AdWords Search Funnel Reporting – Part 4: Paths

Welcome to the final chapter in my four-part series on AdWords Search Funnel reporting. This week we’ll be covering the three path reports: Top Paths, Time Lag, and Path Length.

Path reports are helpful because they indicate how many search queries and ad impressions a user took to complete a conversion. They also detail each campaign, ad group, or keyword along the way so that you can see how your account elements interact. This is useful for identifying the search funnels that your users go through, so you can better understand their research process. You can use this information to build out your campaigns to reach users earlier in the research process, or stop yourself from pausing campaign elements that drive conversions further on down the line.

Now without further ado, let’s get on to the reports:

Top Paths

This report allows you to view paths that users took to complete a conversion. You can break down this information by Campaign, Ad Group, Keyword, or Query:

Top paths dimensions

Breaking this report down by campaign can illustrate how often users switch between your broad categories (for example, if they go from searching in a product campaign to one of your brand name campaigns). The Ad Group Path dimension gives you the same information at the ad group level. The keyword and query dimensions is where it gets really interesting. Here, you can see the actual keyword click paths that a visitor used on either the keywords you were bidding on, or the actual queries they used to trigger your ads.

If you click on the “Other” option, you’ll see a few more advanced dimensions:

Other top paths options

The Impression Paths dimensions allows you to see similar path data, only this is for users who saw your ad multiple times but didn’t necessarily click on each one. The Transition paths reports condense repeated keyword searches, so you’ll only see data on people who switched from one campaign, ad group, or keyword to another. This helps reduce the noise of data in the reports – a lot of the time you’ll see a path that’s just 2-4 instances of the same keyword repeated. That’s not all that useful if you want to get a handle on how your users are researching your products.

You should also take note of the filtering options at the top right of the chart:

Top Paths filter options

Using these options, you can filter your data to view exactly what you’re looking for. You can limit your data to paths of a certain number of steps or more, view data for a specific type of conversion, expand your history window to 30, 60, or 90 days, and choose to only show complete conversion paths. All of these settings are useful for reducing the noise in your report and getting down to what really matters.

Time Lag

For many accounts, a click doesn’t immediately lead to a conversion. Users quite often delay their purchase decision, choosing to do more research or consult with someone else before they actually complete a transaction. This report helps you visualize how long it takes for your users to make those conversions.

On the Time Lag report, you get metrics on how many days (on average) it takes for a user to complete a conversion. You can choose your starting point as the first impression, first click, or last click:

Time lag report options

Not only do you get the total conversions for each time segment, but you also get how much of a percentage of the total is represented in each segment of days to conversion.

Path Length

This final report gives you a more quantitative data set regarding the number of clicks or impressions it takes to convert. This report aggregates your entire account’s data, so it’s not all that useful for quantifying user paths at the campaign, ad group, or keyword level. However, it does give you an idea of the macro trends in your account so you can get an idea of the average amount of searches it takes for you to close on a user.

With this report, you can look at total clicks or impressions per conversion. This has a similar breakdown to the Time Lag report, telling you the total and the percentage of conversions at each level of clicks or impressions.

That just about covers it for the Search Funnel reporting. These are highly useful and highly under-utilized reports that can really aid in analysis. If you’re a little more advanced in the PPC game, I highly recommend that you look in to how these reports might work for your account. You can see some significant returns in your account performance with the knowledge you gain from analyzing your search funnels.

About Shawn Livengood

Shawn Livengood is a search engine marketing professional based in Austin, Texas. He has extensive experience managing pay-per-click ad campaigns for clients in various industries, from small home-based businesses to large international companies. You can connect with Shawn on Google+.
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