Google AdWords Search Funnels: Not Quite Perfect

This article originally appeared on Adotas, written by John McCarthy, Director of Search Engine Optimization of WebMetro/Godwin

ADOTAS – Google recently launched a new reporting feature in AdWords called Search Funnels. Until this new report was available, Google only reported on the last keyword clicked resulting in a lead or sales conversion.

For example, a consumer begins a search by querying and clicking on Keyword A. He visits the advertiser’s website from Keyword A but doesn’t convert. A week later, that same consumer searches Keyword B as a result or an effect of Keyword A, visits that same website and converts into a customer this time.

Google AdWords would report the conversion occurred as a result of Keyword B without showing any relationship to Keyword A.

While tracking the last click is helpful, it often misleads advertisers in understanding and appreciating the entire paid search buy funnel. In many situations, Keyword A helped place the website in the initial consideration set for that consumer. Furthermore, in many situations, if the advertiser had not bid on Keyword A it would not have secured a conversion with Keyword B.

Without Keyword A being a general, nonbranded term such as “root canal” the consumer might never have found branded Keyword B “Long Fang DDS”. Although Dr. Fang is widely known as a preeminent dentist in the community, he was not top of mind for this consumer. (Note to reader: I made up the name Long Fang DDS to create a visual context readers will remember.)

Unfortunately advertisers like Dr. Fang could not track this attribution effect. As a result, advertisers would travel one of three paths. They:

  1. Made no changes based on a gut feeling and with no data that Keyword A helped or assisted the conversion of Keyword B.
  2. Lowered the bid (e.g. lower max cost per click, lower position) for Keyword A without knowing it aided in a conversion. Lowering the bid would likely reduce the conversions of Keyword B since Keyword A assisted the conversion.
  3. Paused Keyword A in their campaign to their complete detriment. Pausing Keyword A would typically create very efficient paid search campaigns but would also result in lowering total conversions leading to lower overall revenue.

Using WebMetro’s proprietary search marketing technology to measure attribution, my experience throughout the years has found that general, non-branded keywords such as “root canal” often contribute or assist in the conversion of a branded last click. Sometimes, it occurs as much as 30% of the time.

This means my clients would not likely have received the branded conversion unless I was bidding on and tracking the association between Keyword A and Keyword B.

Now with Google AdWords Search Funnels advertisers can begin to understand and better appreciate the buy funnel. The new reporting system is a great advancement for advertisers. Search Funnels are created by tracking when a consumer clicks on a keyword in the advertiser’s AdWords portfolio. If that consumer performs other queries after that initial click, Google will track that behavior. If that consumer eventually converts on a keyword for that advertiser, a funnel report is generated.

The report is helpful in showing keywords in the funnel even if the consumer did not click on that advertiser’s ad each time. This activity or search funnel is tracked for 30 days.

In my opinion Search Funnels is a huge step forward for advertisers and Google should receive kudos for integrating such campaign intelligence into its platform. Search attribution is critically important for advertisers. If you are not routinely examining such data, you are leaving lots of revenue on the table.

That being said, Search Funnels is far from perfect, especially in three areas:

  1. It does not share the exact keyword.
  2. Funnel is good for only 30 days.
  3. No integration between organic and paid search.

It Does Not Share the Exact Keyword

Search Funnels shows a list of overall keywords used in a funnel. Advertisers really need to know each and every keyword in the funnel. If the advertiser does not know the exact keyword, the advertiser cannot make informed decisions about which keywords to keep and which keywords to remove from the portfolio.

Funnel Is Good for Only 30 Days

For many low-cost consumer goods such as a book or music download, 30 days is plenty. However, as the price of goods increases the sales cycle is likely to extend beyond 30 days. This is especially true with B2B sales. With many of our B2B clients, it is not uncommon for the conversion cycle or search latency to be 120 days or more.

No Integration between Organic and Paid Search

As an SEO, I’d love to believe that people only click on organic and never click on paid search results. Of course, if this was the case, Google would not exist and their stock price wouldn’t be over $500. The truth is people click on ads and they also click on organic listings.

While channel preference exists, advertisers need to understand the big picture — how does organic integrate with paid search and vice versa. My clients love to see our campaign integration reports showing how paid search keywords assist in the conversion of organic keywords and vice versa.

Regardless of its drawbacks, Google AdWords Search Funnels is a nice advancement for advertisers. On a Quality Score scale of 0-10, I’d rank Search Funnels a 7.

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