Multi-channel Funnel Reports in Google Analytics bring us a whole new depth of understanding to how people come to web sites over the course of several visits.
Now we can see how some channels are more valuable than we thought up to now. They’re helping make sales which are being credited to something else.
And there’s a bonus: we can also start working with our SEO keywords and other sources of traffic with a level of control which was previously only available for paid advertising and other campaigns.
In real time. Retrospectively. With no pre-configuration effort (so not like campaigns, then).
The most stunning of these reports, in my opinion, is the Top Conversion Paths report. For the first time ever it shows the history of a series of visits.
What’s more, it groups them by channel so that you can see the most common sequence of routes to the site. For example: social, followed by search, followed by email.
What’s even more, you can create your own custom groupings which means that you can start working with your organic search keywords in groups, like ‘head terms’ and ‘long tail’ or ‘brand’ and ‘generic’, just as you would with paid search. Or you could group your social sites according to different types, or separate different classes of referring sites, and so on.
The standard groupings include things like:
- ‘Paid Search’ — PPC advertising
- ‘Display’ — banners etc
- ‘Other advertising’ – other paid advertising
- ‘Organic search’ — unpaid search visits
- ‘Social’ — Facebook, Twitter and a long list of other social sites (take a look)
- ‘Referral’ — referred visits
- ‘Email’ – visits where the medium has been tagged as ‘email’ (exact)
This allows for a very powerful summarised view of the pattern of visits like this:
But this default view only scratches the surface of what you can do with these reports.
The real power lies in the fact that you can create your own custom groups. The interface for doing this is great and you can (should!) use the basic groupings as a template to get you started.
The first thing I would do is to split those ‘Paid Advertising’ and ‘Organic Search’ groups down so that you can separate searches for your brand keywords from generic searches for more general terms. Those are two hugely different types of search.
In order to get new customers you need to be able to clearly understand the steps which someone takes from doing a generic search for something you supply through to the point where they know about you and your brand.
At this point I should pause and thank Matt Trimmer at iVantage who pointed out that Custom Channel Groupings has the facility for doing exactly what we need.
Here’s an example of what such a report looks like. This is much more revealing than the default version.
Suddenly it’s obvious that most of the search visits are from people who already know about the brand. Generic search doesn’t appear until much lower down the list.
The Custom Channel Groupings interface makes it very easy to copy and then edit the basic group configuration.
The slowest part of the process is working out what your brand keyword variations are. There are full instructions in an earlier article on How to Start Working with Brand Keywords in Google Analytics
Once you have your list of keywords it’s all point and click from then on. This 6 minute video shows you what to do:
Separating brand from generic search is the first thing I would do with these reports. But the potential to go further is huge. This approach means that you can start working with groups of unpaid keywords in the same way as you do with paid keywords. For example, you can start breaking those generic search terms down into ‘head’ and ‘long tail’ groups.
Things to Watch Out For with Multi-channel Funnels
- You have to have goals or ecommerce configured for these reports to work
- The default view takes all goals into consideration. I think it’s better to be selective about which goals you are reporting on, particularly if you have many micro-conversion goals set up. For most ecommerce sites, I would tend to consider the ecommerce transactions on their own and then look at key micro-conversions separately. It stands to reason that you might get a series of micro-conversion visits before a final transaction visit, so you need to keep them separate.
- These reports only work with goals configured and they only show visits with goals. But goals could include non-bounce visits if you so wished.
- Experiment with the drop down menu which allows you to choose whether to see all the visits, even if they only have one step, or more than 2, and so on. The ‘more than’ options are the most interesting when you are looking for patterns. But don’t treat those as the default or you risk missing the fact that only some visits have any history at all.
That last point is an absolutely critical one. The history of multiple visits is based on cookies. People now use multiple devices to visit sites and some systems also delete cookies, which means that many real-life returning visitors are counted as new visits by Google Analytics and all cookie-based systems. So what we have here is a sample. These reports provide much more insight than we have had up to this point. We can now see the history of a series of visits. But it’s not the complete picture: this is great for assessing relative numbers and trends, but the actual numbers should only be treated as indications.
Resources Relating to Multi-channel Funnels
Here’s a beginner’s introduction video from Google:
There’s a more serious one here: http://youtu.be/rZ2RbGsuy3U [Opens in new tab]
- Christopher Penn has a great article on how to use MCF to discover if email is worth more to you than you think. I love specific examples like this of how to actually use this data. Multi-Channel Funnels Show the Power of Email+Social [Opens in new tab]
- The official GA Multi-Channel Funnels Usage Guide [Opens in new tab]
- Michael Harrison has a great post on Customising Channel Groupings, with step by step screenshots (clearer than my video!) and interesting suggestions such as using this with affiliate sites (I wish we could group on the basis of parameters in the landing page URI request): http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2011/08/25/custom-channel-groupings-google-analytics/ [Opens in new tab]
- Naturally Avinash Kaushik has written an extremely good post on Multi Channel Funnel reports (and more!) which should be a vital read for everyone. In particular, the video embedded in his article contains a very clear explanation of why the changes to the calculation of visits have been introduced as well as a great introduction to the benefits:
http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/google-analytics-visits-metric-change-implications-opportunities/ [Opens in new tab]
- Charles Farina from e-Nor offers another thoughtful set of examples of ways in which you can customise your groupings here: http://www.e-nor.com/blog/index.php/web-analytics/channel-grouping-in-google-analytics-multi-channel-funnels/ [Opens in new tab]
- As soon as I read this excellent introduction from Dara Fitzgerald at Fresh Egg I realised that I need to explore the Conversion Segments facility more and the ‘Custom Conversion Segments’ aspect in particular: http://www.freshegg.com/blog/multi-channel-funnels-conversion-optimisation-google-analytics_8146 [Opens in new tab]
- The official guide to the standard Google Analytics Channel Group definitions
[Other good sources are appearing all over the place at the moment, so I will continue to update this list.]
- [March 2012] Google have introduced new standard channel groupings in Google Analytics. I think it’s wise to take a look at the actual definitions (start to create a new custom set based on the standard definitions, but don’t save). You may find that some of them won’t work for you. For example I work with clients who use several variations of medium for their email campaigns, such as ‘emails’, so the standard exact match for ‘email’ is no good. A ‘contains’ match would be better for them. Here’s the official guide to the standard Google Analytics Channel Group definitions.
- [November 2011] The introduction of secure search by Google means that a growing proportion of organic search visits do not have any keyword information. These will show as ‘Not Provided’ in your keyword reports. Since you do not know whether these searches were for ‘Brand’ or ‘Generic / Non-Brand’ terms, it now makes sense to add a third organic search Channel Group for ‘Not Provided’.