As consumers create ever greater digital footprints in their journey towards purchase, it's crucial for marketers to take a holistic approach to digital marketing: Gaining strategic insight across multiple channels and using that data to better understand the buying journey with individual channel performance mapped against it.
In recent years, marketing has gone through a real shift in how we measure, talk the talk, and communicate digital marketing performance with our clients. No longer do we state ‘you invested X in PPC and got Y back’, or ‘SEO delivered X number of direct conversions this month’.
In 2017 it would be naive of anyone to deliver reports in this manner. Brands are consumed, engaged with and searched for on a daily basis. This activity happens, not just on multiple devices, but also via multiple channels e.g. organic search, social media, direct. Consumers create a complex digital footprint in completing the information gathering process, interacting with a brand, and carrying out multiple actions in getting to their final destination e.g. book a hotel room, buy a spa day package, or book an experience day of some sort.
Ok so this isn’t new news, but you’d be surprised how often channel specific requests and questions such as “invest more in paid search” or “why are why direct conversions from organic search down?” are asked, without the bigger picture being considered.
Cross Channel Touchpoints
The hospitality industry is a prime example of an industry where you cannot just look at one channel in isolation and rest your laurels on, say, paid search. Although 48.4% of travellers start their travel journey/research through search engines (Source: Fuel Travel, February 2016) that is not necessarily where it ends. Globally, 37% of consumers abandon their travel bookings online because either the price is too high or they want to compare. [Source: SaleCycle, June 2016]. Some common reasons users abandon the booking process are:
- Just looking/want to do more research
- Price too high/want to compare
- Need to check with other travellers
- Payment issue/lack of options
- Technical issues/lost connection
- Booking process too long/complicated checkout
And the rise of meta search engines and daily deal sites are further fuelling price comparisons and diluting brand loyalty. 46% of global consumers search for deals, promotions or coupons online before buying travel products or services. [Source: Nielsen, January 2016]. Like many other industries, in hospitality, consumers’ digital footprints as they make their way from dreaming, to planning, through to booking, is complex.
Assisted Conversions to Understand Cross Channel Success
Regardless of industry, to deliver that wider picture for clients, we measure and include ‘Assisted Conversions’ in our insights. To clarify, ‘Assisted Conversions’ are the interactions that a customer has with a website leading up to a conversion, but not the final interaction.
We have observed first hand that ‘Assisted Conversions’ data within Google Analytics has grown year-on-year (YoY) with increases of +20% across digital channels. When reporting how specific channels have performed, we include this data because although direct conversions may not have increased (or maybe they did, even better!), assisted conversions may have. From this data, we draw out the value of channel activity in helping move consumers through the journey to get from A to B, the desired outcome. For Paid Search, our team are noting YoY assisted conversion increases of up to 40% across a range of clients from different industries. Our insights show that brands should examine the bigger picture before hastily cutting or moving channel specific marketing budgets.
Understanding the Customer Buying Journey – Top Conversion Paths Report
It’s crucial to take the time to understand the customer buying journey. It informs the strategy and helps us make smarter decisions on where to place investment and marketing efforts. There are many ways to examine the customer buying journey, but I’ll focus here on one key metric that provides useful insight. The ‘Top Conversion Paths’ report in Google Analytics identifies the most popular referral paths users take on their journey to purchase/conversion. This clearly shows clients how complex that online journey can be, identifying multiple touchpoints along the way. For example a consumer may start with a Google search visiting the site via the organic listing, then go back the next day directly typing the URL into a browser, and want to check reviews on the brands social media channels and review sites.
It is not simply a case of ‘a user clicked on an ad for the first time, then went to your website, and converted’. The number of conversions taking place via a single touchpoint has decreased, and continues to do so, YoY. Consumers going direct to a website to convert is happening less and less. We have observed this decrease to be over 50% for many clients when comparing 2017 to the same period in 2016.
Dog’s search team are viewing many instances of consumers starting their search via a search engine but then revisit the site 2/3/4 times directly. Clearly, SEO had its part to play but wasn’t the final conversion channel. If organic search activity wasn’t up to scratch, and a brand appeared far down the search engine results pages (SERPs), then those conversions may not have happened.
This is just a snapshot of information around a complex topic. But hopefully provides some food for thought. I would recommend that before you consider investing more or less in specific digital channels, ask yourself the following questions:
- What part does this channel play in the overall journey to conversion?
- Does your PPC traffic convert immediately, or come back through another channel?
- How are users moving through the search funnel?
- Have you implemented any CRO tactics to help inform this decision?
- Do you need to review your landing pages in terms of layout and CTA language?
If the answer is “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”, then it might be time to dig a little deeper to take time to understand your customer’s buying behaviour and the broader performance of each channel. Tracking performance and creating a holistic measurement framework will help to inform a smarter marketing investment strategy and, ultimately, support the achievement of marketing goals.
Dog’s Insights team works with clients to gather valuable qualitative and quantitative information across multiple channels and throughout the buying journey. It’s a complex process, but get it right, and reap the rewards.