Jan 132009

Discovering Untracked PPC Sales

What would your paid search program look like if it was missing 50% of the sales dollars that it was generating?

Would you alter your bidding?

For many retailers who receive orders via the web and on the phone, this may be the case. Paid search clicks are likely seeding their fair share of offline orders.

Getting at these orders is not always easy, and the typical approach of accounting for this spillover has been to adjust PPC bid targets to allow for the PPC-to-phone traffic. (For instance, if 30% of your web traffic converts over the phone, you may be willing to push bids a similar amount in order to hit your marketing targets across channels.)

For many of our clients, we’re able to associate phone orders with the respective paid search click that drives the call – often capturing that order in real time.

Perhaps more importantly, we're tracking these offline conversions for our clients for no additional fees.

How is it done?

With a little bit of back end IT support on your web site, it’s something that's actually quite easy to track and integrate with existing key code systems and analytics.

When the customer arrives at your site via a tracked link, two things happen:

  • First, the site grabs the redirect information coming from the tracked link and databases it in a table, assigning a unique key code.
  • Next, a visible, but not distracting, tracking code is placed on the bottom of the page. This code look something like “[R562899]“. This code is persistent throughout all the pages on the site.

    Now, when the customer calls the call center, the agent asks for that code when placing the order. Just like a catalog call agent typing a catalog code into the order taking app, the call agent punches the web key code onto the order.

    Multichannel tip: For better call center scripting, the tracked link could also trigger a unique 800 number to be displayed on your site, indicating to your call center that this customer came in from a paid search click. This would allow the call center agent to know to ask if they’re on the website without further probing.

  • When the call center agent completes the order, it fires PPC tracking, just like a customer using their own computer. The info from the initial tracked link is then pulled back from the database (based on the unique key code entered from the order). The PPC tracking integrates with bidding and reporting as a typical PPC customer would if shopping from their home.

Typically, the time necessary to add the appropriate code for the database piece will vary from 6-10 hours, depending on your site. For anyone not able to integrate this database piece, we typically capture the same data using a FTP feed. The data is imported into our systems daily, still allowing for more accurate PPC bids.

Why are the bids more accurate?

Looking at the PPC program at a somewhat granular level, you’ll likely find that there are keywords that tend to drive more phone sales than others. In this scenario, across-the-board increases of ppc bids would likely over-bid non-phone converters and still undervalue terms that result in higher phone conversion.

Additionally, tracking PPC clicks through to the phones may actually reveal more sales dollars than expected, as the typical average value of orders coming through the phones should be higher than the AOV of orders closing on the web (accounting for cross sells, up sells and more considered purchases).

These orders can then easily be parsed back out for reporting and audits based on the IP address and key codes of orders coming from the respective call center(s).

Understanding how much revenue your paid search programs are driving is essential to ensure that you’re spending crucial marketing dollars in the right place.


18 Responses to "Discovering Untracked PPC Sales"
I am sure there are multiple possible methods, especially if there is concern over 'losing' sales due to confusing sales codes embedded on pages. Another concern of mine is - if the client phones a week later, will the code be different and will the old code still be valid? What if they decide to phone when they are away from the PC, must they then be forced online to get this special 'code'. In my mind there are definitely flaws in the method described above.
Matt says:
Great idea. This has been at the top of our list for a long while. Most Ecommerce sites take phone orders (Amazon the notable exception) so I would hope there would be off-the-shelf packages available to do this. Any insight into Google adding this to Analytics? I would think it would be in there best interest to capture this information.
Hi Nicholas - Thanks for the comment. Yes, there may be other approaches, although this is the cleanest in our minds. We'd love to hear more about other methods that might be out there. Orders placed some time period after the click would be treated the same as any online order placed within the appropriate PPC cookie window. For instance, if you're running with a 30 day cookie window and someone calls to place an order 7 days after the initial click, then the code should appear as it did in the initial session. (Depending on how credit allocation is set up, subsequent clicks on ads or in other channels may cause the code to change.) From the call center perspective, no tracking method should prevent a great customer experience. If the customer is not currently in front of the computer, then that order is placed with no code. Simple as that. Catalogers have been using a similar system for years. Just like customers who call to place an order without a catalog in hand, I'm sure an untracked order won't be turned away. No system will capture every single order, but the more you understand where conversions are happening, the better you'll be positioned to maximize ROI from your program. Ryan
Jeremy says:
You should also attempt to track other online sales not directly attributable to PPC. Many times folks will research at work and then buy at home (and vice-versa). They will click a PPC ad at work, browse a bit, and later type in the site at home to make a purchase. PPC might not get the credit, but it initiated the sales funnel.
Hi Matt - We have seen a few threads talking about the creation of a separate conversion event for tracking phone orders in Google Analytics. Nothing official from Google that we've seen.
Glenn says:
Hi Ryan, As a retailer who's been testing all various possibilities of tying offline sales to PPC clicks (we have a unique code at the bottom of our page that is triggered by PPC clicks), we've found the most difficult part of this program is getting the agent to ask for that code when placing the order. I find myself reminding them monthly to ask for the code at the bottom of the page. If only there were a way to do this without human intervention!
Glenn, one idea: fold in meaningful code capture as part of your evaluation of phone reps. Use spot check call-back surveys to validate that they're not just making up codes. In addition to closing percentage, average talk time, AOV, skus per order, sales $ per hour, etc, fold in percentage of web codes captured. Just a thought. Ultimately as Jeremy points out above, the tracking will never be absolutely perfect. The key is to find out whether that spillover is an additional 50% or and additional 5%, and within that, if there are certain categories of keywords that are more likely to experience phone spillover. That's often enough to allow separate targeting of observed online efficiency to get closer to maximizing ROI.
Ben says:
I think that this is a fantastic post and something we've advocated for what feels like forever! Although, we use a different technology to attribute specific calls to specific clicks, I think your approach is a reasonable alternative. It's certainly better than not tracking the calls! Based on our client data (across a wide variety of industries), I'd venture to say that advertisers not tracking calls from their paid search marketing are actually missing MORE than 50% of the picture. Again - great post!
Karridy says:
You should checkout ClickPath's call to KW tracking.
BRLM the Costa Rica SEO says:
Hey Ryan, Great post. Have you guys explored how to do this in store at all? So apply messaging to the ad text that searcher needs to ask in-store and the clerk would required to track the sale like the call center? Best, BRLM
Hi BRLM - Thanks for your thoughts. Typically, it's going to be very difficult to rely on a searcher or customer to relay information to the sales associate, unless they're sitting in front of the computer. We have done some testing to better understand spillover to stores. Our testing has typically centered around post conversion follow-up with the customer such as emailed confirmations, customer service surveys, etc. Information from the in-store transaction can then be connected with prior searches they completed on their computer earlier.
This is really great. I run a psychotherapy practice and there are a lot of directory listing services who offer call tracking as well some times for cheaper like psychologytoday.com or goodtherapy.com so if you are in this industry you should check them out. Might be a more affordable way even though you still wont be able to track the calls from your site.
Judy Schramm says:
What a great idea! We will recommend this approach to our clients. Are you willing to share the software you use to implement this on the website?


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