Path analysis (computing)

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Path analysis, in Internet website analytics, is a process of determining a sequence of pages visited in a visitor session prior to some desired event, such as the visitor purchasing an item or requesting a newsletter. The precise order of pages visited may or may not be important and may or may not be specified. In practice, this analysis is done in aggregate, ranking the paths (sequences of pages) visited prior to the desired event, by descending frequency of use. The idea is to determine what features of the website encourage the desired result. "Fallout analysis," a subset of path analysis, looks at "black holes" on the site, or paths that lead to a dead end most frequently, paths or features that confuse or lose potential customers.


Understanding visitors

In the real world when you visit a shop the shells and products are not placed in a random order. The shop owner carefully analyzes his visitors and path they walk through his shop, especially when they are selecting or buying products. Next the shop owner will reorder his shells and products to optimize his sales by putting everything in the most logical order for his visitors. In a supermarket this will typically result in the wine shell next to a variety of cookies, chips, nuts, etc. Simply because people drink wine and eat nuts with it.

In most web sites there is a same logic that can be applied. Visitors who have questions about a product will go to the product information or support section of a web site. From there they make a logical step to the frequently asked questions page if they have a specific question. A web site owner also wants to analyze visitor behavior. For example if a web site offers products for sale, the owner wants to convert as many visitors to a completed purchase. If there is a sign-up form with multiple pages, web site owners want to guide visitors to the final sign-up page.

Path analysis answers typical questions like:
Where do most visitors go after they enter my home page?
Is there a strong visitor relation between product A and product B on my web site?.
Questions that can't be answered by page hits and unique visitors statistics.

Funnels and Goals

Google Analytics provides a path function with funnels and goals. A predetermined path of web site pages is specified and every visitor walking the path is a goal. This approach is very helpful when analyzing how many visitors reach a certain destination page, called an end point analysis.

Using maps

The paths visitors walk in a web site can lead to an endless number of unique paths. As a result there is no point in analyzing each path, but to look for the strongest paths. These strongest paths are typically shown in a graphical map or in text like: Page A --> Page B --> Page D --> Exit.

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