Evolution of the Clickstream: Google and Data

Evolution of the Clickstream: Google and Data

Google has never made life easy for SEO specialists. On one side, there is a constant change in ranking algorithms and sanctions for excessive activity (read more in the article: Google Algorithms That Affect SEO), and on the other side, there is a restriction of the data necessary for high-quality, organic promotion. The discourse on this is Not Provided. In 2011, Google began using SSL protocols to encrypt search queries and protect users’ confidential data, there is more information on this in the article: HTTPS vs. HTTP. As a result, information about the exact keys by which the site was clicked on vanished from the Google Analytics Report. Read more on this topic in the article: Guide to Google Analytics.

Not Provided has become the largest loss in the history of search engine marketing, because as a result of data encryption, specialists cannot determine the effectiveness of specific SEO works. Among other things, Not Provided included brand traffic, which may grow due to other actions not related to SEO.

In addition to Not Provided, the Not Set string also appears in reports. It shows that there is no data available for a certain indicator. There can be several reasons for this, the use of ad blockers, deleting cookies, disabling JavaScript in the browser, not being able to determine the location or IP, or incorrectly configuring the UTM tags when running AdWords ads. The situation is even further complicated because the different types of traffic are mixed in Not Set- organic, referral, and direct. Here is a related article: Direct Traffic.

Google Analytics 

After all of Google’s innovations, SEOs were forced to look for additional sources of useful information about search traffic. One of these sources being clickstream data.

What is Clickstream Data?

The simplest clickstream data definition is that it is a detailed report on how the user navigates the site, starting from the selection of a resource in the search results for a specific key request to the completion of a target action. In other words, it is information about the actions of one person during one session of visiting the site.

Let’s look at which of the following is an example of a clickstream data metric.

The click report usually includes: 

  • The number of page views.
  • The time the users spend on each page.
  • Data on how the user got to the page.
  • The date and time of the site visit.
  • Data about filling out the registration form and information about the interrupted registration.
  • The demographics of registered users.
  • Data about completed purchases or other targeted actions. 
  • Information about incomplete purchases. 
  • Data on where the user went after visiting a specific page.

The report shows several important parameters: which keys the user used to search and find the site, which pages of the web resource they used to navigate, how much time they spent on each of them, and whether they completed a target action or returned to the search results. In other words, an SEO specialist can see which keywords and pages were most effective in terms of conversion, and which ones did not arouse any interest from users.

Clickstream data allows you to correctly target your target audience and build high-quality sales funnels for each of the groups. However, you should not forget about confidentiality. The webmaster has access to the users’ personal information, which in many cases, allows you to identify them. It is important to immediately delete such information, not to violate the laws concerning personal data protection.

Clickstream data is usually stored on the site server and in the users’ web browser. Additionally, Internet service providers and online advertisers can track and record user activity.

Features that Provide Clickstream Data

From the definition of data flow, it is clear that this is a valuable asset and bonus. It can be used to gain a competitive advantage, make advertising campaigns more effective and cheaper, and improve your website in terms of usability and user benefit. Let’s look at all of the features that clickstream tracking provides. 

1. Correct Website SEO Optimization

Clickstream data provides a lot of useful information. However, in the first place are the exact keys that brought organic traffic to the web resource. According to Moz, approximately 25% of all keywords that SEO specialists get from Google reports are corrected using clickstream data. This is tens of millions of search queries per month. Fixes allow you to create more useful content and to better optimize all pages of the site.

2. Building a Sales Funnel

What is clickstream data? It is a digital footprint that every site user leaves. By collecting and analyzing this information, you can identify common patterns. For example, you can see that users most often view the same pages, while some pages, on the contrary, cause them to leave the site. You will also notice that different users prefer different Internet search methods, but end up buying the same products. Shopping cart analysis helps you understand what your customers have in common and how they search for necessary products. Take a closer look at where the target audience is coming from on the site and study user profiles. After that, develop the simplest and most obvious way, starting from entering the key query in the search bar to performing the target action. 

3. Reducing Bounce Rates

This point closely intersects with the previous one. Clickstream information allows you to see at what stage many users leave the site without completing a target action. The Google Support Service reveals how you can understand from a user’s behavior on a site that they cannot find the information they need.

Google Support 

Of course, users may not complete the target action for another reason. For example, the registration form has too many fields to fill, or they require a lot of personal data. Sometimes when adding new pages, resource owners forget to specify the path to navigate to them, so users cannot get to them. Regardless of the reason, you will see which pages and elements of the site need additional attention and improvements. As a result, you will get a web platform with a high-quality UX component, and the bounce rate will decrease significantly. 

4. Data Personalization

Thanks to clickstream analysis, you can personalize everything. Particularly, if you are the owner of an online store, you have data on which products are interesting to different kinds of users. In other words, you can recommend products that are likely to appeal to a certain segment of your target audience. You can do the same with the content on an informational site. Clickstream data allows you to anticipate users’ wishes and improve the quality of service. This, in turn, will be a clear competitive advantage.

5. Attracting a New Audience

Knowing what clickstream is and how to use it will allow you to create an image of a typical site user. By understanding the real needs and wishes of potential customers, you can correctly configure your ads and attract more users.

Clickstream information is an incredibly powerful tool for modern businesses; however, on the condition that the company has the resources and skills to collect and analyze this data. We will tell you further about how this is done.

