Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Who Gets the Credit?

The path from click to conversion can be a winding one. Not every click-through from the search results leads directly to a conversion. Visitors come back to your site several times before making a purchase or may complete the transaction via a phone call or in-store visit. Where does the process begin? Who gets the credit? Let’s look at a few scenarios:

Scenario 1: Your potential customer found your site through your organic search results on Google or another search engine. After checking your site out, he or she bookmarked it, came back at a later date through the bookmark, and made a transaction in your site. Will the organic search result be credited for the conversion, or will this appear as direct traffic?

Scenario 2: While searching for the product or service that you provide, your potential customer found your site through your paid search campaign. This person checked out your site, went to compare against a competitor, then decided to revisit your site a day later. This time he forgot your site address, so searched for your company’s name, clicked on your organic search listing, and bought your product. Would your paid search campaign or the organic search result be given credit for this conversion?

Scenario 3: Same as scenario 2, but this time he found you through the organic search results first, and later come to your site through the paid search results and completes the transaction. Which one – organic or paid search results, will get the credit?

By default, the referrer information gets updated to reflect the latest referral information when a visitor returns to your site, and your analytics program gives credit for a conversion to the last referrer a visitor used. This is the case except when the last referrer is direct- that is, the visitor uses their bookmarks or types your URL directly into their browser’s address bar.

So for scenario 1, your organic search results are credited for the conversion. For scenario 2, your organic search result is given the credit, since this is the last referrer. For scenario 3, your paid search result is given the credit.

What can you do if you want to give credit to the original referrer? For example, in scenario 2, it is actually the paid search result that introduced your site to your prospect and made him to convert, but the organic listing is the one getting the credit. Shouldn’t your paid search be given credit for the conversion? How will you be able to measure the effectiveness of your various campaigns if you do SEO (optimize your site to appear in your organic result), SEA (paid search campaigns), and/or Social media campaigns?

Well, if you use Google Analytics to track your site’s results, you can achieve this with some advanced coding and setup. You just need to modify the Google Analytics tracking code in your site, and then apply an advanced filter in your Google Analytics setup.

Your Google Analytics consultant or your webmaster should be able to help with this advanced coding setup.

With the code, you need to simply check if the visitor is a first time visitor by looking for the presence of _utma cookie in the visitor’s computer. (This is always set for a visitor and its presence indicates a returning visitor.) If the visitor is a new visitor, then grab the referral information, and store the referral information as a visitor label by calling __setVar(). With this code, you are saving the first referrer information before it gets updated at the subsequent visits. Then, use the advanced filter in your Google Analytics setup to overwrite the referral info to include both the referral info (current referrer) and the visitor label you saved (first referrer).

With this setup, you will be able to track the very first referrer that drove your prospect to your site, and will be able to measure the effectiveness of your various campaigns accurately. This will help you gauge the true value of your search marketing programs and ensure that you get the greatest ROI.

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