With all that is written about Google Analytics on a daily basis, it is hard to imagine the some businesses still question the need for tracking goals in Google Analytics. Yet they do just that.

Recently we were asked to justify why a small bed and breakfast should bother setting up goals in Google Analytics. Our cynical side struggles to keep from answering that you don’t need them – so long as you don’t want to know which sources are sending website visitors who click certain things, visit certain pages, buy certain products, book their stay, or view certain videos. More recently the addition of Multi-Channel Funnels in Google Analtyics adds another important consideration – tracking sites that contribute to all of those things – even if they are not the source of the “last click” to them.

Why Goals are Useful

finish line - the goal in Google Analytics
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayneandd/
What you define as a goal is pretty much up to you. Examples would be completing an online booking, downloading your printable brochure, signing up for your mailing list, watching a video, requesting more information, etc. The steps to set up a goal are in our earlier post on using goals in Google Analytics.

Of course, the ultimate goal (especially for Multi-Channel Funnel reports) is an Ecommerce transaction – the visitor has actually booked a room or made a purchase.

Multi-Channel Funnels

With the addition of Multi-Channel Funnels* (sometimes called MCF), goals have become even more useful. First, some explanations. You can not use Multi-Channel Funnels without having set up at least one goal. We won’t repeat our overview of MCF, but a brief explanation of some terminology is appropriate.

Marketers use the term “funnel” to refer to the path a visitor takes to reach the goal. Visitors may start at different points (thus the wider top of the funnel), but find their way to some of the same points as they narrow their search, and finally reach the single point at the end of the funnel. A multi-channel funnel implies a funnel that is entered from one of several different sources. This is much the way a visitor arrives at a website. They may get there via an organic search (on Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.), a paid search (clicking the paid ads on a page somewhere), or a referral from another source that links to your website (which could be a directory, a chamber of commerce, local association, or other source). The visitor could also come directly to your site (by typing in the address, clicking on a bookmark, etc., a link in an email, etc.).

What Can We Measure With MCF?

Before Google introduced MCF the only thing Google Analytics could show an innkeeper about where website visitors were coming from was to look at the Traffic Sources reports to see where site visitors were coming from. Similarly, if Ecommerce was set up, you could see the referral source for a purchase (or booking). In both cases, the source would be a “last click” referrer – the last site the visitor visited before clicking a link to your site. And this information was lost if it was more than 30 days between the referral and the latest visit/booking.

But study after study tells us that, before booking, guests visit our web sites several times, and often come to it by different routes each time. One time it may be from a directory, another from an organic search, and still another from a paid search click. Yet only the “last click” was given credit.

With MCF, that is greatly improved. The MCF Top Conversion Report combines each visit from a user and tracks the path, so the visitor who first comes to our site from an organic search, then from a directory, then books after typing in our URL in the address bar is shown as Organic Search -> Referral -> Direct. Drilling down, we can see which search engine and referral source was involved in the goal completion. We can also select which goals (including Ecommerce transactions) we want to view.

Similarly, looking at Assisted Transactions (under MCF), we’ll see the value (for Ecommerce goals, that is the real value of the Ecommerce transaction; for other goals it is the value you have placed on the goal) of assisted goal completions (that is, goals achieved where the visitor reached your site by different methods, one of which was the channel we’re examining). You’ll also see a “Last Interaction Conversion Value” (the value that channel provided where it was a last click in an multiple channel path). Finally, you can select “First Interaction Analyis”, which will show the value of transactions where the particular channel was the first source to refer the visitor to your site.

While MCF still is mostly limited to visits in the past 30 days, the First Interaction Analysis relies on a different Google Analytics cookie that has a longer lifetime – a year.

Using MCF to Your Advantage

One of the most common questions innkeepers ask is how to know which directories they should be paying to be a part of. The answer is often to search for “bed and breakfast” in your town and see which show up. That’s a good start, but it would be wonderful to actually see which ones perform. As mentioned above, in the past the only thing you could do was to see if a directory sent an amount of referral traffic you were happy with. If you had Ecommerce configured, you could also see if the directory was the “last click” for enough of your bookings.

With MCF, and with proper configuration of Ecommerce and goals in Google Analytics, you can now do a better job of determining which sources are sending you visitors and which are helping you get bookings.

If you have Ecommerce configured (use another goal, if you don’t have Ecommerce configured), select it from the Conversion dropdown at the top of the MCF page, and make sure that is the only goal selected.

Go to Assisted Conversions on the left side, then click Source in the Primary Dimension row above the chart. Now you can look at the referral sources, the number of assisted conversions, value of those conversions, the number of last interaction conversions, and the value of the last interaction conversions. Make sure the number of rows at bottom right is enough to see all the conversions. If you’d like to save this as a spreadsheet, go to the top and Export it.

Next, also near the top, click on First Interaction Analysis and look at the sources and the values. Export this, too, if you wish.

What you’ve done is to look at referral sources that were the first source leading to a booking, a later (but not last) source leading to a booking, or a last source in a chain leading to a booking. If you compare these sources to the list of referral sources in your Ecommerce report (those are only “last click” sources), you may find referral sources that should receive partial credit for some of your bookings, which your Ecommerce report would not have revealed.

Before you decide that a source isn’t performing, be sure you know whether or not they are sending indirect bookings to you, by “getting an assist”, even though another source is the last one to send the visitor to you when they book.

So what are you waiting for? Set up your Ecommerce settings and your goals in Google Analytics, and start seeing who is really sending you visitors that convert.

* Google Analytics’ Multi-Channel Funnels look at attributing credit for a conversion across multiple digital (online) channels on one computer (or screen). Avinash Kaushik has described three different models of Multi-Channel attribution, of which this is only one. The others are Online to Store (where online channels lead to off-line purchases), and Across Multiple Screens (where a website visitor accesses the site multiple times, but using several different devices). Online to Store attribution requires some work, but can be measured. Attribution Across Multiple Screens is extremely difficult, except where the visitor is required to log in to an account, regardless of the device used.