Online conversion attribution is a major buzzword these days in Internet marketing circles. Variety is the name of the game when it comes to crafting an effective online marketing campaign, but that variety can also make it difficult to know exactly where online purchases, downloads, or form completions are coming from.

Path of Conversion from The LeanEntrepreneur.co

In many cases, those online conversions are generated not by a single online marketing channel, but through user interaction with a multitude of channels over what may be an extended period of time prior to the completion of an action. The type of industry will also play a role in what type of online conversion path is followed. For example, someone in New York looking to purchase a pair of running shoes online will likely follow a much different conversion path than someone in London trying to find contact information for an emergency plumber.

So how do we begin to understand how online marketing channels such as PPC, email marketing, display advertising, social media, and organic search engine listings combine to create a unique path to an online conversion?

Well, we can start by looking at what online marketers define as “Assisting” channels and “Last Interaction” channels. As the name suggest, “Assisting” channels build brand awareness, and aid in product research during the early stages of the purchasing process. “Last Interaction” channels act as the final point of reference for users just before they engage in a conversion action. Depending on the industry, the searcher, and even the country, various online marketing channels may act as either “Assisting” or “Last Interaction” channels in an online conversion path.

Below we consider a few hypothetical online conversion paths that may occur across varying industries.

Online Conversion Path 1: The Local Furniture Store

Janet has just moved into her first apartment in San Diego, and she is looking for the perfect sofa to be the centerpiece of her new living room.  She does an online search for “furniture stores in san diego” and browses through the local map listings of stores near her apartment. After narrowing her choices to two furniture stores, Janet reads some of the reviews that previous customers have left for each company. While one seems to have quite a bit of negative feedback, the other, Steve’s Sofas, has nothing but positive reviews. Janet then looks up “Steve’s Sofas” on Facebook to see what else people have to say about them. After she has Liked their Facebook page, she notices a post offering a 10% discount to new customers. Upon clicking the Facebook offer, Janet is taken to stevessofas.com, where she is able to download the aforementioned coupon, and take it to the location near here apartment for an in-store purchase of a brand-new red leather sofa.

  • Online Conversion Path: Organic Search > Customer Reviews/Referrals > Social Media > Direct Visit > Online Conversion (Coupon Download) > Offline Conversion (Purchase)

Online Conversion Path 2: The Travel Agency

With the National Optometry Convention only two weeks away, Dr. Brewer opened his email to see a new message from the convention organizers. Mixed in with the information regarding keynote speakers, starting times, and social events, Dr. Brewer noticed a link for a special deal on flights to Dallas, the location of the convention. After clicking on the link, he found flights starting at $300 roundtrip, but he figured he could get a better price by doing some more digging. An organic search for “cheap flights to Dallas June 12” turned up several results, the most convincing of which was a paid search ad touting roundtrip flights to Dallas starting at $220. Dr. Brewer clicked on the paid advertisement, completed the online purchasing process, and felt relieved to have his flight for the convention booked.

  • Online Conversion Path: Email Marketing > Organic Search > Paid Search Ad > Online Conversion (Purchase)

Online Conversion Path 3: The Online Clothing Retailer

Even though prom was still six months away, Monica couldn’t help but look at potential dress options for such a special occasion. A few days after browsing some prom dress websites she found using a search engine, Monica was doing her homework online when she saw an ad for prom dresses. The image in the ad showed a particularly beautiful dress, so Monica clicked through and reached bestpromdresses.com. She had never heard of this site before, so she asked her friends on Twitter if any of them had bought dresses on this site in the past. She got three responses from friends saying that the selection was good, the prices were competitive, and the delivery was quick. Monica decided to join the email list of bestpromdresses.com so she could be informed of any upcoming sales. Three months later, Monica received an email offer for $30 off of any dress purchase online. She quickly went to the website, chose the perfect dress, entered in the promotional code included in the email, and waited impatiently for her prom dress to arrive.

  • Online Conversion Path: Organic Search > Display Retargeting Ad > Social Media > Email Marketing > Online Conversion (Purchase)

By analyzing potential and realistic personas and paths that real people could take to finally creating a conversion for your business, you’re able to understand your audience and the best way to get the right information in front of them. Marketers have a lot of tricks up their sleeves, but thinking like a customer and not like a marketer is one of the best.

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