March 25, 2010, 12:00 AM

What leads to an online conversion? Google provides more data

Google will show marketers not just the last keyword that led a consumer to buy, but all the terms the buyer searched for in the last 30 days. This new service is a sign Google intends to be a player in the arena of attribution analysis, an expert says.

What leads an online consumer to decide to buy? An online banner ad? A customer review? A sign on the side of a bus? A friend’s recommendation? An ad on a Google search results page? Google Inc. introduced a new service this week that aims to provide marketers with more of an answer to this age-old question, and one search marketing expert believes this is just the start of Google’s dive into the hot arena of analyzing the path consumers take to online purchases.

The new service called AdWords Search Funnel provides seven reports that cover various aspects of a consumer’s journey to an online conversion. The reports show not just the last keyword the consumer searched for before making a purchase, but all the terms he searched for in the past 30 days. They also provide data on how long the consumer took from the first search to making a purchase, and how many times he clicked on Google paid search ads along the way.

In a blog posting Tuesday announcing the beta release of the new service, Miles Johnson of Google’s AdWords team offered an example of a consumer who ultimately buys a vacation package from a hypothetical travel company called Flyaway Hawaii. In the example, the consumer first searches for “hawaii vacation” and clicks on a Flyaway Hawaii ad, two days later searches for “flights to hawaii” but doesn’t click, and three days later searches for “flyaway hawaii,” clicks on an ad, goes to the Flyaway site and purchases a package.

“Instead of showing only a purchase conversion for the ‘flyaway hawaii’ keyword, Search Funnels will show an assist click for the keyword ‘hawaii vacation’ and an assist impression for the keyword ‘flights to Hawaii,’” Johnson writes in the post. “Testing the value of assist clicks and impressions is important for evaluating and understanding the true value of all of your keywords.”

These reports could be valuable for online companies selling high-end items, or services that consumers consider carefully before purchasing, says Bill Leake, CEO of search marketing firm Apogee Results. But they won’t be of much use for most online retailers, because research shows 75-90% of online purchases from paid search come from the first ad the consumer clicks on, he says.

What’s significant about this announcement, Leake says, is that it shows Google plans to be a big player in attribution analysis. He expects Google eventually will tie in data not only from AdWords but from other sources under its control, such as from banner ads displayed through its online ad network, from its fledgling TV advertising service, mobile ads and possibly from natural search results.

“They came up with seven reports from data they already had in their data center, and wrapped a marketing brand around it,” Leake says. “It’s important in terms of signaling where they’re headed and that this is a space Google intends to own.” He adds that by announcing Search Funnels now Google may also be trying to scare off venture capitalists who have begun investing in start-ups offering technology for analyzing what influences consumers to make online purchases.

Google says over the next few weeks it will be extending the Search Funnels test to more advertisers who will be able to find the reports under the Conversions section of the Reporting tab in their AdWords accounts. Google says the reports will only show data for keywords that show up in at least one path that leads to purchase, and they will only cover clicks within 30 days of conversion.

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