Journey-Centric Marketing: Nine Actionable Insights to Drive Your Targeting and Optimisation Strategy


By Tom Sharon

Funnels are dead, or at least dying. Marketers who are still solely focused on guiding their customers through, or building marketing campaigns around funnels will be missing huge opportunities.

The idea that all your customers take the same journey is obviously flawed, as Google has demonstrated numerous times. Marketers should therefore identify and optimise journeys, facilitating easy progression.

This post will provide tips on where to find actionable insights that will drive your targeting and optimisation strategy, to ultimately enhance the customer experience.

Top Paths is one of the most valuable reports in GA and Google Ads, as knowing the exact paths taken to a conversion is a huge benefit. If the same keyword paths are consistently generating conversions, you can effectively predict what users are going to search next!

For example, nearly every PPC account I’ve experienced has had at least two brand ads clicks before a conversion as one of the most common journeys over one click.

If your conversion window spans up to 90 days, people are researching the brand. Are they comparing you to competitors? Most likely.

Start by looking at the bestselling products / services that your brand terms generate and ask yourself the following:

  • Is my price competitive – although this can often be out of your control.
  • What USPs is the competition pushing, both in their ads and on site? Figure out what users are weighing up before purchasing with your brand so you can position ads more effectively.

From a purely generic terms perspective, one of our clients selling holiday home rentals sees users start on an overall quite generic, or “top funnel” term for a location.

This is just the location’s name on exact match so there are no long tail keywords or even a mention of holiday. Interestingly, after this initial touchpoint, users come back to this same search term when they’re ready to buy, making it the most common two touchpoint generic-term journey.

So, what insights can we gather that will ultimately inform the targeting and optimisation strategy?

  1. Identify highly engaged audiences, and focus on them

The first step is extracting insights from these return visitors. Are there commonalities in these users and do they differ from the original users that first searched for the destination, or even visitors of your site?

The objective here is to profile your high intent audience, but also understand if a certain type of user is less likely to convert, for improved performance and efficiency. If 25-year-olds have a poor CvR or ROAS, you may want to exclude or reduce budgets and bids for the age group.

Use a separate campaign, Ad Group or If Audience Ads. You know that users find you using the generic term and that they also come back through it when they’re ready to buy. In that case, try to create urgency to encourage action when they’re searching for the same generic term again after having already visited your site.

The idea here is to split the two touchpoints to manage, analyse and optimise them more effectively. For example, you can have a separate Campaign or Ad Group for the first interaction and another one for the second, which would be highly recommended if it’s a prominent journey that has a lot of spend or volume behind it. You could also split it by device.

You can now see that both these touchpoints / campaigns will have completely different objectives. The initial touchpoint will focus on relevant traffic at ideally the lowest possible cost to maximise volume, whilst the aim of the second will be to drive an aggressive bid approach, in order to ensure strong visibility for users that are coming back for the second time with much higher intent.

  1. Get granular with broad and phrase match

Another important point to consider is to break out any terms that broader match types pick up. If the same BMM term consistently comes up more than once in a journey (conversion path), evaluate N-Grams queries to break out the exact terms or phrases that generate the conversions to uncover the full journey, as you may want to break it out for better management and optimisation.

  1. Days to conversion

The Google Ads attribution reporting section shows the overall picture, but GA lets you see it by keyword. If on average it takes a user up to 7 days for a specific journey, ensure this is reflected in your retargeting budget and bids.

  1. Once you’ve found the key moment in the journey, be proactive.

Don’t wait for them to come back, re-target them using display to encourage action or ensure you stay at the front of mind for when they’re ready to continue their search. This can be highly effective, especially if search CPCs are high. The big picture here is to find the crucial moment in the journey.

So…once you’ve uncovered and understood how customers find you online, what next?

  1. Behaviour Flow Report in GA

The next step could be going onsite to understand what users are doing. The Behaviour Flow report in GA is a great way to visualise the entire onsite journey, which can be as broad or as granular as you like.

Once the views are set up in terms of sorting / categorising the webpages, you can segment traffic by campaign and even keyword. Here you look for drop off points, but also common pages that highly engaged users browse. The goal is to inform landing page and conversion rate optimisation tests.

  1. Custom Event based audiences

Another tactic is to set up events to identify users who are more engaged, therefore making them more likely to act. For example, a combination of several events that will all be required for a tag to fire (showcasing that a user is ‘highly engaged’) could be that they spent more than the average amount of time on page, in addition to matching characteristics of previous high value users (point 1). This could be anything from age, location, or exact device or browser.

  1. Bridging the gap between online and offline journeys

Why not apply this ethos to entire marketing campaigns. Imagine being able to attribute the ROI of offline TV or Radio ads a lot more effectively – you can.

Say you’re running multiple radio or TV ads across various territories. Incorporate “search for ‘brand name and product’ online now” at the end of the ad, which ties in with an optimised page and PPC ad (ideally brand) being set up to catch that traffic.

This will allow you to see the levels of volume and conversions, as well as demographic insights on what audience have been reached and engaged by the ad. Now granted it’s not 100% accurate, but it’s definitely more insightful than saying web traffic increased by 30% since launching X ad.

  1. Model the Data

If a conversion for a high involvement product or service encompasses many searches, you could model the data appropriately using methods like logical or linear regression. This will allow you to see the relation between multiple variables and how they impact the end results. For example, ad X at position X at a certain time of the day resulted lower traffic but higher CvR.

  1. Compare GA and Google Ads data

Don’t forget to compare the Top Paths and Attribution Model Comparison reports in both Google Ads and Analytics, as you may see additional paths such as organic or direct appearing in the latter. Also, remember that Google Analytics will always give the credit to Google Ads, even if the journey started with an organic search, as the default model within the platform is set to last click.