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Why should you always consider natural channels when analysing your marketing mix ?

Stéphane Gendrel

It’s a very common discussion I have with online marketers : they are not really considering natural channels as something that requires special attention.

“Why don’t you want to consider natural channels ?” I ask.

“Because it’s not something I can act on” or “I don’t invest any money on it so I don’t need to check them”  are the most common answers I get.

Even though it is a big mistake, this is perfectly understandable because most online marketers have not been educated in such way.

One explanation is that default reports of analytics softwares usually separate campaigns and natural trafic:

GA Acquisition menu Adobe Analytics menu options

Within those reports, natural channels lack analytical datas :

  • Direct is just … Direct, not details
  • SEO report does not provide much datas since Google activated the (not provided) keywords
  • Referring Sites (or Referrals) have always been some kind of junk holdall

Beside those difficulties, why should you consider natural channels ?

Because they usually have the highest numbers

We regularly make analysis of acquisition channels for brands  A well-known retailer, natural channels account for 84% of the attributed sales (the retailer uses Adobe Analytics for data collection and Adloop Datamarts as attribution layer) meaning that paid channels are only credited a small 16% of all sales (among which the branded SEA accounts for 5%).

Another KPI – the Channel Presence Rate2– reinforce the conclusion : SEO is present in 60% of conversion paths and direct in 40%. The first paid channel (SEA) is only present in 13% of conversion.

For another client of Adloop – a small company, selling mainly on the Internet, competing with many other same size companies : not a famous company at all – the picture is different but natural channels remain among the best performers.

SEO and Direct totalize 35% of Attributed sales (37% with Referrals).

Direct is present in 20% of conversion paths and SEO in 18%

Those figures are much lower than the previous ones but natural channels are still among the Top 4 performers for this small site.

With such numbers, ignoring natural channels mean, you take the risk to only focuson channels that bring low conversions.

Because they are the best indicator of your brand awareness

The main difference between these two companies : one is a well established brand having built its notoriety with a lot of ‘offline’ communications : TV, Radio, Billboards, Press, Catalogues …, the second one doesn’t have the same means and mainly rely on online channels – and team dedication – to attract people.

The results are clear : the more your brand is famous, the more you communicate on offline channels, the more people will come from Natural Trafic Sources.

The effect of Brand Awareness goes like this :

  • Pure notoriety: ‘I want this product and I know that Brand is selling it’ > Typed ‘Brand’ in Brower or searched ‘Brand’ in my favourite Search Engine
  • View-type advertising (either offline or online): ‘I have seen this ad of Brand on TV (or radio or newspaper or banner) for a product I need’   > Typed ‘Brand’ in Brower or searched ‘Brand’ in my favourite Search Engine
  • Word of mouth / article or blog post: ‘Someone I trust recommended this product I need’ > Searched the product name in my favourite Search Engine or clicked on the link within the article I read

Because you actually invest money into Natural Channels

Having no direct Ad Spending on Natural Channels doesn’t mean you don’t invest anything in it. Estimating the investments performed on Natural Channels is important in order to calculate their ROI and compare it to Paid Channels.

SEO is the most obvious because direct spedings usually exists :

  • SEO Agencies: many companies take advices from specialized professionnals to increase their presence in Search Engines
  • Employees: SEO specialists or trafic managers are quite common in companies nowadays
  • You can also consider the time spent by your teams and/or suppliers to optimize your site for SEO

All those expenses together can reach big numbers.

For all Natural Channels, you might consider allocating  :

  • A part of your offline media spendings as they contribute to your Brand Awareness
  • A part of all spendings on the development and maintenance of your Digital Properties

The proportion of investments you will take into account is quite difficult to obtain but even an arbitrary estimation is better than no costs at all. Specialized consulting firms can help you estimating the best proportion.

Because you can save some money invested in paid channels

Last but not least, analyzing Natural Channels can help you saving money of Paid Channels, I am particularly thinking about the SEO / SEA relationship.

Even though the debate has always been strong, it’s commonly admittedthat there is an interrelation betweern SEO and SEA : when your SEO is strong in one semantic field, you can decrease the associated SEA Campaigns / Adgroups.

The deep analysis of Conversion paths and the comparison of ROI within channels can also give you a lot of insights on how Natural and Paid Channels work together which can lead ultimately to additonal savings.

Internet is no longer considered as independant, all sales channels are interrelated. ‘Multi-Channel’, ‘Online to Store’ and ‘Offline to Web’ are commonly used expressions today. Considering the weight of Natural Channels in Conversion Paths and their capacity to report the evolution of Brand Awareness, it’s – for me at least – a big mistake to exclude them from your reporting and analysis even for focused online marketers. Observing what is induced and not provoked will give your a better understanding of the persistant effects of your marketing mix.

Notes :1 Natural Channels are Direct Accesses, Natural results of Search Engines (SEO) plus the bulk of miscellaneous sites driving trafic to your digital properties (aka Referring sites/Referrals in most Analytics Softwares)2 Channel Presence Rate is measuring the proportion of conversion path in which a channel has been seen at least once. Conversion path being the ‘chain’ of clicks preceding the conversion.[:]

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