I’ve talked about conversion funnels before, and how useful they can be in tracking your online conversion performance and website effectiveness. I had an interesting discussion last week with a friend that brought me back to the subject with a different perspective. Today I’m going to look at how to use your analytics to identify pages that start a funnel or are part of a larger funnel, and how to find which pages are worth tracking.

We were talking about an upcoming redesign for a private school’s website, and how there were fundamental issues in the development process. The old website was tired and looked very dated, and the new website brings lots of new techniques and trendy interactive style to it. The faculty members in charge of all the decisions are businesspeople and educators, not web designers. The biggest problem that stood out to me as a constant point of contention between the outside design firm and the staff was the focus on conversions: “we just aren’t sure what’s important and what isn’t.”

Start Backwards, Or Start With Your Current Data

There are two main ways to discover your conversion funnels: using your analytics or just simple backtracking.

The analytics side is a good starting point: under Google Analytics, go to Content, then Site Content, then to Landing Pages and Exit Pages. Make a note of which pages visitors are landing on the most, and which pages they’re leaving your website from. This gives you a very clear picture of your visitor behavior, and what you need to do to funnel them into a conversion.

If visitors are exiting off of your product pages, your product pages aren’t really selling themselves well enough or some features may not meet up to competitor’s standards. If they are bouncing off of your homepage, your navigation may not be clear, or the content and design may not be compelling enough to invite further exploration. If they leave part of the way through the conversion process, there’s something wrong that must be addressed. Landing and exit pages require a little intuition, but they will never fail to give you new insights into how people interact with your website.

The other, more natural method for finding a funnel is to simply backtrack steps from your conversion goal. Start at the end point that confirms a goal has been accomplished, and work backwards. Any page that is part of this process and is relevant to reaching this goal is part of your funnel, and visitor counts should increase as you move page by page towards the beginning.

For instance, my friend’s site redesign has a gateway page as their topmost homepage with three links: one for alumni, one for current students, and one for prospective students. They weren’t sure how to track prospective student newsletter opt-in rates, so I recommended that the prospective student opt-in funnel should start with the very first page prospective students land on—this would track how well the entire range of content contributes to overall conversions. Whether they have to read five content pages or will simply subscribe directly from a link on their specific homepage, whatever gets them from A to B is need-to-know information.

Identifying Goals In Google Analytics

I’ve gone over this before, but I’ll reiterate for the sake of keeping everything in one place here. To identify goals in Google Analytics, go to Conversions, then to Goals. If you’ve never established a goal before, you’ll be asked to do so here. Identify your goal page (typically a particular destination or “Thank You” page in response to a site action) and any pages in the process that are relevant to achieving that goal.

Once you’ve got everything set up, you have to let your website accumulate data with these new conditions and reports in place. It may take anywhere from a week to a month before you start seeing results, but any traffic will show up in 24 hours or less. From there, you’ll have real metrics showing exactly how well your website is performing, and insights into how you can make your site better.

Don’t Lose Focus

Conversion funnels and identifying goals sounds like a lot of technical marketing lingo, but it’s really just a simple matter of identifying what you want your website to do, and what purpose your analytics tell you it is actually serving. My friend went back to her design committee with a boatload of new ideas and suggestions for their website redesign after we talked about what was really important: the overall conversion goals. They’re implementing tracking mechanisms now that will help them monitor performance and effectiveness for years to come, which will be far more useful than simply having a new website that produces visitor data nobody can understand.

It’s easy to forget about these things when you’re dealing with basics like color choices and content generation. Whether you’re designing, redesigning, or simply updating the website you already have, don’t lose sight of your ultimate goals and you’ll always have a handle on how your website contributes to your business.