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Search Online, Buy Offline: How to Tell?

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Many people do extensive product research online but end up buying from brick and mortar retailers. How can you track the effectiveness of search marketing campaigns that result in offline purchases?

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies conference, August 2-5, 2004, San Jose, CA.

Many search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns can drive offline sales of products or services. In this session, attendees learned about the different types of offline responses, and how to set up and track the various steps in the research and purchase (conversion) process.

Types of offline responses

"In the online and offline world, impressions are mostly delivered by the ad agency," said Glenn Alsup, President of Viewmark. "Responses are figured from the online and offline mechanisms, which is segmented by us, the search engine marketer."

Alsup presented the different types of offline responses, which he segmented into three different areas:

  • Discreet landing page

  • Process landing page

  • Redirection program

"A discreet landing page allows you to create a page specifically for that piece," said Alsup. "It's pretty straightforward - site owners can count the number of visitors who land on that specific page."

A process landing page has multiple offline campaigns direct to a single page. "One example is a magazine that has a subscription renewal," he explained. "Visitors go to the process landing page and type a priority code, which can be used for many different magazines and campaigns. In addition, site owners can get customer information from in a survey."

A redirection program is similar to what you might see inside a Dell catalog. The catalog will drive site visitors to a program, which in turn redirects them to a different page.

"We try to correlate offline actions to the online driver, e.g., placing a cookie with a unique I.D. (back to each marketing driver)," he said. "For example, on an ecommerce site, once a product is selected a confirmation email can be sent with customer ID. The offline salesperson can take the data and import it back into the online drivers."

"The better you can segment the stages of online and offline conversions, the better you'll be able to determine ROI down in your sales funnel," he concluded.

Search engine advertising campaigns

According to iMedia, between 70% and 90% of all consumers buying "high consideration" products begin their research online, and then purchase offline.

"This shows that a client who starts online and converts offline tends to be more valuable of a client/customer," said Patricia Hursh, President, SmartSearch Marketing. "A Web site offers a choice, where you can purchase online or dial. People who pick up the phone are fairly serious about a transaction. Others may end up being delayed conversions."

"In order to justify online ad spending we as marketers many times must show the positive impact it has on offline sales," said Steve Schepke, Co-CEO at Meandaur.

"Most of our clients are very focused on their immediate, measurable cost-per-conversion, both online and off. This purely direct-marketing approach can be somewhat short-sighted," Hursh added. "For this reason, as part of our results reporting, we also explain the benefits they are receiving in the areas of brand awareness, market positioning, and delayed customer acquisition."

Both Hursh and Schepke presented case studies in which search engine advertising increased traffic and conversion rates. For homeopathic cold-remedy site, Hursh recommended the following three-step approach:

  • Create a unique landing page for search advertising

  • Establish an 800 number, accessible only from this landing page

  • Track sales generated by the 800 number

Another option is to create a unique landing page for each ad provider (one landing page for Google AdWords, one for Overture, and one for FindWhat). Conversion tracking can be done by measuring the incoming 800-number calls or the customer reference code.

Schepke also uses the 800-number approach for his clients. "The primary use for some Web sites is for lead generation," he said. "User information, including telephone number, can be gathered from a form on the site. An 800-number was used to track inbound calls. The actual sales conversion might happen only at physical center location through sales pitch."

The number of phone calls can increase by placing the 800 number prominently throughout a Web site. "By putting our 800 number on the Web site, we received a much higher rate of call-ins than originally estimated," said Schepke. "And these leads were of much higher quality as well, better than the leads from the online form."

"For one of her clients, Hursh calculated that nearly 3 out of every 10 sales from online exposure were being fulfilled offline. However, the 800-number/PPC campaign also resulted in an online sales increase of 73%. "Calculating your true cost-per-order allows you to optimize your campaign more accurately and compete more effectively," she said.

Hursh used a different approach with a childcare center Web site, since they could not implement the 800-number strategy. "People research local childcare options online," she explained, but all enrollments occur offline." For this campaign, she followed this three-step approach:

  • Implement periodic, non-consecutive search advertising campaigns

  • Try to run campaigns when other marketing efforts are at a minimum

  • Correlate search ad spend with Web site statistics and overall center registration data

Search campaigns correlated with 157% increase in site visitors and a 78% increase in leads. In this particular case study, search advertising delivered the lowest cost/lead of any other marketing channel, she said.

Hursh also recommended that site owners not ignore delayed conversions. "Remember that it usually takes about 2.5 correspondences with a customer before actually closing a sale," she concluded. "That means a lot more people could convert on a delayed basis than on an immediate basis."

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Tracking & Measuring Offline Conversions discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

Related articles:

Watching SEM Dials and Gauges
http://www.clickz.com/experts/search/strat/article.php/3290771

Inquiry Marketing Fulfills SEM's Promise
http://www.clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3073371

Grant Crowell is the CEO and Creative Director at Grantastic Designs, Inc.. He has 15 combined years of experience in the fields of print and online design, newspaper journalism, public relations, and publications.

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