When a customer conversion takes place, it's rarely the first interaction a customer is having with your brand. In most cases, customers have undertaken a number of steps before downloading that white paper or clicking "buy." 

To understand which steps typically occur, analysts must examine the conversion paths. Conversion paths highlight the general sequence of platforms and touchpoints involved in a conversion. Marketers can then use these insights to optimize their marketing message to match the customer journey.

In this post, I will explain how Google Analytics has tweaked conversions path reporting, and what marketers should look for in planning their conversion path analysis.

The Basics on Conversion Path Reporting in Google Analytics

The previous Google Analytics version, Universal Analytics, contained a dedicated path length report. It featured time lag and path length charts. The time lag chart showed how long in general it took for conversions to happen, while the path length indicated the number of channel interactions before a conversion occurred. Channels are traffic sources — the platform through which people visit an analytics-tagged website or app.

GA4 rearranges the conversion path charts into one report with two sections: the data visualization and the data table. This report updates the reporting to fit the GA4 reporting structure. You can access the report by clicking the Advertising section on the left menu, then navigating to Attribution, under which the Conversion path report sections appear in the Attribution menu.

Related Article: How to Set Up Conversion Events in Google Analytics 4

How the Data Visualization Works in GA4

The data visualization section helps analysts identify the most valuable paths to conversion. It displays the attribution as touchpoints, with three categories: early, mid and last touchpoint. The purpose of the touchpoints is to show how each channel initiates and assists conversion activities. Each touchpoint category represents a percentage of conversion credit along a path, which helps analysts understand how different attribution models distribute credit on those paths. Early touchpoints represent the first 25% of customer interactions on the path (rounded to the nearest whole number). This segment is empty if the path has only one touchpoint. Mid-touchpoints are the middle 50% of interactions on the path (appearing if the path has more than three touchpoints. Otherwise, this segment is empty). The third category, late touchpoints, shows the final 25% (once again, rounded to the nearest whole number). If the path consists of just one touchpoint, this segment gets all the conversion credit.

google conversion path report

Marketers can navigate to an individual touchpoint category and hover over the header to see conversion credit and the precise number of conversions. In the example below, the card displays the number of conversions organic search contributed to the early touchpoints.

google merchandise search first touchpoint

There is a Customize report panel, which is a comparison drop-down selector found on the top right of the screen. Here you can change what's displayed in the report. The data visualization section shows data from all users, but it also allows filtering according to dimensions — including or excluding by preference. To do so, click the filter name selector in the Customize report panel to add or edit the filters.

The path length can also be filtered, adjusting the default setting which, covers up to 50 touchpoints. Click on the page length filter. It opens the filter menu to the right. Page length appears, with a choice of six logic operators (equal to, not equal to, greater than, greater than or equal to, less than, or less than or equal to). Enter the number of touchpoints here.

google customize report panel

Related Article: Google Introduces Conversion Goals for Google Ads

Learning Opportunities

How the Data Table Works

The second section, data table, contains similar information to the time lag and path length report previously available in Universal Analytics. It presents results in a tabular format sorted by channel with the highest number of conversions. UA had a similar table, but grouped conversions by days or by number of channels. The table has four metrics: 

  1. Conversions: The number of conversion events.
  2. Purchase revenue: The sum of purchases on your website or in your app.
  3. Days to conversion: The frequency of conversions.
  4. Touchpoints to conversion: The number of touchpoints that create the conversion.   

The days to conversion and touchpoints to conversion metrics essentially replace the time lag and path length reports in the UA Google Analytics, but with calculated values rather than buckets that group events together.

This arrangement allows analysts to view the complete conversions. Adding conversions and purchase values alongside provides a useful comparison to find out which channel consistently brings real business value (sales, clicking on video, etc.).

The default channel grouping is the default dimensions in both the chart and the data table. These can be filtered by source and medium only. The drop-down at the top of the chart displays data by source, medium or campaign dimensions.

A Better Picture of When Conversions Happen

Using the conversion path reports in your analysis can help establish the audiences that are best contributing to your objectives. You can see which channel contains people who are converting immediately versus people who are converting after exposure to media on the same or various channels. This will help align content efforts with attribution. Combining the channels with the visualization's first and last attribution chart can also influence what kind of content would be best served on a channel.

A first-click attribution represents that 100% of a conversion credit goes to to the first channel that a user clicked through. Some customers convert on the very first interaction with a brand, implying a high level of awareness with the brand or the product that had already convinced them to purchase.

In contrast, a last click attribution is 100% of a conversion credit applied to the last channel through which a user converted. Some customers convert on the last interaction with a brand, indicating that they had seen other media which influenced their decision to purchase on that channel. Their awareness of the brand or product is based on being educated through content on the channel. This is typical for new customers in a multi-step sales process.

Use these reports to get a balanced idea of how to best drive sales and educate your customers online. In the data visualization example, organic search is contributing almost 2.0% of the first touchpoint, so it may be helpful to develop a strong content presence on search that aids that early engagement.

Conversions are never easy. But applying ideas from reports like the conversion path in Google Analytics should hopefully bring a little clarity to your strategies.