Your Google Analytics Funnel Is Lying

E-commerce and retail are some of the most fascinating settings one can work in. It has all the ins and outs of any business matter, any logistic challenge and a very broad range of marketing complexity. I’m personally intrigued by retail, e-com and all those challenges.


One of the top priorities on any list is by far the cart and the process of ordering products. The last step in the funnel. It’s crucial. It has to be as frictionless as possible and should offer even cross-selling.

One of the top priorities on any list is by far the cart and the process of ordering products. The last step in the funnel. It’s crucial. It has to be as frictionless as possible and should offer even cross-selling.

You can compare this online process to a line at the register, waiting to pay and leave the store, preferably with a happy face :)


  • You want them to pay as quickly as possible
    You don’t want them to question their choices. You want to offer them the best service, meaning: don’t make them wait (too long).
  • You want people to stay inline
    If they leave that line, at least, you would love to see them get back in line with at least one product, no matter what the prices are of that product. Sell at least something!
  • You want to sell some impulse-oriented products
    There is always a line in an offline shop and you want to offer some extras.
  • You only want buyers to get in line Nothing more frustrating when the register also is the point of contact for information. Those people hold up the line.

This all makes sense, right? Well, it’s pretty much the same for e-commerce as the offline process at the register.


  • You want them to pay as quickly as possible
    Paying should be easy and mobile-friendly. PayPal or Stripe is a good option for that. The Bancontact app as well. Focus on getting as fast as possible to the last step: payment. Or even skip that step & send an invoice later on, if you can => B2B clever shit alert!
  • You want people to stay inline
    Like offline, you want to have the order flow as smooth as butter. No friction, at all. All steps should be obvious. You don’t have the luxury an offline store has. There are more exits to a website than a store. Offline, people can be shamed into buying at least one thing instead of leaving the store empty-handed. Online is different. You should even consider ordering as a guest, at all times. Don’t ask for any information that can’t be tied to the ordering process. Think like a customer. Pls, do. You can always interview people later. Now, it’s about closing that deal.
  • You want to sell some impulse-oriented products
    Unlike offline, people don’t wait in line in an online ordering process. The impulse-buying needs to be well-placed in the cart, make 100% sense matching the filled caddy or be an FMCG that anyone can use. Then again, impulse buying will be a minimal gain if not properly segmented or profiled on a product, consumer and/or context level.
  • You only want buyers to get in line Unlike offline, you’ll get more non-buyers in your cart than you’ll ever think off. As the competition is harsh and research is easy to do, you need to focus on this the most.


Focus on the funnel is one of the things you need to put on your agenda, every month. It’s so important. Not only to close the sales. It’s also a great insight into customer behavior online, which will feed your conversion rate optimization project for days, weeks, months and even years!

So… hence this experiment!


So.. this is probably the part that is used the most when analyzing an e-com funnel (or any other funnel).

Marketers tend to look at the steps all at once and see where the biggest drop-off happens. After that, they go see in Hotjar (excellent tool btw, love it) what visually goes wrong and checks some screencasts. In its essence, nothing wrong with that, but that where it somewhat ends. Often they optimize the funnel at a UX level (you want people to pay as quickly as possible & you want people to stay in line) and that’s it.

Done. Check the box. Next thing on the agenda. A missed opportunity to enhance the funnel even more.

There are actually two extra steps you can take. One is simple although hard to do (hence why most marketers don’t do it or come up with it), the other one is being a bit more creative with intelligence ;)


There is actually a very simple rule if it comes to tagging a cart and ordering process:

Yet, I’ve haven’t come across anyone doing it, or any platform taking it into account with the build or even any webmaster building this thing this way. Most of the time, they stick with the standard cart to order the process that comes with the platform and only measure the steps of the total process. Nothing in-step behavior (where the true magic happens).

This is the simple rule:

  1. Tag all the exists per step as a virtual page view
  2. Tag all the interactions in the steps as an event

Before I dive into the details of how the funnel works, noticed the zero entries at step two? By making the first step required, you don’t get the insights of people coming in on step two. So, … obviously …

TIP: don’t hit the required button in the Google Analytics settings

for this goal, for all the sessions containing at least one-page view of each step of this funnel, 458 of those sessions resulted in goal completion.

