Multi-channel conversions - why there's always more than meets the eye

In last month's blog I discussed why Pay-Per-Click advertisers should always think twice about choosing not to bid on their own brand. To summarise that article, a brand campaign protects the advertiser's brand terms and bolsters their online presence. I also discussed how, with PPC, many users often do not simply click on a single advert before making a purchase or generating a lead - typically the customer's journey will weave in and out of different campaigns, clicking on a number of adverts before converting into a sale or lead.

But the path to a conversion isn't always limited to a single channel, such as PPC or Organic. Many customers will move from one medium or channel to another.

The following Google Analytics screenshot shows a typical example of an advertiser's top channel paths that customers might take on their way to a conversion:

In the above example, we can see that Organic search accounts for the greatest number of single-channel conversions (i.e. they arrived on the website through one channel and converted straight away). PPC, which lies in second place, generated just under 6,000 conversions through such visits. In third place are users who went directly to the advertiser's website by typing the web address directly into their browser's address bar.

Month-on-month, these three channels regularly show as the top-performing campaigns for this particular advertiser.

But look a bit further down this list, and in seventh position we can see that there were 967 conversions that were generated by users who initially discovered the advertiser's website via PPC, and then revisited the website a second time via Organic search before generating a conversion.

This means that the customer initially discovered the advertiser's website through a PPC advert, but by default, Google Analytics is crediting this type of conversion as an Organic conversion. This is because Organic Search was the last channel that referred the visitor to the website before the visitor decided to convert.

In a nutshell: it is highly likely that, without the PPC campaign, this particular set of customers might never have discovered the advertiser's brand at all, and therefore would never have generated this number of sales or leads.

This is important information to the advertiser, because it shows the subtle role that PPC is playing within the greater scheme of things. Yes - both PPC and Organic Search generate a large number of single-visit conversions respectively. But if we delve a little closer, we'll soon begin to see the true extent of the PPC campaign.

The following screenshot shows all conversions that were generated in the same period where the user discoveredthe website via PPC, but the conversion was attributed to a channel other than PPC.

In total, there were 5,963 conversions that took place by users who initially visited the website via PPC, but then later completed their conversion through another channel. Google Analytics has instead credited all such sales to the last referrer, whether Organic, Direct or any other channel.

Taking it a step further, we can analyse an overview of channel performance, this time showing how many conversions were generated by each channel when the visitor's first interaction with the website was through a PPC advert, regardless of which channel was finally attributed to the sale:

In laymen's terms, there were over 14,000 sales or leads generated that might not have taken place were it not for PPC activities. With this in mind, the majority of sales/conversions for this particular advertiser first begin through their paid search campaign. This information can have a huge bearing on the advertiser's marketing decisions, in terms of both their planned marketing activities and their allocated media spend.

Similarly, the following screenshot shows the number of Assisted conversions - sales or leads that were generated when a PPC click took place at any stage of the customer journey.

In the above screenshot, PPC accounts for the greatest number of assisted conversions. Without PPC, the impact on performance of all other channels would be disastrous.

Of course, it's not just PPC, Organic or Direct channels that advertisers should focus on when identifying the role that online marketing plays in the greater scheme of things. Marketing emails, newsletters, social media promotions - customers can discover brands through any of these endeavours but may ultimately decide to convert through a completely different channel.

Many advertisers make the mistake of only examining a basic top-level picture of their website's performance. In reality, the true high-performing, revenue-generating channels are seldom the last point of purchase. Basic, top-level analysis of a website often prompts advertisers to make the wrong decisions and subsequently divert marketing spend away from channels that are bolstering overall performance.

From time to time we carry out audits of advertisers' marketing campaigns, and find that their overall sales have been severely hampered as a result of the client stopping certain online activities. Their decisions were often based on a top-level analysis of their website's channels, or were the result of the incumbent agency not delving deep enough into the historic data.

The above information is barely skimming the surface of how integrated campaigns utilise a myriad of channels, all of which bolster the performance of one another. PPC can act as a starting point of the customer journey, a mid-point buffer to bolster overall performance, and a final stop at the end of the customer journey.

Optimising a PPC campaign isn't simply about generating conversions in Adwords - it requires careful analysis of both the bigger picture, and a more granular analysis of the channels that lie in-between the point of discovery and conversion. Ultimately, all channels assist one another in generating revenue for a business, and careful optimisation of the bigger picture may be considered a subtle art.