Google have announced this week at SES New York the introduction of AdWords Search Funnels. The conversion attribution problem has been heavily discussed during the last year and this led me to think of a quote which was on Twitter a while ago, (I think it was from Chris Lake – correct me if I’m wrong though): “Conversion Attribution is Like Selling Xabi Alonso & Hoping for the Same Result”.
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Even if you don’t know anything about football, hopefully this will still make some sort of sense – but being a big Liverpool fan this quote really struck home with me as an excellent analogy. For those who don’t know, last season Xabi Alonso often provided the assist before an assist leading towards a goal. So if you’re looking at stats on goals scored and direct assists it may be difficult to understand the true value Alonso added to the team.
Take Alonso out of the equation and 12-months after Liverpool were comfortably beating the likes of Real Madrid and Man United, they’re now losing to Wigan and Lille. Clearly this doesn’t mean it’s all down to Alonso leaving (he didn’t even play in the Man United win), but if you look a bit deeper into his performances last season it becomes easier to see the contribution he had and how his departure contributed towards the teams winning momentum quickly turning into a miserable run in form.
So lets have a look at how this relates to search and online marketing…
Website Lead/Sale = Goal
You’ve done the hard work, you’ve found a potential customer who is interested enough in your site that they return via a branded keyword (or direct visit) and complete a sale. It’s the same as giving Fernando Torres a free shot with just the keeper to beat. You won’t always get a 100% conversion rate – but in both cases there’s a very good chance it will end up with a goal.
Penultimate Visit = Direct Assist
Some players don’t always score enough goals, David Beckham for example, but if you take him away from taking freekicks, corners and crossing the ball into the box then you’re likely to see a noticeable drop in chances created and goals scored. This could be exactly the same with your online strategy, which is why it’s so important to find those advertising channels and keywords which are contributing to the end goal.
Mid-Level Visit = Midfield Pass
If Liverpool scored a goal last season, there’s a good chance Xabi Alonso was involved at some point during that move. This may not have a huge importance to the overall outcome, but if involved more often than not, then he’s clearly having a positive impact to the team. This could relate to an email marketing campaign or a keyword which may rarely convert, but is often involved in an assist. Take it away and those conversion chances may start to dry up.
Initial Visit = Defensive Build Up
What got the ball rolling in the first place? In the case of a football game, it may start with a move from the back by a goalkeeper or defender. When online, perhaps it was a search at the early stage of the buying cycle, something like “where to go on holiday”. You’ve still got a huge amount of work to do in order to grab that conversion, but you need to start somewhere – and unless Howard Webb is the ref, you don’t get free goals given to you on a plate!
Goal involvement – which is most important stage?
For football, in theory it’s easy – you need to put the ball in the back of the net so the scorer gets the most credit. But in actual-fact there’s far more to it. Paul Tomkins has devised an excellent system to track the goal involvement of each player, valuing how they contribute to the team over a number of games. Even if you have no interest in football this is worth a read to get your head around the conversion attribution problem we face online.
“When turning football into numbers, there will always be problems. And when it comes to ‘assists’, this is especially true. How can you reward someone who rolls the ball eight inches from an indirect free-kick as highly as someone who beats seven men and puts the ball in the striker’s path in the six-yard box?”
The same could be said for website conversions. For a branded search term or direct visit – which clinches a sale – you can almost certainly say they’ve either heard of the brand or have visited the site before. This keyword can’t possibly be as valuable in terms of attracting new business as a non-branded, competitive term.
You could take this analogy even further, what happens if performance drops?
- Is the manager to blame? Perhaps there are other circumstances which affect the way a job is being done, for example client/management demands, bad luck, a steep learning curve or budget restrictions.
- Is expectation unrealistic? Liverpool’s squad value is far less than Man City and Tottenham, yet if they finish below them in the league it would be a disaster to many people. Perhaps your client is the same, thinking they have the right to be number one for every relevant term in Google – maybe that’s based on a successul past which is largely the case for Liverpool.
- Is it a level-playing field? Are you competing on a lower budget? For the last three transfer windows Liverpool have had to break even, often being outbid for targeted new players. This may be the same with your online campaigns, perhaps your competitors can afford to make a loss in some areas while you left to focus on cheaper alternatives.
- Is the whole greater than the sum of all parts? For every expensive big name signing, most teams need a Darren Flecther, Lucas or Obi Mikel. These players often aren’t the fans favourites, but it helps make the team more balanced and effective. How does your online marketing strategy work together? Do you have an integrated campaign for SEO, PPC, analytics, web design, affiliate, conversion optimisation, email marketing, social media etc?
- What’s your plan B? If your main striker gets injured, how do you replace them without seeing a major drop in form? What if your keywords are seasonal? Is there anything else you could be doing to try and maintain performance levels?
- Are you continually improving? It can be easy to stick with what works and be short-sighted, while competitors may be innovating towards using new tactics which may get them to the top. Just look at how Arsene Wenger’s continental approach to football paid off when he was the first to introduce this to the Premiership.
- Do you convert your chances? Is your website as appealing, or your brand as well respected as your competitors? Does your sales team clinch the sale once the lead is provided? Do your competitors have greater conversion rates? Does your striker need 8 or 9 good chances to score a goal, or is he a clinical finisher who can win you a game in an instant?
Ok, that’s probably enough football analogies for now, but by tracking the performance at all stages you can really get a strong idea about how every aspect of an online marketing campaign (or football team) is working. Then you can make a sensible decision based on the actual facts and figures, instead of gut feelings and opinions – which has to be a far more successful and long-term approach.