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Google Analytics: Conversion Sources

June 06, 2016

I’d argue that one of the more important metrics to track for your website is conversions and one of the more important things to know about conversions is how people who converted found your website in the first place. Knowing where converters found you helps you figure out where you should invest marketing spend.

Google Analytics provides a variety of ways to measure conversions and conversion sources but as with many things in Google Analytics, the reporting can be somewhat confusing. Many clients I work with are left wondering what should I be looking at to get this data, how often this data should be accessed, and what should be done based on the data?

The Goal Overview Report

The most basic report in Google Analytics conversion reporting is the Goals report. Accessed under Conversions -> Goals -> Overview, this report shows how many people converted in a certain time period. For instance, in this screenshot, we can see that there were 26 conversions and 15 of those conversions came from Google Organic.

Google Analytics Goals Overview
Google Analytics Goals Overview

This report can be helpful for getting a high-level snapshot of conversion activity by channel. I suggest looking at it once a week or twice a month just to make sure that the conversion activity is behaving normally. In particular, if you find you normally get a lot of conversions from Google organic but that suddenly decreases, that is a great way to identify potential problems.

Unfortunately, though, beyond monitoring conversion activity to detect high-level problems, this overview report is not very actionable. Sure, if you see a drop in usual conversion activity, there is a problem you need to look into (but chances are you already knew there was a drop in conversions when your phone quit ringing two days ago). Ultimately, we need something better than the overview report to understand our goals and goal sources.

Goal Sources & Why Simple Won’t Cut It

The one piece of data that does seem actionable on the overview report is the source of the goals. There is a problem with this number, though, which can make it dangerously misleading. The problem is that source attribution assumes your visitor’s journey to your website was quite simple, something like:

A simple visitor journey
A simple visitor journey

But what visitor journey is ever that simple? People usually don’t find your website after a single Google search then buy your product. Instead, they find your website and your competitors. They find review sites, social media posts about your company, some blog post you wrote five years ago, and an interview with your competitor’s CEO. They bookmark your company’s website intending to return at some future date after thinking it over to make a purchase. Then maybe that visitor comes back to your website from that bookmark and ends up contacting you or buying a product.

Given the complexity of a typical visitor conversion process, you don’t want to take action on something as simplistic as the source to conversion reporting available in the overview report. Instead, we need something more actionable here, available in the Attribute and Reverse Goal Path reports.

Attribution Modeling

In the sidebar, go to Conversions -> Attribution -> Model Comparison. This report provides way more actionable data around conversion sources than the Overview report. The general premise of this report is that people may interact with your website multiple times before converting and in this report we can see what led the people who converted to our site on their first and last visits.

When you reach this report, the default view is to show last interaction (meaning, it is giving you the same type of data you’d get via the Overview report). As a first step, you want to first add the first interaction model:

Google Analytics Source Attribution Modeling
Select a model

Now you will end up with a table that looks like:

Google Analytics Model Comparison
Google Analytics Model Comparison

You can see in here that the last interaction before the conversion is more likely to be a direct visit (meaning, people found the site some other way, left, then came back directly to the site to convert). But, the very first interaction people who converted are likely to take are to search our site on Google and either click on a paid or organic listing.

This report makes conversion data actionable. With this kind of data, we’d want to find new people on Google (paid or organic), but we’d also want to make it easy for those people to bookmark or somehow save our website so that they can come back more easily in the future when they are ready to convert.

On the flip side, we might find a model comparison like this:

Google Analytics Model Comparison
Google Analytics Model Comparison

In this case, there isn’t much difference between first and last click interaction. This tells us that our visitors are actually following that more simplistic journey of finding our website and then converting. In that case, the action we should take is to adjust our website to push hard for a conversion right away because people aren’t likely to return at some point in the future.

Conversion Paths

Of course, one problem with the attribution modeling is that it only tells us the first and last interactions. What about everything in between? Maybe people need to come back to our website three or four times before they convert?

In the sidebar, click on Conversions -> Multi-channel Funnels -> Top Conversion Paths. This report gives us the run down on the journeys people take, making for a pretty information and actionable report about the sources that drove conversion on our website.

Google Analytics Top Conversion Paths
Google Analytics Top Conversion Paths

In the example screenshot above, we can see that a lot of our visitors are conducting multiple searches on Google, finding our website, and then returning directly to our site. The action here would be to figure out the different types of Google searches people are conducting and making sure we rank as highly as possible.

Final Thoughts

For both the conversion path and attribution modeling reports, I’d suggest reviewing those once a quarter, maybe once a month if you have a busier website. Chances are the types of paths people take to reach your website prior to converting won’t change all that much over a one to three month period. However, as you consider new types of marketing or change your marketing investments, paths will change and you want to be clear on what sources those new paths include.

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