Where Do Digital Channels Have Most of Their Impact on the Path to Purchase?

September 8, 2014

This article is included in these additional categories:

Digital | Display & Rich Media | Email | Paid Search | Search Engine Optimization | Social Media

AOLAdvertising-Digital-Channel-Impact-on-Path-to-Purchase-Setp2014While digital marketing channels tend to serve mostly as a middle touchpoint in a consumer’s path to purchase, the extent to which they raise awareness or act as a final touch varies by channel, according to a new report [download page] by AOL Advertising. The study – which used recently-acquired Convertro’s multi-touch attribution technology to analyze its client base in Q1 2014 – contains a host of intriguing data pertaining not only to the role of various channels – but to differences within those channels, also.

In the analysis of 6 digital channels – affiliate, social, email, display, non-brand search, and brand search – the study finds that each see a majority share of their impact come in the “middle” of the conversion path. Even so, there are significant discrepancies in the impact each has at different points:

  • Display and social are the most likely to serve as a middle touchpoint, mirroring results from a similar Google study;
  • Brand and non-brand search are the channels most likely to be used as the only touch points in a sales conversion;
  • Affiliate and brand search are weighted more towards a last-touch impact than any other channel analyzed; and
  • Brand and non-brand search have more of a first-touch impact than the other channels.

In short, display and social tend to be used most during the awareness and consideration stage, brand search is skewed more towards the initial stage than other channels, and the affiliate channels is tilted more towards the last point of the funnel than the other channels.

Although social media had by far the greatest amount of impact in the middle of the purchase journey, the extent to which that was the case differed considerably by network. Indeed, YouTube outperformed the other networks in introducing new products (18% of overall impact) and fueling conversions (14% of overall impact). It was also the most likely to be used as the only touchpoint in a conversion path. (It’s worth noting that this particular analysis included both paid and organic advertising.)


Facebook was next in each of those three categories – being the only touchpoint, the first touchpoint, and the last touchpoint. And of the 7 networks analyzed, LinkedIn was the least likely to act as a conversion point, while Twitter was the least likely to introduce new products.

However, breaking the analysis down again into paid versus organic conversions, the study demonstrates that paid advertising on Twitter often acts as the only touchpoint in a conversion (30% of total impact), and in comparison to organic tweets, is less than half as likely to act as a middle touchpoint. Similar trends emerged in comparing paid and organic content for Pinterest and Facebook: paid advertising in both was more heavily weighted towards first-touch or single-touch conversions, being much less likely to act as a middle touchpoint.

Indeed, promoted tweets were found to have a conversion rate almost three times higher than non-paid tweets (3.85% and 1.45%, respectively). Interestingly, though, conversion rates were much higher for organic content on Pinterest than paid content (1.08% and 0.21%, respectively). Only on Facebook were they similar.

Overall, paid social has a 25% higher conversion rate than organic social, the study found.

Finally, the report includes an analysis of social media’s impact on the path to purchase by product type, finding that:

  • It’s most likely to act as an only touch when it comes to subscriptions (48% of total impact);
  • It’s most commonly a first-touch for health and beauty e-commerce (36% of total impact); and
  • It’s least likely to act as a last-touch in food and beverage e-commerce.

About the Data: The study describes its methodology as follows:

“For this study, we analyzed 500 million clicks, 15 million conversions and three billion impressions (a total of more than $1 billion of attributed revenue) gathered during Q1 2014 across Convertro customers that invested in social media to analyze how paid and organic advertising on social networks influences sales and the effectiveness of other media channels. The research involved the analysis of more than 13 million unique purchase paths and the touch points involved, looking at their position in the path.

Convertro’s attribution methodology is not rule-based (i.e., it’s not last touch, first touch or even, or any of the traditional flawed methods). Convertro runs attribution by using an algorithmic, machine-learning model that analyzes all converting and non-converting paths and uses a complex statistical function to look for patterns in touchpoints to predict the exact influence (to the cent) that each touchpoint had on each individual sale, with 97 percent accuracy.”

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