August 24, 2011, 3:50 PM

How long is that online path to a sale? Google wants to provide a better answer

A Google Analytics upgrade lets marketers see all the steps consumers take toward purchase.

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Google Inc. today broadened the capabilities of its Google Analytics reporting tool to detail the full digital path a shopper takes before completing a purchase. This means marketers can now see all the ad forms and referral sites that preceded a sale. Until now, Google Analytics had provided only last-click data, which meant reports gave credit to the last ad clicked prior to a purchase.

Retailers using Google Analytics can now see how consumers’ interactions with organic search, display ads, affiliates sites, social networks, e-mail, direct traffic, mobile and video intersect on the way to a sale. For example, say a consumer sees—but doesn’t click on—a display ad for Sears on Monday. Then she enters a search for Sears in a search engine on Tuesday and clicks on a paid ad to visit the site, but doesn’t make a purchase. On Thursday, she clicks to respond to a Sears e-mail and then makes a purchase. Under the previous reporting model, the e-mail would get credit for the conversion. Under the new reporting function, called Multi-Channel Funnels, the display ad and paid search ad also get credit for assisting the sale.

“This gives marketers new opportunities to see channels that previously didn’t look like they were delivering a lot of conversions in a new light,” says Bill Kee, product manager for Google Analytics.

Marketers should pay more attention to multi-touch attribution models, according to recent research. A Forrester Research Inc. analysis of 15 e-retailers during the last holiday season showed that nearly half of e-retail sales came after consumers interacted with two or more marketing touch points.

Patrick Berresheim, director of e-commerce and customer relationship management for men’s apparel e-retailer Hugo Boss, says the Multi-Channel Funnel reporting tools have helped guide his marketing strategy. Hugo Boss has been testing the reporting tools for several months. “Knowing more about how our customers find us is very important, and this data helps us make better decisions,” he says.

The Multi-Channel Funnels reporting tools are free and available to all Google Analytics users. Reports track the pathways to purchase for the last two months. Google intends to soon add historical data back to January.

Google Analytics is the second most popular web analytics program used by Internet Retailer Top 500-ranked e-retailers. 161 e-retailers report using it. Other leading web analytics providers to Top 500 e-retailers, such as Adobe Omniture and IBM Coremetrics also offer attribution management across touch points.

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