Caveat: these are calculated on unique page views!

And that’s where shit hits the fan

And there’s another part that most marketers forget. The sequence doesn’t matter. If one visits all pages, in another sequence than the pre-defined steps, it also counts as a goal completion. Eventually, consumers need to pass payment and thus, transactions will be counted correctly but… it’s a good thing to keep in mind when you need to fix problems.

And there’s even another shitty part about the way this funnel measurement works. The middle page views don’t matter to fulfill the actual goal completion. Also and by due to that … the abandonment rate is calculated on the base of the number of pages visited in the total funnel. So you can’t exactly know as the middle page views don’t need to be fulfilled.

Sounds strange, huh?
Well, here’s the explanation below.

Steps in a funnel can be artificially backfilled based upon the next step. Meaning, if a step has more counts than the step before, which indicates not visiting or skipping this step, Google Analytics step before will be artificially filled with extra page views till it hits the number of the next step. This explains why some funnels have multiple steps counting the same page views.

Caveat: several funnels finishing at the same final page will have also the same total number of conversions! Every funnel should have a unique final page. The same counts for steps (no pun intended).

So actually, your funnel lies to you!

Ok, back to the tagging.

Exits in the funnel can be two things:

  1. Exiting the site
  2. Exiting the funnel

Exiting the site is simple, right? No need to explain that. Exits are the end of sessions where goals weren’t fulfilled. So per step, you’ll see ends of sessions, thus exists.

But … and this comes from the Google Support pages:

The entrance to the funnel is always assigned to the step in the user’s path that was highest in the funnel (i.e., the step with the smallest number), even if the user actually entered lower in the funnel. The exit to the funnel is assigned to the step in the user’s path that was lowest in the funnel (i.e., the step with the biggest number), even if the user actually exited higher in the funnel. This is why you may see entrances from or exits to unexpected pages/screens.

For example, let’s say your funnel is defined as /step1 > /step2 > /step3.html > goal.html. A user then had this session: /xyz > /step3 > /step2 > /abc. The Funnel Visualization report would show an entrance from /xyz to /step2, a continuation to /step3, and an exit from /step3 to /abc.

The only thing you can do to have somewhat more insights is by using virtual page views. If you’re a bit nifty with the event of reloading a step in the funnel, you can get those insights. When the page reloads, you can fire a virtual page view and even at the number of reloads to it. By doing this, you’ll see the amount of reloads coming back in at the current step. You’ll get somewhat a better view upon the funnel, although… from the information above… sry to say… but the funnel visualization is giving you just a very high-level of insight.

**Caveat **: the good thing about tracking those reloads in virtual page views that it won’t skew your page view report. It will only get you more different page names, yet more insights. So that’s a status quo in page views, yet a small win in conversion optimization.


Going advanced is the next step. It takes some effort (and thus time) but it is worth it. Your client asks you to report, yet … you should really invest in analyzing what’s really happening in that funnel.

Spoiler: people use the caddy as a calculator

Hotjar is a magnificent help to discover this kind of behavior. This guy, below, added up to over €2k on products in the caddy and isn’t buying anything.

Why? No idea. Probably looking how much he needs to save up to get the total package, although that’s just one hypothesis. Hence you need to do research! No questions asked.

Diving into analytics showed even more details about how big this issue actually is. Same guy (you can figure this out with some extra settings), managed to get to the caddy and that’s it. 47 times (page views) and this is probably 4 sessions (unique page views) over a period of one week. 4 extra unique page views per caddy. And there a few of those people there. So that’s a lot of extra page views skewing the funnel, right?

Get my point? You need to dive deeper into these issues to get a real insight into how your funnel is performing.

Another spoiler: There are always issues with your process!

Below are the pages visited of the random picked user that made it. They managed to place an order. Thank god! Although… the struggle is real!

Small issues like processing the data to the next step?

Or payment issues?

Or some are really lost and struggling

TIP: Start with segments & calculate the funnel performance per segment. Go from there into the details.

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