Multichannel Offline and Online Conversion Tracking

When I was in San Jose in August for the Search Engine Strategies conference and Expo did a company caught my attention. When I go to specialized shows like SES, I am always reminded about the bubbles where each online marketing channel still seems to be living in. How those bubbles are able to exist, especially in this day and age, is beyond me.

Life Outside the Bubble

A number of vendors I talked to lived in their world of search engines, pay-per-click and search agencies caring little or not at all about other channels like email marketing or affiliate marketing. Bumping into a company that is different and left its bubble to look at the things cross channel was refreshing.

A company who takes this even a step further and looks beyond the online world into the old offline world deserved without saying my full attention. The company I am talking about is ClickPath and I did not know much about them before SES.

I know that I can be a pain in the neck and tend to ask a lot of very specific questions and have to thank the two guys and one gal from ClickPath for their time and patience at the booth, responding to my emails and talking to me on the phone.

They come from the paid search space, but discovered that there is a whole big world out there besides of PPC and started to incorporate some additions to be able to cover the very similar, but slightly different and unique needs of those other channels. They are not to hundred percent done yet, which will cause some limitations for one or the other client, but they are aware of them and do something about it. The print brochure shows affiliate marketing already for example, but the online demo on their website does not.

What is ClickPath doing?

In a nutshell, ClickPath offers conversion tracking of online referrals who convert either online, via the website, or offline via phone. Online and offline conversions can be tracked back down to the keyword level of paid search campaigns and organic search results, a specific promotional email, a banner ad of a display advertising campaign and a particular affiliate who referred the visitor.

The methods for the offline conversion tracking is similar to how pay-per-call works, but ClickPath uses their own patent-pending dynamic number insertion (DNI) technology to be able to do that detailed tracking without the need of using enormous amounts of 800 numbers. ClickPath operates their own network operations center (NOC), in plain English, their own call center, but it works with other call center providers too. Some of the advanced features will not be available though. I know a bit about call center integration and it looks to me that they are offering as much, if not even more than some of the companies out there that do nothing but call center services. ClickPath offers for example recordings of all phone calls and not only samples for analysis and call script optimization or improvement of the content and usability of the website (I thought that this is worth mentioning).

Shortcomings for Affiliate Program Tracking

While a keyword phrase from a search campaign shown in the reports is all you need, so is the display of an affiliate ID rather than the name not very easy to use. You can manually download reports and upload them into another application where you can add the name of the affiliate site based on matching affiliate ID, but there is no automated way available today. ClickPath told me though that they are working on an extended set of API s for ClickPath right now, so I assume that this shortcoming will become history very soon. This would also allow the automation of commission reporting, back to your in-house affiliate program management solution or to the affiliate network.

Not all advertisers are that advanced yet either, so it might be a non-issue for many out there. The setup of the tracking is as simple as the integration of Google Analytics into your website. All it takes are a few lines of JavaScript added to your websites header or footer area. The only thing needed beyond that is integration of the JavaScript code that renders the toll free number shown to the visitor on the website.

Existing 800 Number

This could become a bit tricky for an advertiser who already shows a toll free number all over his website, which is deeply integrated into the design and images of the site. The effectiveness of the ClickPath solution will be reduced in cases where the advertiser has a well-known 800 number already, which many customers have memorized. 1-800-Flowers.com and 1-800-PedMeds for example are in a clear disadvantage here and by design unable, to leverage the full power of ClickPath, but having a well-known 800 number has its own advantages too.

Configuration – Have a Plan

The configuration of ClickPath itself will probably be the most complicated part of the majority of ClickPath integrations. Some of the settings have direct impact on the tracking itself, which makes it important that advertisers spend the time to think through and structure their advertising and marketing campaigns properly before they launch the new tracking solution. Advertisers who already have existing, but well structured campaigns in the various channels will not get any problems, but advertisers who are a bit less organized have to be aware that there is now the time to clean things up a little.

Also Consider

Another task is the update of existing tracking URLs to include tracking parameters needed for ClickPath. This can be time consuming if done manually and not via an automated tool using the APIs most PPC providers have available. I am not sure if ClickPath has something to do that or not. They worked a lot with search agencies in the past, who already have their own applications to update PPC campaigns. It is something to keep in mind and to ask ClickPath about before closing the deal.

Multiple Touch-Points Tracking Not Just Yet

I also asked them about the ability to track multiple touch-points, meaning multiple interactions with a client or multiple exposures to advertising, before the actual conversion. They knew what I was talking about, which is a good start and mentioned that they are actively looking into this subject. Right now does the solution not have the capability to track this, but that might change eventually.

To their defense is it necessary to mention that this kind of tracking is only done by a fraction of advertisers today and most analytics packages do not have that ability either.

Okay, So How Much is It?

So what cost this solution? They did not wanted to tell me, because the cost really depend on a number of factors that are unique for each client. The number of channels and campaigns to track as well as the volume of each of them are part of the equation. The configuration part where ClickPath will assist their clients is also different from client to client. It is easier for some and more time consuming for others.

The only price they would tell me was for the phone tracking, which is less than $0.10 per call.
Okay, I asked the same question differently. How big should the minimum monthly budget an advertiser is willing to spend for the solution be, before they would even consider picking up the phone and talking to the potential client? The answer was “five hundred”.

This puts the solution unfortunately outside the budget of virtually all small and most medium size operations. It is a solution that some of the larger mid-size businesses and large corporations with a high marketing and advertising budget are able to afford and recoup the cost of it.

The cost will probably drop in the future; if more advertisers become enough sophisticated and knowledgeable to be able to use and leverage those advanced tracking solutions.

Additional Resources and Information

To learn more about offline conversion tracking, check out the free 50 minutes on-demand webcast “Offline Conversions: The Missing Metric” with Christine Churchill, President of Key Relevance at Search Marketing Now. You have to register though in return for the free session.

The sponsor of the webcast, Click Path, receives your information and might contact you, but you may be consider to be a good thing, if you are seriously interested in learning more about it. If you are just curious about it, without having the budget, just select “$0-$1,000” as answer for the question about the monthly advertising spend hehe. You can also watch the ClickPath sales demo on their website. I got a bunch of printed material at their booth in San Jose, but could not find anything in electronic format on their website :(.

FYI, Search Marketing Now is part of Third Door Media, Danny Sullivan’s new company, who also operates the SEM news blog SearchEngineLand.com, the social bookmarking site Sphinn.com, the podcast “The Daily Search Cast” and the conference & expo Search Marketing Expo (SMX).

About Carsten Cumbrowski

Internet Marketer, Entrepreneur and Blogger. To learn more about me and what I am doing, visit my website and check out the “about” section.

Twitter: ccumbrowski

2 Responses to Multichannel Offline and Online Conversion Tracking

  1. Affiliate Marketing and Channel Conflicts

    Multiple touch-point tracking and analysis provides the basis for a possible solution for existing channel conflicts between an advertisers different online and offline marketing campaigns and also with affiliates who promote the advertisers offer as w…

  2. jtreiber says:

    Very interesting article / report Carsten.

    Offline conversion tracking is a big deal and increasingly important part of online advertising. The phone tracking sounds useful to advertisers who take phone orders. The key is tracking in-store conversions for retailers etc. who have stores. Check out revtrax as an in-store conversion tracking solution that can attribute an in-store sale back to a specific keyword via a search campaign. pretty neat stuff.