Ask any business owner investing in online marketing about the results he wants to see. While his exact response may vary, the heart of it can be summed up quite simply – return on investment. There is no other answer.

And that’s where things can get tricky, because showing results will never be a perfect science as people will touch and interact with your brand countless times online and off. But as an online marketer, that doesn’t matter. It is our job to use the tools available to use to show clients the clearest picture possible of their return on investment. That means using website analytics, conversion data, PPC account statistics and any other data that is significant to their marketing efforts.

I’d like to address one common problem that arises in crediting ROI to a particular marketing effort. Many online marketers make the mistake of attributing value only to the last source (organic search, PPC, etc.) that led a person to a conversion. While this may be the easiest method to track conversions, this mentality comes from a flawed approach that often does not give credit where it is due and is simplistic at best. Here’s an example to understand:

Let’s say you run an online business selling gourmet frozen pizzas. Fred wants to purchase a frozen anchovy pizza [This just in, frozen pizza is unhealthy, don’t sue us for the recommendation – Lisa], so he searches the phrase “Buy frozen anchovy pizza online,” sees your PPC ad, and clicks it to see your fine selection of frozen pizzas. However, he doesn’t order right away, as he’s spending some time researching other frozen pizza shops to see who uses the freshest anchovies. The next day, he finally decides on your pizza shop, so he types in your URL to go directly to your website and place an order.

Now, when you look at Google Analytics, you will see the source for this order credited to “Direct” (which can mean anything from a URL typed straight into the browser, a bookmark, iOS organic search traffic, link, or a number of other sources). However, to say that Fred’s first contact with your site was from directly typing in the URL would be wrong. In truth, his first contact was through PPC. If you’re only looking at the last touch, you’ll miss that.

Multiply this scenario by ten, a hundred, a thousand, or more for websites all the way from local service professionals to enterprise level companies trying to understand which source is driving the most ROI, and you can understand the gap in reporting that comes from just showing last touch attribution on conversions. Fortunately, there are tools available to help provide more data.

First, Google Analytics offers a feature called Multi-Channel Funnels. When viewing the Reporting tab for your site, click Conversions along the left bar, then the Multi-Channel Funnels dropdown.

The Overview section here lets you see the overlap between various sources. You’ll see a row listing the channels (Paid search, organic search, email, social media, direct, display, etc.) and can select different combinations to see how many conversions came from those combined. For example, this screenshot shows that 6 conversions came from people who accessed the site via organic search, paid search, and direct before submitting a form.

The next item in the menu, Assisted Conversions, shows the number of conversions that each channel “assisted” along the path before the final interaction. So if organic search played a role at some point in a user deciding to submit their information through the site, even if it wasn’t the last touch, it will be counted here. These are valuable to demonstrate how various marketing efforts are driving conversions that may not be directly attributed to those sources.

Other items available under Multi-Channel Funnels include a view for top conversion paths, where you can see the series of sources that resulted in the most conversions, as well as details on the average times from visit to conversion (Time Lag) and numbers of interactions before conversion (Path Length).

In addition to this feature in Google Analytics, you can see similar data specific to PPC through the AdWords interface. Go to Tools & Analysis > Conversions, and then click Search Funnels along the left sidebar. You will then be able to view assisted conversions, first/last click analysis, and other stats.

Want to delve even deeper into seeing how people interact with your site? Tools like
KissMetrics exist to show information on the level of each individual visitor (instead of anonymizing like Google Analytics). This can help you further analyze how specific people find their way to your site and what terms they are using when returning.

For example, let’s say you run a refrigerator repair business called Keepin’ Cool Fridge Repair. You can gain information about the thought process a particular person takes in the cycle toward committing to use your service by digging into metrics. The first time Bob came to your site, he searched “fridge repair albany” and clicked on a PPC ad. After comparing multiple companies, he then searches “keepin cool fridge repair” and clicks on your organic listing, finally contacting you from that point. By comparing with similar cases, you may reach the conclusion that people first search a generic phrase like “fridge repair albany” and later on will specifically search your brand name once familiar with your name. In addition, this data can help you see on the level of specific keywords what is working and not working, helpful for PPC bidding as well as content focuses.

The moral of this story? Don’t assume the last touch is telling you the full story. As an online marketer, it’s your job to be smarter and to dig deeper than that in order to report the complete picture to your client. The final contact with your website just tells a part of the story; many people will visit your site multiple times through various sources before converting. Only through time, sufficient data, and proper use of all the tools available can you determine the best possible picture of how each source is driving ROI.