Monitoring the Marketing Funnel: A Strategy for Optimizing Performance

monitoring the marketing funnel

multi-channel attributionWhile it might not look pretty, here’s the basic conversion funnel you get from Google Analytics. What we see is what happened when visitors came to our website — and we see a very healthy 7+% conversion rate. But, it’s not particularly valuable in monitoring the marketing funnel.

The Google Analytics conversion funnel doesn’t tell us much beyond some superficial information that might make the CFO happy, but won’t help the marketing department crush it. For that, you’ll need to dig a little deeper.

Monitoring the marketing funnel (the conversion funnel?)

content marketing planYou’ll hear the funnel displayed on the right variously referred to as the marketing funnel, the sales funnel, and the conversion funnel. And, it’s not a semantic difference. I think it’s a critically important difference that impacts the metrics you use to monitor performance and the way you allocate funds to improve that performance.

A conversion funnel focuses on conversion — making the sale. And, there’s no problem with that. To monitor conversion, you use Goals within Google Analytics. This isn’t a point and click solution, as you first have to tell Google which actions reflect Goal conversions, for instance, email subscriptions or sales. Don’t confuse Google goals, which represent specific actions on your website, with SMART goals, which are much broader strategic goals for your marketing plan. Here’s a great article from Kissmetrics to help understand how to set goals.

A marketing funnel reflects the entire customer journey from beginning to end, not just the final step (conversion). And, you can use Google goals to reflect progress along the customer journey by creating links for each step in the process. For instance, you might view a session as awareness, visits to specific product or content pages as interest, and putting a product in the shopping cart as intention. You assess conversion using the same metric as in the conversion funnel discussed above.

Of course, the marketing funnel is only guides part of the journey necessary to optimize performance. You also need to monitor what happens before the customer enters the funnel and what happens after conversion.

Monitoring the marketing funnel: How do visitors get into the funnel?

Visitors find your website in four key ways:

  • Search
  • Owned, earned, and paid online advertising
  • Marketing engagement, such as email marketing
  • Offline advertising and promotion

It’s important to monitor performance across these channels as a first step in optimizing their performance. So, let’s talk about metrics to assess performance in each channel.

Search

organic search exceeds other channels
Image courtesy of Search Engine Land

According to a recent study by Brightedge, organic search drives more traffic to websites than all other traffic sources combined for both B2B and B2C companies — yes, even B2B companies get most of their traffic through organic search, despite beliefs to the contrary. My site gets, on average, 75% of the traffic through organic search, and I’m strictly B2B. BTW, the OTHER category is made up of email marketing, display, and referral traffic.

And, 70+% of organic traffic still comes through Google, so that’s where you should start your efforts at monitoring the marketing funnel. Hence, the Google Algorithm, that constantly changing set of metrics that determine where you show up in a search (SERPs) is critical for your business. You need to monitor performance against some of the biggest factors determining SERPs, including (in order of importance) [source]:

  1. Content that’s valuable, consistently produced, and with keywords used effectively
  2. Backlinks to other related websites
  3. Mobile-first user experience

Want more? Here’s a big list of SEO ranking factors

SEO ranking factors
Image courtesy of Search Engine Land

Owned, earned, and paid media

Here I include both social media and other forms of digital advertising, such as banner ads.

Social Media. Despite the hype, social media isn’t particularly good at sending traffic to your site. But, don’t discount the importance of social media marketing. It’s still an important tool for forming and monitoring attitudes towards your brand and, without this, even if you’re successful at driving traffic to your site, you won’t convert it.

Digital advertising. By this I mean display ads across the internet, as well as paid advertising, including sponsored posts, on social media. As with social media, in general, digital advertising is seen as annoying (note the number of mobile devices that use an app to avoid display advertising) and has little impact of visits to your website. Sponsored posts may be a little more effective, mainly because they’re targeted, but other forms of digital advertising offer less value [source].

Email marketing and other forms of engagement

Email marketing has the highest ROI of any form of digital marketing — notice the graphic below:

content marketing roi
Image courtesy of TruConversion

But, it isn’t great a driving initial traffic to your site. The value of email marketing and other forms of engagement, lies in its ability to send a custom message that drives visitors back to the website. Email marketing is a perfect tool for getting visitors to return to your site and complete the conversion process.

Offline advertising and promotion

A number of offline promotions are great at driving traffic to your website, including:

  • Guerrilla marketing, which involves using unconventional marketing tactics to drive awareness and action. Use the link above to see 122 examples of great guerrilla marketing executions.
  • Contests might be the most effective tool for driving website visits, especially if you use user-generated content as the bait.
  • Offering discounts for social signups, such as follows or shares, is another effective offline tool to promote site visits.

One tactic I think particularly ineffective is simply putting your social media icons at the bottom of your advertising. By now, consumers know about social networks and they figure most companies have pages on these platforms. Unless you’re asking viewers to do something specific on your social profile (and providing an incentive for doing so), you’re not likely to get many visits from these sources.

Monitoring the entire marketing funnel

Below is an infographic that displays one way of monitoring the marketing funnel. Notice the graphic starts with the source driving traffic to the site, then follows that traffic from first visit through purchase. Such monitoring requires attribution modeling, a technique that assigns (or attributes) conversion to platforms involved in the entire customer journey.

monitoring the marketing funnel
Image courtesy of Ladder

Relatively complex models, such as the one above get closer to monitoring the marketing funnel, but even they fall short because it looks at last clicks in assigning ROI to platforms. Thus, what we’re seeing is the journey a customer takes after coming from, for instance, Facebook and it’s a better way of assessing how valuable Facebook was in generating ROI.

In contrast to such “last click” attribution models that assign all the ROI of the conversion to the last click — what brought the customer for the last visit before conversion — multi-attribution models seek to assign ROI more accurately across all the media involved before the conversion.

For instance, the customer journey might start with a Facebook post, then an email followup after subscribing to the firm’s newsletter, then another digital ad, maybe a display ad, then finally a search result that came up when the prospect finally decided to purchase the product. It’s naive to think that it was just the search result that was responsible for the sale. If not for all the other “touches”, or opportunities to build the brand’s reputation and inform attitudes, the sale would never have happened.

Monitoring the marketing funnel: What happens after conversion?

After spending money and expending effort to get customers to buy your product, you don’t want to just let them fade into oblivion, either. You want your customers to come back and buy from you again and again. Studies suggest that getting a customer to purchase again is MUCH less costly than acquiring a customer in the first place. That’s why loyalty is important.

In addition, you want satisfied customers to spread the word about your brand because the best source of new customers is your existing customer base.

Thus, when monitoring the marketing funnel, you need metrics to evaluate factors impacting repeat purchases of your product.

Here are some metrics you could use to help understand which customers repurchase and which don’t:

  • Source — do customers who come through certain sources or certain types of campaigns remain customers longer or share more frequently on social media
  • Demographics — so some types of customers share more or are more loyal than other customers
  • Product purchased — are customers of some brands more loyal than others

Conclusion

Monitoring the marketing funnel requires a broad set of metrics across various stages in the funnel from sources of visits through repurchase. However, despite your efforts to monitor the movement of customers down the funnel, you’ll not get a complete picture without additional information to reflect non-behavioral aspects (ie. not click behaviors) that impact market performance. So, you’ll still need traditional market research to assess the following:

  1. Attitudes, beliefs and their change over time with respect to your brand and company
  2. Reach and frequency of traditional advertising
  3. Customer service performance
  4. Factors that interfere between intentions and actual purchase
  5. and many more specific to your situation

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