Understanding Multi-Channel Funnels & Conversions

This article gives an overview of what multi-channel funnels are, why measuring the whole funnel before the conversion is important, and several ways you can take action on the data from Google Analytics Multi-Channel Funnels feature.

Let’s say a user performs some Google searches and clicks through to your website. Then let’s say that user also clicks a link in one of your tweets. Then they click a display ad or paid search ad, and the user makes a purchase or fills out a form (this desired action is called a “conversion”).  Which online marketing effort gets credit for the lead or sale, and ultimately is worth the investment?

Most conversion tracking tools credit only the last link or ad clicked. But in reality, we are not a last-click society. In real life, consumers research, compare and have multiple touch points across multiple channels, or sources of traffic, before making a final decision on where they would like to make a purchase, submit a lead form or take another action.

This digital multi-channel web can create chaotic data overload, so it’s no surprise people rely on that last click  attribution by default to measure the success of marketing efforts. That’s the easiest direct attribution we can make. But this method only measures the “action” part of the funnel, and completely overlooks the “awareness” and “engagement” portions that led to it.

Why do multi-channel funnels matter?

When we credit only the last place a customer touched before they converted, we are only seeing a fraction of the picture and possibly missing out on other important marketing avenues we could take to reach our potential customers. Being the final touchpoint in a conversion funnel certainly bears a heavy weight worth noting, but it is also important to give credit and assign value to touchpoints higher in the funnel in order to make wise marketing decisions. The moment that causes the user to choose to take action is invaluable, but all that took place in the time that passed between when the visitor initially showed interest and when they clicked “Purchase” or “Submit” is important, too. It’s a mistake to neglect that goldmine of information.

Google explains this beautifully in their video “Multi-Channel Funnels in Google Analytics” from the original announcement of the roll-out to GA in August 2011, where they compare multi-channel conversions to assists in a basketball game.

In short, it’s important to take a more holistic, realistic view, where all your traffic sources work together to generate leads or sales.

How do we measure multi-channel conversions?

The various channels are measured according to the roles they played in conversions. Is a particular channel more likely to be an independent converter, or is it more likely to be an assistant to conversions?

Google Analytics has a “Multi-Channel Funnels” section that allows us to see the full path to conversion within the last 30 days, instead of only the last click in the funnel before the user converted. In order to take full advantage of the Multi-Channel Funnels section of GA, you must have clear goal conversions or e-commerce tracking enabled. Whether you want to measure goals as someone who submits a lead form or makes a purchase and lands on a final confirmation URL, or you just want to measure users who stayed on the site more than a certain amount of time, as long as it’s set up properly as a goal in GA you can make it work with this reporting tool. It is also beneficial to have your AdWords and Analytics accounts connected to get the most information possible about ad performance, if applicable.

Multi-Channel Funnels Overview Google Analytics Menu

Multi-Channel Funnels Overview Google Analytics Menu

Multi-Channel Funnels in Google Analytics

The default channels available in GA are unpaid organic search, paid search, direct traffic, referral sites, display ads, e-mail marketing and social networking. These channels can be grouped to better label and aggregate information for your purposes. Custom channels can also be created for marketing efforts like offline campaigns to vanity URLs, AdWords, non-Google paid search, and other custom campaigns.

  • Assisted Conversions Report – This report shows how many leads or sales were started, assisted or completed by a specific channel. If you have assigned a dollar value for conversion goals, it can also tell you the estimated dollar value of those channels.
  • Top Conversion Paths Report – This report demonstrates the unique paths (or sequences of touchpoints) users followed on their way to the conversion, the number of conversions, and the estimated dollar value of those conversions.
  • Time Lag Report – This shows the length of time in days that it took visitors to convert. It ranges from 0 (same day) to 12 or more days.
  • Path Length Report – This report shows the length of the path in interactions it took visitors to convert. It ranges from 1 single channel to 12 or more channels.

Understanding & Analyzing Multi-Channel Conversions

Now that you know what the various reports are, what are they capable of and what can we learn from them? One key benefit of understanding multi-channel conversions is we can now assign real value to any step in the conversion funnel and evaluate the impact it has, rather than neglecting everything prior to the final touchpoint before the conversion.

