Offline Conversion Tracking 101: The Benefits and How to Begin
A strong online presence has become practically mandatory for any business that wants to be in the top tier of its industry. Since 90% of users turn to search engines at some point of their purchase journey, businesses that can be found online have a competitive advantage over those who rely only on traditional marketing. Offline and local businesses are not an exception: 63% of customers are influenced by online searches when buying offline.
Since Google and similar search engines have become ubiquitous for almost all customers when looking for products and services, this article will focus on how companies that close most deals offline can still benefit from conversion tracking for attributing online advertisement to offline purchases. We will start by exploring several benefits of implementing offline conversion tracking before moving to basic steps in integrating offline conversions with online campaigns in both Google AdWords and Facebook Ads.
Why offline conversion tracking is essential for your local business
Consider the example of a local retail store that offers specific discount coupons through multiple variations of online ads (targeting people geographically close to the store, focusing on a set of long-tail keywords, or including geo-optimized variants of search terms). Tracking whether these ads are effective at increasing sales is a major concern for the business.
While the business’ website may offer purchasing functionalities (where tracking is considerably easier), many customers might click on the ad, check the store website but make a purchase onsite, at the store’s physical location. Offline tracking gives the business the opportunity to close the gap between online ads and offline conversions. How can the retail store analyze which ads bring more revenue? What are the types of products people who clicked an online ad purchased in store? What does the customer profile of the online-offline customer look like?
These questions are just examples of broader concerns regarding marketing efficiency and ROI. Offline conversion tracking addressed many of these questions and, as a consequence, results in sensible improvements to your business strategy.
It offers comprehensive data to evaluate performance
With offline conversion tracking, your business is able to track the entire customer journey rather than just up to the point when your potential clients click on your online ads. You are able, for example, to identify the percentage of people who clicked on your ad and later converted to paying customers, what is the actual cost per conversion, and whether your campaigns have a positive ROI or not.
Another application of the data collected through offline conversion tracking is ad optimization. By connecting online to offline behavior, conversion tracking helps you identify which ads are bringing the most conversions. Which online discounts are mentioned more frequently in the offline store? During which campaign did your sales increase the most? With this data available, the process of deciding which keywords, ads and outcomes work best for your local business becomes considerably more efficient.
It gives you a deeper understanding of customer behavior
Offline tracking gives you better insight into the buying preferences of different customer profiles. Facebook Ads, for example, will give you a detailed overview of the profile of the audience who saw and clicked on your ads. The overview includes several dimensions such as customer demographics, interests, hobbies, job position, among other statistics. This can be connected to the amount of offline sales from each online ad to better determine the purchase behavior and preferences of each customer profile.
Integrating your offline conversions with your online tools
Conversion tracking is complex, and there are several strategies to tracking sales. The first and most straightforward one is to observe the effects of online ads in offline sales. Imagine our local retail store wants to study what type of online ads are more effective between one-off discount coupons applicable throughout the store or more aggressive specific product discounts.
An effective way to do that is to run different ad campaigns over the same time period (being careful to avoid promotional holidays or other events that might independently affect sales) and track the usage of each online offer on the offline purchases. This type of offline tracking does not link a specific purchase to a specific customer, since the user does not submit any information when seeing your online ads. Instead, this approach focuses on aggregate numbers such as purchase frequency or total revenues.
More complex tracking techniques involve collecting the information from the user who saw your ads and track the offline purchases of each user. One among many ways of implementing this is to run online ads for a store membership that can obtained just by filling the user’s name and email on your website.
From the customer’s perspective, the membership will bring unique discounts and advantages; from the business’ side, it will allow you to track all the purchases to a specific email and, as we will see below, to user IDs given by AdWords and Facebook after clicks on your online ads. Both ad platforms give you the opportunity to upload the sales data to calculate advertisement KPIs such as ROI and Cost per Conversion.
In Google AdWords, the ID received by the customer is called “GCLID”. This number is assigned to a customer profile once any information is submitted to your website, and it allows you to connect it to data related to purchases, phone calls, in-person visits, product returns, among others. Google AdWords lets you then import offline data into your customer database and merge the information based on the GCLID. The main steps involved in preparing both the AdWords campaigns and your website for offline conversion tracking are:
- Enable auto-tagging to import offline conversions.
- Update your website’s code to generate and capture the customer GCLID.
- Store the GCLID together with the customer information to facilitate matching and customer updates.
- Have a click-to-conversion time span shorter than 90 days, otherwise the customer information will not be imported by Google AdWords. Remember, however, that if your conversion time is too long, it is always possible to break it down into multiple, smaller conversions.
The two most relevant resources for preparing your online advertising campaigns for offline tracking are Google AdWords’ introduction to the topic and their step-by-step guide. We recommend you read both in this order to ensure you follow all the necessary steps.
Facebook handles offline actions through Offline Events. The process is very similar to the one in Google AdWords: it uses the user information to match user IDs and track which offline events had their starting point at an interaction with Facebook ads.
The first step in tracking offline interactions is to create an offline event, which could be anything from an offline purchase to a simple call requesting for more information about your product or local service. The Events Manager will ask for a CSV file with information about your offline events and will automatically process your data to identify previous interactions with Facebook Ads. If it’s your first time uploading this information, you might want to download their sample CSV file and follow the format proposed by Facebook to maximize compatibility.
If you have more questions or want to read more about Facebook’s approach to offline conversion tracking, check their introductory guide for the topic. If you want to explore other related articles, make sure to check their knowledge base for offline events.
Naturally, dealing with the offline world requires more effort than tracking online sales. This happens because online transactions automatically generate and share structured data between applications. In physical businesses, however, human interaction is required during at least a few stages of the process.
Nonetheless, this shouldn’t be a reason for discouragement! It is in the best interest of your business to constantly optimize online and offline advertising, and offline conversion tracking is an essential component of it. In addition to that, once your business has mastered the basics of offline tracking, you might want to adopt more advanced techniques that will increase your performance even more.
This article presented a simple guide to starting tackling the field. Now it is your turn to ensure a consistent implementation and to start enjoying the many benefits that come with it!