page instead of counting on you to find your way to the Resources page.
When you decide on making any sort of major change to your site design or experience, you should create an annotation in Google Analytics (see the dropdown immediately below your graph). This annotation will help you measure when change occurred and if it created a different user experience.
After I make my site changes to get more attention to my book reviews (and after I’ve made my annotation in Analytics), I’ll check back in a week (or tomorrow, depending on how much traffic you get) to see what kind of impact I had in your navigation summary.
Hopefully, I’ll see a higher number of visitors going to the Resources page and then following through to the book reviews.
Other site analysis tools can help you with better understanding the individual user journey, but Google Analytics’ navigation summary provides a great understanding of how groups that interact with your key pages move through your website.
Google Analytics User Flow and Behavior Flow: Use this to understand how visitors move through sections of your site (not just individual pages).
Using Pain Avoidance or Long-term Wins as Marketing Motivators: Use this to consider what types of appeals might resonate best with your customers.
This post was originally published in August, 2013. It has since been updated with new screenshots and a further explanation of how navigation summary reports benefit users.