What You Need to Know About Analyzing Clickstream Data

To understand what clickstream analysis is and how it is performed, you need to consider two approaches to studying the obtained data:

  • Traffic Analytics. It works at the server level and tracks how many pages the user views, how much time it takes, and how often the user clicks the “back” button.
  • E-Commerce Analytics. In this case, the data allows you to determine how effective the site is in terms of sales. It evaluates pages where the user lingers and immediately leaves, which products the customer adds and removes from their cart, and other indicators. Read more in the article: Ecommerce SEO.

Naturally, in both cases, it is impossible to draw correct conclusions after analyzing a single session. We are talking about a huge array of information. Thus, it is structured using special tools for big data analytics. 

However, before you can structure and draw conclusions from the data, you must obtain it. Most of the useful metrics are unknown since they are stored on the provider’s server. Clickstream data is usually collected using a special JavaScript tracker that is loaded along with the web page every time a request is made. After that, the data is supplemented with related metrics and sent to the shared storage for further analysis.

To extract detailed data, you can use paid services, such as BigQuery, linked to Google Analytics Premium, Adobe Analytics, etc. These tools provide much more information about user behavior on sites than free versions.

How to Get Clickstream Data

If you pay for the Google Analytics Premium service, as we wrote above, you can integrate the Google BigQuery tool and receive daily click data.

Cloud Google

The free Google Analytics service does not provide access to clickstream data. You can, of course, connect the API to download clickstream data, but it will be generalized and already processed information that will not provide additional useful knowledge for SEO. 

Adobe Analytics allows you to record all actions that the users perform on the site. Clickstream data is received daily and via FTP in several archived files. A huge plus is that you can configure the reporting to suit your needs; however, please note that this service is also paid. 


You can also use third-party services, such as the Snowplow platform. It allows you to collect the same information as Google Clickstream but provides it in full. All data will be stored in your database, for example, in Hive, Spark, Redshift, or PostgreSQL. You can analyze it using convenient modern tools like Python or SAS. You can also add business analytics services, such as Tableau. One of the main advantages of Snowplow is real-time clickstream analysis, which enables you to quickly respond to any changes in user behavior.

Snowplow Analytics

Additional Features of Clickstream

In addition to basic clickstream data, modern tools allow you to get additional information about user behavior on the site. Among them are so-called visual metrics, the analysis of which helps you learn more about the intentions and motivations of potential customers. This data can be got by services like HotJar and LuckyOrange. They are relatively cheap, but they provide an extended range of analytics. For example, consider the service HotJar and the opportunities it offers.

  • A Heat Map

There are three types of heat maps: click map, scroll map, and link maps. They clearly show which elements users click on most often, which parts of the content they are not interested in and quickly scroll through, and which links are usually clicked on and which are ignored. A heat map lets you understand how web resource users interact with the interface.

Here is a typical clickstream data example in the form of a heat map. If you see that users are clicking on a non-clickable element, then make a target action button there. Have you noticed that many users follow the link to other pages without making a purchase? Remove this link or put it at the end of the page, and there are so many examples like this. You will understand this by looking at the map. 

  • Recording Sessions

The service records user activity in real-time. This tool demonstrates even more clearly how the user behaves on the site. The movement of the mouse is almost always associated with a person’s gaze, which allows you to understand which site elements attract attention and which do not. To help more accurately track the movement of users’ eyes use services like Eyetracking.

Additionally, you can use a session recording to see how much time a person spends on each part of the page and what problems may occur when displaying the site in different browsers.

  • Sales Funnel

Every successful business has an understanding of the sales funnel, that is, the steps that the user must take from entering the first search query to completing the target action. Clickstream analysis is the most effective way to find the weak points of the funnel.

Directly in HotJar and Google Analytics, the funnel is built based on page traffic. This is not the best option; it is much more efficient to track events. And in this case, the Mixpanel service will help.

  • Form Filling Analysis 

Almost every site has forms to fill, and they rarely consist of a single field. Clickstream services help you understand how people interact with the forms, which fields they fill in, and at what stage they stop. Based on this data, you can simplify the form as much as possible and leave only those fields that are necessary for establishing contact with the user. Most often, this is a name and email.

Experienced marketers combine the analysis of the forms and viewing sessions to keep track of what data users enter in the field. Sometimes, they do not understand how to fill out the form correctly, so they just do not do it. For example, a phone number is written incorrectly, the site gives an error, and the potential client goes to a competitor. 

  • Conducting Surveys

This tool allows you to better understand your target audience. In HotJar, surveys can be configured to meet certain requirements. In particular, the question box should appear on a specific page before it closes. The service also has the ability to output pop-ups with the search for site testers. In other words, this attracts users to improve your web resource.

Thanks to Not Provided, this is how clickstream data has evolved, from tracking page clicks to being able to fully track all the users’ actions, including the direction of their gaze, i.e. their attention. Because of modern tools, it is possible to completely predict the behavior of a potential customer. The main thing is to not forget about the ethical side: the protection of personal data.

About author
Eugenia Pasichnyk is a content creator with 10-years’ experience in the profession. Worked as a Project Manager at a Marketing Agency. Has been studying SEO processes for over 5 years. Interested in PR and other promotion methods.