By Samantha Dimitriou, Search Specialist

Quick question — if you’re pouring big bucks into Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and other digital channels but virtually all your sales are coming through either Google Adwords (branded search) or direct traffic, do you:

  1. Shut down all your other digital marketing except AdWords?
  2. Ignore the evidence and stay the course?
  3. Switch to direct mail and billboards?
  4. None of the above?

Unlocking the Key to Conversions

If you picked D, congratulations! If you picked A, B or C, keep reading.

Why? Because you’re probably judging the effectiveness of your digital campaigns based almost exclusively upon last-click conversions, which is a common but serious mistake.

Yes, I know, I know branded search has the highest return on investment. But if you want to really understand how to allocate your digital dollars for maximum ROI, which is your job after all, you need to understand the online journey the consumer took before deciding to buy your company’s product or service. And that means you need to look at more than the last click. Start by asking yourself some questions, such as:

  • How did the buyer first find out about my brand or product?
  • What did they do next? (Did they look for reviews, search for blogs, price or coupon-shop?)
  • How long did it take for them to move from interest to action?
  • What triggered the final decision to buy?

Contemplating these questions will give you a roadmap to follow when you are combing through the data to discover your customers’ online journey.

Keep in mind however, that with virtually endless access to information, a consumer’s path is never going to be linear, because each digital channel contributes to driving a sale or lead differently.

Some digital channels, as you know, act as push strategies (i.e. email, display), and whereas others act as pull marketing strategies (i.e. Google search). Digital touchpoints can range from social, paid search, banner ads, organic search, email referral traffic, direct traffic the list goes on. These are all channels to consider when measuring attribution.

With all these touchpoints in the mix, things seem complicated. It might be at first, but that doesn’t mean we can’t figure out the journey and factor it into our digital marketing efforts.

Learning about your traffic by channel is a good place to start.

The Top Conversion Paths: A Look at Traffic by Channel

The first place I go when mapping a customer’s journey to the sale, is the Top Conversion Path report in Google Analytics. This gives me a high level analysis of how my channels are working together. You’ll be able to gain insight here into the importance of each channel in your overall digital marketing mix.

Consider the chart below. If you were to look only at the ‘last click’ column on the far right, you could easily and mistakenly conclude that the vast majority of sales are coming exclusively from direct, referral or email traffic.

The Top Conversion Paths: A Look at Traffic by Channel

However, if you look at the far left column, you will see that Paid Search is often the first step in the consumer’s journey to the sale/conversion.

Furthermore, a quick look at the middle columns reveals that display advertising also has a substantial impact on the consumer’s decision to buy, even if they didn’t actually buy directly off of the ad.

In other words, if you were looking solely at last-click conversions, these other channels would hardly get any credit, but — as you can clearly see — they’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting. There are of course, many more touch points before the final decision to purchase/conversion, and this is only the beginning.

Drilling into the Conversion/Sale Source

Once you’ve looked for those initial patterns in your channels, you’ll definitely have more questions. For instance:

  • Did Google or Bing drive the sales/conversions from Paid Search?
  • Which referral website led to the sale/conversion?
  • Which display channel is assisting in the sales/conversion path?

To get this info, you’ll need to be able to see the source/medium data. To see this, simply segment your data by adding in the secondary dimension “source/medium path”. Now you’ll be able to answer your questions about which source is helping to drive sales or conversions. Below is an example of what you’ll see when you do this. In this example, we can clearly see that Google Paid Search is the top driver of sales.

Drilling into the Conversion/Sale Source

Obviously, with Google Analytics, there are a million ways to segment your data, depending on what you’re looking for. You could continue to drill deeper into each source. For example, you might want look at which keywords are driving conversions/sales.

However, my goal here is not to outline the incredibly detailed data available to you, but just to point out that if you want to really understand the factors that influence sales, you need to look beyond, or rather before the last click.

All in the Value

Now that you’ve looked at the bigger picture, what’s next? Well, hopefully it’s clear that each digital channel contributes in a different way to a consumer’s journey. The next question is, how do you attribute a value to a channel that’s not directly driving sales/conversions? Well, you will need to establish goals for these channels that are not direct conversion goals.

Some of these could be:

View through Conversions: This is important when looking at display advertising initiatives, as they have a large reach. This measures the number of consumers that are exposed to an ad but don’t click on it, though still eventually become customers.

Assisted Conversions: This will tell you how many times each channel assisted in the path to conversion/sale.

Awareness impact: Look at how direct/organic traffic or branded paid search traffic have been impacted by your other channels. Has it increased? Has it remained the same? If it has increased, your other channels, such as display advertising/email, etc. are most likely contributing to your branded awareness.

The value you decide to attribute to the channels that are not driving direct conversions/sales will vary based on your business goals. Once you’ve outlined clear measurement for each channel based on your consumer’s journey, you’ll be better able to evaluate the success of your overall digital marketing mix.


With some effort and the help analytics tools, you should be able to determine how your digital channels are working together to drive those sales/conversions, and how to allocate your budget accordingly.

Just because a channel is not resulting in direct sales/conversions does not mean it does not have value. So take a look at the big picture and establish values for your assisting channels.

And the next time you think about cutting a tactic because it’s not resulting in any direct sales/conversions, make sure you’ve looked “before the last click” at your consumer’s full journey.

Let us help you unlock the key to conversions.