What is user flow analysis?

User flow analysis, also known as click path analysis, is the act of tracking user paths through a digital product to understand users’ intent. Flow analysis helps teams discover what features and pages users like, and whether the experience is as painless and enjoyable as it could be. Without flow analysis, teams can’t tell whether their product works or not.

People analyzing their user's journey.

Why is user flow analysis crucial to building great experiences and products?

User flow analysis allows teams to understand every step in a user’s journey. User flows give teams a sense of the order in which users trigger events and help them deduce whether the product is serving users as it’s supposed to.

Not using flow analysis leaves teams blind. It’d be like a retail store only counting foot traffic and never measuring what shoppers buy or where they walk within the store. Beyond pure curiosity, knowing what customers are doing helps product teams make sure users have the right product and use it correctly.

Within a digital product, flow analysis allows teams to see where users arrived from, what actions they took, and where they exited the product. An e-commerce site, for instance, can see that a user first clicked a search engine link for a pair of jeans, added them to their shopping cart, browsed more, started to check out, and then abandoned the site.

Teams can also view the aggregate paths or traits of many users to identify commonalities for various cohorts. Users that signed up while attending a SaaS company’s conference could exhibit much higher usage than those who signed up after seeing an ad on Twitter, and the comparison can be revealing.

It’s not uncommon for all the features and pages within a product to receive vastly different traffic. For example, a media website’s users may visit the homepage daily, but only save articles weekly and only update their subscription information yearly.

Variations in traffic flow allow teams to see what’s important to users and what’s not working. If a website realizes that a majority of users must hunt through a drop-down menu to find the most popular link, they can make it easier by placing that link on the top navigation bar.

How can companies track their user flow?

Tracking customer paths a complex endeavor. Not only must companies track events such as clicks and swipes within their product, but they must also track users across products. A music app’s subscribers, for instance, may switch fluidly between its desktop and mobile app. To keep all that data straight, the team needs what are known as universal user profiles, or the ability to track individual users across devices and channels.
Often, this is only possible with user flow analytics.

What is user flow analytics?

User flow analytics is a type of software designed to track users and the paths they take through digital products. It captures more data than most websites or apps can track on their own and summarizes it into an interface that displays flows visually. Consistent drop-offs, or areas where many users exit the product, can highlight areas where the product isn’t working as planned.

A key feature of user flow analytics is that it tracks users across browsers and apps. They do this by assigning a universal ID to each user and tying their data together, say, from usage on a desktop app and mobile app. This allows teams to view the full, unbroken user journey. With analytics, an e-commerce site is able to see when a user switches from mobile to desktop. Without analytics, this user would appear as two users: one that churned, and another that just arrived.

User flow analytics provide several types of reports:

  • User flows: A series of actions a user takes within the platform. For example, the pages viewed within a single session. Used to answer the question, “What are our users doing?”
  • Funnel analysis: Also known as a conversion flow, a funnel tracks a users’ path toward a desired action such as a signup or purchase. Used to answer the question, “How efficiently are we driving users to our goal action?”

Most user flow analytics platforms also provide reports for segmentation, cohorts, and retention. The best ones provide an intuitive, streamlined user interface that permits anyone on the team to quickly find answers to user flow questions.

How to conduct user flow analysis

Even with an analytics platform, user flow analysis takes work. Teams must conduct user interviews to supplement their data with qualitative research on users’ intent. Why are users accessing the product or experience? What do they expect, and what makes them come back for more?

Teams can follow three steps to conduct user flow analysis:

Have a goal

What outcome does the business expect? How about users? How does what users see or engage with guide them toward a positive outcome such as a signup or a purchase?

Media sites might want users to subscribe to a newsletter whereas a workout app wants users to purchase a subscription. Each company can have many goals but for each flow, pick one.

Define a flow

Work backward from the desired goal to see how users who finished that flow got there. For instance, what marketing channels do users arrive from? What steps did most of them take once they were in the app? Is there one clear path or many?

Alternatively, look at the most common site or app entry points and consider how to nudge users toward the right next steps. An e-commerce site that gets a lot of search traffic from generic keywords might use popups or a search keyword-related hero placement to direct new visitors to a specific sale.

Collect and analyze the data

Do users progress from one stage to the next in the flow? If so, are they progressing at a high enough rate? Wherever users appear to drop off, or exit the app or site, review those experiences. Are they unclear? Teams can also use a user flow analytics platform to A/B test new variants of text or button placement, or message users via notifications or emails to try and bring them back and keep everything flowing smoothly.

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