Blog | Analytics

Understand Your Customer’s Conversion Journey Online

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Understanding your marketing mix is key to optimizing conversions and your budget. Google Analytics has built-in attribution reports to help you best understand your customer’s conversion journey with multi-channel funnels. I could take some time to introduce you to the reports, but you can do that yourself. In fact, you probably already have. What’s more important is how you use them. If you didn’t quite understand what you were looking at or what to do, you’re in the right place. But before we get started, let’s take note of a few points:

  • Multi-channel funnels rely on goals being set up. If you don’t have goals, check out an old presentation of mine to better understand what your goal framework should be.
  • Multi-channel funnels also rely on intact data integrity. If your acquisition reports are wrong, all Multi-Channel Funnels will be useless.
  • These are tools. They are meant to be actively used, not frozen as a screenshot or PDF for your boss.
  • You should have a question in mind before diving down the rabbit hole. For example, “Are LinkedIn banners worth it?” or “Should I stop spending on SEO?”

Cool? Cool. Let’s hit it.

Using Multi-Channel Funnels

The Overview

It’s no secret that there are often multiple visits to a site before a conversion happens. The multi-channel funnels overview shows you what channels were involved in the conversion journey. This can help you pinpoint where there may be wasted dollars if certain expensive channels don’t contribute. In the example below, if we had an extensive and expensive email list, and it is rarely converting or involved in conversion funnels, it’s time to kill it.


 using multi-channel funnels

Assisted Conversions

Once you’ve seen which channels are involved in the journey, we want to understand which are “Assists” and which are “Closers”. Google Analytics attributes conversions to the last non-Direct channel used prior to conversion, called Last Click. (I call them Closers because they actually close the deal and “Last Click or Direct” just sounds clunky.) Any other channel from a user that isn’t a Closer is an Assist. When we count conversions from Assists, we start to expose the real value of a channel. Assists can create real value.

using multi-channel funnels

In this example, we see that Direct would typically be attributed $4,140 in sales. But when Direct assists in a conversion, there is an additional $3,584. Now we can get a better glimpse into the real ROI. The far-right column in the report shows an index of how likely a channel is to convert or close. When it’s less than 1, the channel is better at closing. If it’s greater than 1, the channel is better at assisting.

Pro Tip: Conversion values can’t be added together. Since theoretically all channels could contribute a single sale, the value would be included for each assisting channel. You would be counting the same money multiple times.

You might be thinking, “Well, that’s neat Justin, but how do I use this?” and I have an answer for you. If you have a channel that has an index well over 1, you know it assists. If this channel is Paid Search (and therefore might not be getting the credit it deserves in standard reports), you can update your messaging to create a sense of urgency to buy. Or provide a discount code specific to that paid search landing page. Any method that encourages a user to convert immediately from that channel will increase its ability to close.

Top Conversion Paths

And now that you see which channels are assisting, you can view the Top Conversion Paths to see where a channel is positioned in the journey. These paths are searchable, so if you are curious about how your Paid Search contributes, you can filter for it quite easily.

using multi-channel funnels

Pro Tip: This report can suck pretty quickly. This example has 25 unique conversion paths, and paths 11-25 are pretty much unusable. This report should help expose trends or problem areas, not watch individual paths. You can best take advantage of conversion paths by watching the herd behaviors and not worrying about a single conversion that required 9 Paid Search sessions.

Now, I imagine you are probably thinking, “Hey Justin. Again, this is neat, but what am I supposed to do with it? Can someone as handsome as you give me some tips?” Well, yes. Yes I can.

In the example above, we see the top 5 paths (accounting for 29 of the 75 conversions) all end with Direct. The top path starts with an organic search, but closes with direct. If you are investing heavily in SEO, it’s not getting the credit it deserves. And if you might be thinking of cutting the SEO agency from your budget, that’s a big mistake. Losing SEO power has an immediate negative impact on 38 of the 75 conversions, and $3,300 in revenue the past 30 days alone.

Time Lag & Path Length

These two reports are also included in the multi-channel funnels reports, but it’s highly likely that they will be useless to you. They show how many channels are involved (i.e., 22 conversions from 3 channels and 2 conversions from 5 channels) and how many days occur between an assist and a close.
“Hey Justin, can you take a second away from your male modeling gig to tell me what to do with these potentially useless reports?” Sure. I can do that.

Time Lag is great if you’re trying to hit a calendar-based sales goal. If it’s August 25th and your boss is demanding a strong Q3, and you know that users often lag 5 days before a purchase, you could launch a remarketing campaign with ads that encourage quick purchases (discount code, urgent messaging, etc). Time Lag will help you plan the flight accordingly.

Go Deeper than Channels

This entire post focuses on channels. This just scratches the surface of what you can uncover. By using the Primary Dimension menu just above the data table, you can view nearly all other dimensions available in Google Analytics. You can view which cities are better at assisting, for example, or find out if certain browsers convert quicker.

using multi-channel funnels

What’s that?  Still not detailed enough? You want your reports as customized as your grande upside-down non-fat bone-dry skinny soy triple cappuccino? Well, Google Analytics can still hook you up.

At the end of the Primary Dimension menu (top right of the green box above), you can click “Channel Groupings” and then “Create a Custom Channel Grouping.” With a little knowledge on WYSIWYG interfaces and a lot of knowledge of your marketing, you can create groupings as unique to you as your Starbucks order.

using multi-channel funnels


Conversion Segments

By now, you are hopefully thinking, “Hey, Justin. This is totes helpful, but I want to dive deeper. Now that I’ve seen everything, I need a better way to compare them.” Well, data-bro, I got your back. Conversion Segments are your answer.

using multi-channel funnels


In the Overview page (actually, the entire multi-channel funnels report group), there is a link at the top for Conversion Segments. There are default segments based on multi-channel funnels reports that you can use to compare up to 4 different segments of data. And if these aren’t good enough for you, you can create your own! Much like the Channel Grouping interface, it’s really easy to build out your own User Segment based on the answers you need. In the screenshot example, I created a group of users that converted on Black Friday and another that contains Organic anywhere in their User journey.

using multi-channel funnels


“If we are getting visits first from Paid Search, is that money wasted if they come back organically at some point?” Here’s an example analysis from that question.

using multi-channel funnels


Above, we can see that there is overlap in First Interaction from Paid Search and Any Organic user. But the Organic lift keeps traffic relatively stable during weekends where Paid Search is disabled. It provides value where we could have otherwise lost users performing organic searches to competitors.


This is all pretty exciting, right? Many marketers feel in their gut that certain channels aren’t being tracked correctly. By using Multi-Channel Funnels, you’re allow you to validate (or invalidate) that feeling with quantitative data. This deep knowledge of user behaviors allows you to best plan and mix your marketing dollars to improve ROI, target users, plug holes, and powerfully enhance your business. It’s not enough to just look at these reports; you have to actively use them.

To learn more on tracking your customer’s conversion journey across multiple channels, check out Dan Golden‘s presentation on Slideshare:

Author: Justin Spencer