When looking at the standard goal conversion reports, the “Conversions” column consists only of last-click conversions. If you were to look at this alone, you may think that social media is not a high-converting channel for many brands because it shows that it rarely is the final click to conversion, but it shows up often earlier in the funnel. But social media’s job in our funnel may or may not be to drive conversions directly – perhaps its first job to drive awareness and create engagement prior to the conversion. If we only look at the final click in the funnel, we could easily overlook the positive impact social media may be having on the ultimate conversion and decide that social media marketing isn’t worth our time or energy investment.

One thing that the Multi-Channel Funnel aspect of Google Analytics cannot tell us is touchpoints across multiple screens (TV screen to mobile device to tablet to desktop site, for example), but that is a topic for another time. Here are several applications of the Multi-Channel Funnels section of Google Analytics that can help you make better marketing decisions in the future.

Top Conversion Paths

The Top Conversion Paths report can be analyzed to see how the various marketing channels along the path interact with one another. You can look specifically at the Keyword Path as a viewing option for a granular view, or the Source/Medium Path instead if you’re interested in a higher level understanding of the path to conversion. Look for patterns of highly successful sequences that can offer guidance on how to market across channels, using two or more together for a more powerful effect. Perhaps your latest campaign and its catchy tag line can be used across multiple advertising channels that your users see on their way to the final conversion. If you were to drop efforts in one channel, would it reduce the impact of the marketing efforts across the funnel? Or maybe you should plan a coordinated marketing campaign with elevated spend, and the time to conversion for each marketing channel can help you decide when to start each component of the campaign.

Multi-Channel Funnels - Top Conversion Paths

Multi-Channel Funnels - Top Conversion Paths

Assisted vs. Last-Click Conversions

When you instead look at the “Assisted Conversions” report, you can evaluate the quantity and monetary value of sales or leads the channel assisted with. What that means is that the channel appears anywhere in the funnel except the final click before the conversion. In the column labeled “Assisted / Last Click Conversions,” when this number is closer to 0, the source is a more independent converter. When it’s further over 1, it’s more of an assistant converter. Why does this matter? If you see that a particular channel is more of an assistant than a final converter, you may shift your messaging to be more high-level in one area and more direct call-to-action in another. You may shift your budget around to emphasize the higher last-click converting areas and put less emphasis on the lower-assisting areas. It helps you establish which areas are valuable and not valuable at any part in the funnel and adjust time, budget, effort and messaging accordingly.

Multi-Channel Conversions - Assisted vs. Last-Click Conversions

Multi-Channel Conversions - Assisted vs. Last-Click Conversions

Finding Keyword Opportunities

If you find high-conversion organic keywords that initiate, assist or complete conversions, you may wish to add them to your paid search portfolio. If you’re already bidding on them, this may be a signal to consider raising bids to strengthen those campaigns. Alternatively, you can also identify high-conversion paid search keywords you may wish to invest more resources into getting to drive organic traffic.

Calculating the Real Value of Your Marketing Efforts

Use multi-channel assisted conversion data to work your way back up the conversion funnel, find the most effective marketing tactics, and where the gaps are that you could be taking better advantage of. Calculate the real dollar value of your marketing channels, giving credit for both direct and assisted conversions. You can find the most effective and profitable tactics and amplify them, find gaps in your marketing and fill them, or find less effective marketing tactics with diminishing returns and change them, scale them back or eliminate them all together.

In Conclusion

We have to get away from the last-click attribution model. With multi-channel funnel data available for free at our fingertips, we need to examine the whole funnel to find challenges and opportunities to improve our online marketing mixes. These are only a few of the myriad ways this gold mine of multi-channel attribution information can be used.

How are you using multi-channel funnel data? Share your knowledge and experiences in the comments!

Addendum

  • Data does not back-fill when you add conversion goals in Analytics.
  • This could be great to pair with assisted conversion data from SearchForce.
  • The full goal conversion value is assigned to all channels in a conversion path, whereas a graduated attribution model might be more wise to calculate real value.

Need help understanding your business's Google Analytics and how multi-channel funnels impacts your marketing? Contact us. We love to help!

Heather Physioc
Heather Physioc is a Kansas City inbound marketer, and President of Tentacle Inbound, LLC. Tentacle Inbound offers services in digital marketing, website development and design, and more. Connect with Heather on Twitter.

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