Monday, August 24, 2015

How to Tie Online Search to Offline Sales

Here's a problem that has challenged me for years. You have a lead generation client with a robust paid search campaign. But sales conversion is offline and may have a long purchase consideration cycle. How do you track the impact of your SEM campaign? 

Sure you can use dynamic phone numbers on your landing page that tie to the SEM campaign. Or a lead gen form with a conversion pixel. But what if the prospect walks into a physical location to close the deal? Or returns from another campaign not tied to SEM and you may attribute to last click?

Wouldn't it be great if a lead walked in to your office, branch, or store and said, "Hi. I was searching last Tuesday at 9:54pm on Google and clicked on a paid search ad that took me to your site. Oh and by the way, I used this keyword and after learning about your company and product offering, I'm here today to buy."...Not going to happen! 

Well, I got close to this with a recent test I did for a large financial services client. Since actual sales conversion happens offline with a sales representative, we wanted to know if the prospect might have actually searched beforehand. 

The key was tying an offline record to an online cookie. We worked with a third-party "data onboarder" that specializes in matching offline customer data, say from a brand's CRM database or prospect list, to online cookies. This is typically done by matching name, physical address, and email address. Such online data can be captured when users make an online purchase on sites since this is always entered as a shipping address. Data onboarders will partner with many sites to build a large audience. 

Usually this technique is used to target banner ads to a brand's customer segments once users are onboarded and matched, as the matched cookies are pushed to an ad serving partner. 

But here is where I got a little creative with their technology. I developed a way to sync the cookies between our SEM campaign and the data onboarder's when a user clicked on our paid search ad. 

We were able to match a sample to our CRM database who indeed searched during our campaign. 

Here is some of the cool things we learned: 

  • % of users who searched and clicked to our site that ended up in an offline sale. While you can guesstimate this by taking total sales divided by total SEM clicks in a period, you can't really attribute all those sales to SEM. Also, while you can use dedicated SEM phone numbers or a lead gen form as mentioned above, those are tracking leads. This allows you to track and give credit to SEM higher up in the purchase funnel. 
  • Average and frequency distribution of the time from online search to offline sale. This is based on the timestamp of the SEM click and the date of sale in the CRM tool. From a histogram, we found that X% convert in Y days. While we previously knew the time from lead to sale, this again gave us a peek further upstream from search to sale.
  • What keywords drove sales, as it may not be the same as the clicks or lead converting keywords that you see in search engine reports that don't track offline sales well or at all. 
  • What client segments search and bought. Search is always an anonymous pull tactic. You can't really target search ads at someone like a banner ad. But we were able to learn a little bit more about them. While it is easy to see what segment a lead is after you acquire them, we were able to see what percent of each segment came to the site via SEM. Furthermore, we could see for each segment, what was the likelihood of SEM visitors becoming a sale. 
In the end, while it took a lot of work and ingenuity to set up, this campaign allowed us to see what kind of users SEM drove relative to our segments and what keywords drove more desirable segments to be acquired. 


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