5 Behavioral Insights You Can Learn From Search Funnels

  |  April 18, 2011   |  Comments

Learn how to find search funnels in Google AdWords to better understand your target audience and their online behavior.

As marketers, it is always important to find ways to better understand our target audience and the behavior they exhibit online. We relish any tool that can provide insights into their decision-making paradigms, buying cycle variables. As we do so we can better anticipate their needs and wants and provide a superior user experience. In early 2010, Google provided a new tool for PPC advertisers that helps provide some useful statistics into search behavior throughout their buying process. It is important to point out that these statistics represent PPC activity and not organic.

Typically conversions are attributed to the last ad clicked in a PPC campaign. The idea of search funnels is to observe all of the ads that were viewed or clicked on prior to the conversion taking place. So essentially this tool helps you understand how your keywords, ads, and campaigns work together to create sales and conversions.

The search funnel reports are generated from conversion paths and the sequence of ad clicks and impressions that lead to conversions. For example, let's say that I am searching for a new road bike and I begin using a broad keyword "road bike" as I begin my search. As I do so, I see an ad. Maybe I click on it, maybe I don't. As I continue my search, I use more specific keywords and see more ads in the process. Finally I narrow down my choice and click on an ad that catches my attention, visit the site, and convert. In each case, the ad was either viewed or clicked on. The last phrase resulted in an ad that was clicked and ultimately converted.


Finding Search Funnels in Google AdWords

Let's start by taking a look at the reporting and tools tab within Google AdWords. To locate your search funnel reports you need to click on the "Reporting and Tools" tab, then follow the pull down menu and select conversions. You will see on the left-hand side the link to "search funnels." In order to see any conversion data you will need to have already set up conversion tracking.


Once you click on the search funnel link you will see a list of reports to view PPC conversion data and searcher activity. These are the eight reports that come from viewing search funnels. I will not go through them all, but I do want to outline five behavioral insights that you will find useful.


1. How many ads do your users view before they convert? I remember growing up and seeing the Tootsie Pop commercial "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a lollipop?" The Path Length report answers a similar question. How many ads does it take to get to a conversion? Good question, since we usually don't think about the many ads that may have assisted in the conversion process.

In the example below you can see the percentage of searchers that converted after the first ad. In this case there were 34.79 percent of users that had to see two or more ads before they converted. So, if one of your conversion points is a contact form, then you would know that 34.79 percent of your visitors need to see more than one ad before they are ready to fill out the form.


2. How long does it take before users convert? Next, look at the Time Lag report, which provides data on the average amount of time it takes for users to convert. Below you can see that on average, users converted about three days after clicking on the first ad. About 69 percent converted within one day of clicking the ad.


See how this measures up to the buying cycle for your product or service. Is the click path and time length a typical conversion for your customers? Maybe it takes about three days from the time it takes for people to start their research to the time a purchase decision is made. If you are not sure about this information, then having this knowledge is a great place to start.

Now, if your conversion point is just a simple contact form and it takes on average three days for a conversion, then you might have a problem engaging users when they first land on your site. In this case you should take some action to shorten the timeframe.

3. What is your customer's search process? Tracking the actual search path your users take before a conversion helps you to learn more about your customers. Which keywords they used and ads they did or did not click on. To understand this better, let's define some roles.

  • The role of last click is the search and click that immediately precedes the conversion.
  • An assist click is a search and click that precedes the last click.
  • An assist impression is any time your ad is displayed but not clicked.

In the assisted conversions report, you can see the keywords and the number of last click conversions and their associated value. It also shows you assisted conversions and their values. The assisted conversions/last click conversion analysis gives you an indication on whether or not the keyword was more of a last click conversion or an assisted conversion. A value closer to zero would suggest it is closer to a last click conversion. A higher value might suggest they are closer to an assist click. This report will display both last click and assisted conversions for each campaign, ad group, and keyword.

The insight gleaned from this report will help you understand what prospects search for before they convert. If multiple impressions and clicks are required before the desired online action is taken, then it is important to understand searchers' pre-conversion search process and fund the keywords that support and enable conversions.

4. What are the most common paths your users take to convert? The Top Paths report will show you how your campaigns, ad groups, and keywords work together to create conversions. If you choose a keyword in the drop down box you will see the most common path for keywords. If the same keyword is repeated, it represents two clicks for that keyword that then lead to a conversion. Additionally, you can view data on the campaign and ad group level. If you select keyword path or impressions you will see the sequence of keywords that showed your ads, regardless of whether the ads were clicked or not. This data closely represents the breadth of related keywords people are searching for prior to converting.

5. What are the enabling keywords that support your conversions? Specifically, look for keywords that assist with conversions, but may not convert themselves. Without the benefit of the search funnel reports, you might neglect these keywords and underfund them since you don't know how they impact overall conversions.

In addition to your top converting keywords, focusing on keywords and phrases that assist with conversions can differentiate your PPC strategy and provide a strategic advantage. In many industries, these less obvious words are much less expensive than the well-known top converting words.

As with any report, I recommend scheduling a consistent time at least once a month to review these reports so you can take advantage of the insights they bring.


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Ron Jones

Ron was president/CEO of Symetri Internet Marketing, which provides strategic SEM consulting and training. Ron was actively involved in the SEM community and spoke and trained at conferences and seminars. Ron also served on the Board of Directors for SEMPO and was one of the authors for the SEMPO Institute Fundamentals and Advanced courses.

Ron also published a book called Keyword Intelligence: Keyword Research for Search Social and Beyond. This book outlines various methods and tips for conducting keyword research but more importantly outlines many ways to use keyword research for social media, site design, content development and marketing, and even traditional marketing and branding.

Ron passed away on June 30, 2012.

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