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Brad Geddes's Theories on Marketing Use AdWords Search Funnels to Gain Deeper Insights

Use AdWords Search Funnels to Gain Deeper Insights

This is a guest post by Terry Whalen, Managing Director at CPC Search, a San Francisco PPC agency. CPC Search has managed PPC programs for consumer and B2B advertisers since 2006. You can follow CPC Search on Twitter @CPCSearch.


We took on a new client in the automotive ecommerce space a couple months ago. We were tasked with increasing year-over-year conversions while driving CPA lower or at least keeping it steady. We did a pretty thorough audit of the mid-five-figures per month account, so we were ready to implement our optimizations on a multitude of fronts. A day or two out of the gate, the numbers looked like they *might* be going our way, but each successive day brought less-than-stellar results.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and same status. The numbers didn’t look really bad, but where were the rockstar numbers we were expecting? Even though I’ve been doing PPC optimization for years, I was missing a key piece of data that I shouldn’t have been missing. Fortunately, a quick trip to Search Funnels solved the mystery, giving us and our client more insight into the account and more confidence that we were moving in the right direction.

First introduced in March 2010, AdWords Search Funnels are a set of reports describing the ad click and impression behavior on that leads up to a conversion. Search Funnels helps answer questions around time lags and attribution. To paraphrase Google: Search Funnel data helps clarify how users search for Advertiser products, and it also gives a more complete picture of the value of your campaigns.

Time Lag

AdWords Search Funnels have been updated in the last few months, and there is great data to be mined. Specifically, Time Lag data showed us that for this specific account, data from ‘yesterday’ would grow an average of 67% over the next 30 days. Data viewed in a ‘last 7 days’ format would grow 42%. This is due to the effects of the AdWords cookie and the way that AdWords records conversions, matching them to the date and time when the last click happened. We had begun to understand there was a significant lag after we took over the account, but we had no idea just how pronounced it was until we looked at time lag data in the right way. Here’s how to do it.

Click on ‘Conversions’ from the ‘Tools and Analysis’ dropdown menu from any page in the AdWords account. Next, click on ‘Search Funnels’, located in the left-hand column of the ‘Conversions’ page. Once there, you will want to click on the ‘Only show complete conversion paths’ option, located in the ‘All Paths’ dropdown on the upper right-hand side of the page (see screenshot below). This will ensure you are only looking at data where Google know the whole story. Because AdWords gathers conversion data over a 30 day period, you may want to choose a date range where the ending date is 30 days ago, which may give you a greater volume of ‘complete conversion path’ data to analyze.


Now, click on ‘Time Lag’ in the sub-navigation on the left-hand side of the page (see screenshot). Very importantly, for most situations you will likely want to look at ‘From last click’ data, rather than the default setting, which is ‘From first impression.’ Since the AdWords interface presents ‘last click’ performance data, it makes sense to analyze things from the same standpoint, for consistency. If you forget this step, the data may look much different and it may mislead you. Note the yellow highlighted text in the screenshot below, telling the user that they are looking only at complete conversion paths.


In order to understand by what percentage ‘yesterday’ data will increase over time, take the ‘conversions’ percentage of total in the first row.

In the screenshot above, the number is very close to 40%*. Since we are dealing with percentages, we can divide 100 by 40 and then subtract 1 to get our expected percentage increase of 150% (100/40 = 2.5; then, 2.5 – 1 = 1.5, or 150%).

Note, with each passing hour after midnight, these numbers will get smaller. If you waited till 11pm on the follow day to look at ‘yesterday’ data, you are almost into day #2, and so you must adjust accordingly. In order to understand by what percentage ‘last 7 days’ data will increase during the 30 day cookie window, you have to look at each day individually.

To illustrate, a ‘last 7 days’ view includes yesterday, which, using the example above will grow conversions by 150%. But ‘last 7 days’ also includes the day that happened 7 days ago. This day has already had the benefit of 6 to 7 days of conversion ‘cookie credit’, and so this day will show much less growth than will the day that was yesterday. One way to do the math is to list days 1 to 7 with their cumulative ‘percentage of total conversions’. Then, take the average of those cumulative totals. Now, divide this average into 100 and subtract 1, and you have the estimated growth percentage for any ‘last 7 days’ lookback. Below is a screenshot of what the Excel spreadsheet might look like.


Once we were able to point to actual Search Funnels data around time lags, we were easily able to communicate our true progress to date. Additionally, Search Funnels contributed both to our and our client’s understanding of user behavior.

There are also great attribution reports in Search Funnels, but that’s for another post!

* Note: the screenshot was taken *before* I clicked on ‘from last click’, so the data here is actually wrong. Don’t forget this step, as I seem to have done in my screenshot!

This is a guest post by Terry Whalen, Managing Director at CPC Search, a San Francisco PPC agency. CPC Search has managed PPC programs for consumer and B2B advertisers since 2006. You can follow CPC Search on Twitter @CPCSearch.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily bgTheory. If you would like to write for Certified Knowledge, please let us know.

No Comments

  1. tdwhalen
    May 17, 2012 at 7:17 pm · Reply

    Uh, no comments – OK, I guess I gotta write about something a bit more controversial, eh?

    Next guest post might be “Why QS Makes No Difference Whatsoever” or something like that!

  2. sirnitti
    July 2, 2012 at 10:23 am · Reply

    good posting, just a bit too advance. have been doing ppc since the overture day and this post is hard to understand

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