New & Powerful: AdWords Search Funnels

Last week Google announced a new AdWords reporting feature called ‘Search Funnels’ that has been getting a lot of attention.  At Enquiro, we were given a sneak preview of this new tool a few weeks ago and were able to use it with one of our major clients to get some more complete insight into paths that searchers are taking as they interact with advertising and the client’s site.  This enabled us to generate some ideas for optimization based on data, rather than conjecture.  So this increased visibility is most welcome!

Some brief notes on Search Funnels:

  • collection of 7 reports that include Assisted Conversions, First and Last Click Analysis, and Path Length
  • encompass only paid search activity (do not include clicks on organic results)
  • provides info not just on clicks, but also ad impressions seen
  • require AdWords conversion tracking or goals imported from Google Analytics into AdWords
  • reports look back 30 days from the conversion event
  • will be rolled out to AdWords accounts over the next few of weeks (accessible via Reporting > Conversions > ‘Search Funnels’ link on the left, below ‘All conversion types’)

Using ‘Search Funnels’, AdWords advertisers will finally be able to look beyond ‘last-click’ attribution to answer questions like:

  • how many times did a visitor click on an ad to visit the site before completing a conversion?
  • what keywords did the visitor search on and use to visit the site (via paid search) prior to completing a conversion?
  • what keywords did a visitor search on and see an ad for (without clicking) prior to completing a conversion?
  • for a given keyword (ad group, campaign), what is the ratio of assists to last click conversions? (closer to ‘0’ indicates the keyword is a ‘closer’, while a high number indicates the keyword is pulling searchers in to the top of the funnel)
  • after visitors clicked on a given keyword to visit the site, what were subsequent keywords that they used to get to the site prior to completing a conversion?
  • how many hours or days passed before the first ad they clicked on and the eventual conversion?

Especially for B2B marketers, with relatively long (and sometimes twisted) conversion paths, often involving a string of generic and brand terms, having access to this information is golden.

To see how it works in action, check out this Google video:

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Worried About Google Analytics Opt-Out? Nah (At Least Not Yet)

On March 18, there was a brief announcement on the Google Analytics Blog giving a “head’s up” on Google’s plan to release a browser plug-in that will allow web users to opt-out of Google Analytics tracking.  Naturally, this sparked some vigorous commentary, with opinions ranging from ‘disaster‘ to ‘non-issue’.  (Haven’t actually seen anybody – at least any internet marketers – suggesting it might be a GOOD thing.) Eric Peterson had probably the most complete coverage of the issue, with some astute observations regarding Google’s privacy motives being tied to their interest in collecting data from US federal government sites.

My own inclination is to side with those that believe this will have little impact on web measurement for those employing Google Analytics on their sites, for the following reasons:

1. Low Usage: The opportunity opt-in or opt-out is largely ignored by humans, who tend to go with the default, as Dan Ariely has so convincingly pointed out in recent years.  If it works that way for organ donation, we can be pretty confident that is how people will respond to analytics tracking.  Especially since Google Analytics is already set up to not collect personally identifiable information.

2. Existing Limitations: Web analytics data is already fraught with limitations caused by use of cookies, javascript, and half-baked implementation.  These will likely continue to add up to more impact than any opt-out system.

3. Trends: Even if there was some initial adjustment as masses of users opted-out, there would still be enough data for most sites to establish valid trends moving forward. And data trends are arguably more valuable in web analytics than raw numbers.

4. Strategic Interest: Google has a strong interest in encouraging widespread usage of Google Analytics and has made huge efforts in the past to make this tool as attractive as possible to as many site owners as possible. Unlikely they are going to put all that marketshare at risk.

So this is definitely something we want to keep an eye on in order to determine the implications as details are revealed and the program actually rolls out.  We’ll watch, but we’re not worrying – at least not yet.

After all, as Mark Twain said: “Worrying is like paying interest on a debt you don’t owe.”

Why Pie Charts are Evil

Pie charts are evil in the same way that the devil is evil: through mental trickery they beguile you, clouding your judgment while giving you the sense that you are making perfectly rational decisions.  Pie charts obscure the very data story that they are meant to tell.  And that – for visual data representation – is truly evil.

pie chart evilness

Breakdown of Pie Chart Evilness

Everybody knows that pie charts look great – especially 3D! – and no doubt there are some situations in which they can be used to get the message across.  But they come up short on a critical component of data visualization: context.  The only context present within a pie chart is the relationship of individual data points to each other. But this is usually only part of the picture. To gain an understanding of what is going on in our data universe, we almost always need to be able to monitor trends over time. And this is where pie charts fall apart.

It is interesting to know, for example, the distribution of website traffic among various sources, as represented in a pie chart.  But this is not a static relationship – it is likely to be changing and the important thing is to be able to understand how it is changing.

Recent example:

At a presentation to reviewing the progress of search marketing efforts, one slide included the following chart:

google analytics traffic source pie chart

All well and good, provided out-of-the-box by Google Analytics so it is easy to grab, and it gives a snapshot of where things stand.  But it tells us NOTHING about any progress that has been made (or not) in driving traffic from search engines to the site.  Not quite as sexy, but your basic bar chart can tell us what has been happening much more effectively.  Here are a couple different bar chart options, depending on the aspects of the story that you want to emphasize:

Bar chart alternatives to pie chart

Alternatives to pie chart - ah, now I see it!

Bar chart on the left shows percentage breakdown and now we can a) clearly see the relationships, while b) observing that traffic from Search Engines and Referring Sites is growing, as a percentage of total traffic, at the expense of Direct traffic.  Bar chart on the right shows us more clearly the degree of change from one month to the next in each of the categories. Now we can see what’s going on and base our decisions accordingly. Each one takes up about as much space as the pie chart, yet delivers much more valuable information.

More often than not, when you’re tempted to use a pie chart, a less glamorous visual tool may do the job better. This is why hard-core data visualization masters such as Edward Tufte and Stephen Few (.pdf link) renounce pie charts in all but very particular circumstances. And so should we all.