The idea of not only valuing a visitor based on its actions the first time it lands on a website but rather to understand his behaviour over a few visits to increase the chances of conversions overtime is also called ‘Latent Conversions & Visitor Behavior’ by Avinash Kaushik, the web analytics guru.

First thing first, let’s say a few words about how Google Analytics tracks traffic sources.

Google Analytics tracking uses cookies in order to provide meaningful reports about your site visitors.

All traffic coming for PPC, Organic or other websites will be tracked automatically in Google Analytics (Provided you have linked your GA and Adwords accounts correctly). To track email campaigns, display campaigns or even off-line campaigns you could use the Google URL builder which allow you to assign a source, campaign and keyword to as manay sources as you want.

If you need to create custom URLs for more than 1 source, you might want to consider using this spreadsheet set up by Epikone.

Recently, a question asked by one of my clients prompted me to investigate the subject of the Visitor Life Time Value and how to track this using Google Analytics. The question was straight forward: what percentage of our PPC traffic acquired in Month A will return to the website in month B,C,D etc? In other words, we needed to understand the long term value of each traffic source, in order to better forecast traffic growth, improve our strategy, and focus our efforts where ROI is best long term. The ideal would be to find a way to store all referral information about a specific visitor across all of their visits so we get a better understanding of the sales cycle.

It sounds obvious, it sounds easy, but it’s not…

The issue lies with what could be called GA’s attribution model as the Google Analytics cookie gets updated with each subsequent page view to your site. And when the cookie is updated GA discards the previous campaign information. As a result GA only tracks the current campaign information, not previous campaign information.

So you know how someone came last to your website but you don’t know how he initially discovered your website – which makes it very difficult to assign different Life Time Values to different traffic sources.

The only traffic source that does not overwrite another source is ‘direct’ traffic, but any other source (organic, referral, etc) will.

Here’s an example. A visitor visits your site from a newsletter with tagged links. They look around and decide to leave. When they leave your site the campaign tracking cookie will persist and indicate that they originated from the newsletter. The same visitor decides to come back the next day and types your URL into the browser. The campaign cookie will still indicate that the visitor arrived via your newsletter because the second visit was a direct visit, and direct traffic does not overwrite existing campaign information.

There is a technique that can be used to prevent tagged campaign links from overwriting previous referral information from a tagged campaign link.

But how do you ensure that traffic from other sources doesn’t overwrite the initial traffic source of a returning visitor?

A (non-official) solution exists, which involves creating a mechanism that can store data across multiple sessions and would only update the referral data and not overwrite it. To do this you could write some JavaScript that uses the custom segment functionality to track the visitor’s referral information, following these steps:
- When visitor lands on the site check the previous referral information.
- If there is no previous referral info then gather the referral info and store it in a custom segment using utmSetVar()
- If there is previous referral info, then UPDATE the custom segment to include the current referral information

Using the User-defined report you can then identify conversion rates for the various combinations of referral information that drove the visitor to your site during the sales cycle.

But once again this is easier said than done. I am just surprised that Google Analytics is not better equiped to handle this.

Avinash’s recommendations to track the value of a customer of time includes using a mix of the visitor recency and visitor loyalty report – but it would be so much more powerful if you could combine this thinking with an accurate traffic source report, not just the last source that drove a user to (re)visit your website.

Anyway that’s my take on all this, please let me know if I missed anything.