By Ryan Malone

This is big news for companies trying to measure the results of online marketing campaigns. It turns out that the contributions of organic searches to multiple-interaction conversions are much greater than thought, says a new study from Slingshot SEO.

It’s important to assess the value of each marketing channel – paid ads, organic searches, email campaigns, direct visits, and referrals – so you can improve lead conversion.  Typically, a user interacts with your website several different ways, often over several days or even weeks before taking action (conversion). That can make it hard to evaluate which marketing channel was the one that had the greatest impact and which did little to influence a decision. This is where conversion models come into play; they help you understand the buying or decision-making behavior of your website visitors. Attribution modeling is the process of understanding and assigning credit to the acquisition channel which ultimately leads to conversions.

A last-touch attribution model (the last in a series of interactions gets all the credit for a conversion) undervalues the contributions of organic search traffic and non-branded organic search traffic to multiple-interaction conversions, while overvaluing direct visits. Googles's Multi-Channel Funnels, introduced in 2011, is designed to highlight the complexity of the online sales funnel and help marketers gain deeper insight into how conversions occur. We think Hubspot marketing software does a much better job of this in its enterprise package.

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About the Study Data

The study looked at 23 million multiple-interaction conversions across 30 domains throughout 2011. It compared results using a last-touch attribution model to those using a flat multi-touch attribution model (the value of each conversion is divided equally among each path’s channel). The report maintains that the last-touch model assumes that the final user activity was the only influence, ignoring all other paths the user may have employed, whereas the multi-touch model assumes that each interaction plays a role in conversions. It allows that while each interaction may not have equal influence, the multi-touch model gives a more accurate sense of each channel’s influence.

Here are key findings from the analysis:

  • Users took 2.79 interactions before converting.
  • Direct visits received too much credit for conversions by as much as 82 percent under a last-touch model, as they were often the last interaction before a conversion. This resulted in the undervaluation of other channels.
  • Organic search traffic was undervalued by as much as 77 percent; this is because the channel drives sales and conversions from the top as users start their online research.
  • Non-branded organic search traffic would have been worth as much as 81 percent more, if a multi-touch model had been used versus a last-touch model. This was especially true for retailers and general merchandise websites.
  • Paid ads and referrals were also undervalued in most cases using last-touch attribution.

We’d love to hear from you about how you measure your online results. What have you found to be the contributory value of organic search traffic?

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Ryan Malone

About the author

Ryan Malone is the founder and CEO of SmartBug Media and is a veteran of Deloitte & Touche, Seagate and several venture-backed technology companies. When he's not leading SmartBug and helping clients build high-octane marketing organizations, he's loving his wife and daughters and unsuccessfully learning the guitar. Go Terps! Read more articles by Ryan Malone.

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