Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Tracking Offline Conversions for Local SEO

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We have certainly seen a trend over the last one to two years where Google is focusing on more personalized search and an increasing focus on providing local results. As you know, a searcher does not even have to be burdened with entering a local modifier anymore.

Google will gladly figure out, for you, whether or not your search has local intent. :)

Google’s Investment into Local

Late last year Google moved one of their prized executives over to local services, Marissa Mayer. Moving Mayer, fresh off Google Instant and a variety of other high profile areas of Google’s search development, to head up local is a real strong reinforcement of how much attention Google is putting on local and local result quality (or perceived quality).

If you are a business owner who operates locally, say a real estate agent or insurance agent or really any other consumer-based service, then this presents a huge opportunity for you if you can harness the targeting and tracking ability available online.

Merging Offline Marketing with Online Marketing

A lot of small businesses or larger businesses that operate locally still rely quite a bit on offline advertising. It use to be that business owners had to rely on staff nailing down exactly how a lead came to them (newspaper ad? radio ad? special discount ad? and so on).

While it is still good practice to do that, relying solely on that to help gauge the ROI of your advertising campaign introduces a good amount of slippage and is not all that accurate (especially if you sell something online).

As local businesses start to see the light with SEO and PPC campaigns versus dropping 5 figures on phonebook advertising, a big selling point as a service provider or an in-house marketing staff member will be to sell the targeting of online campaigns as well as the tracking of those results.

If your a business owner, it’s equally important that you understand what’s available to you as an online marketer.

Types of Offline Advertising to Track

Locally, you are essentially looking at a few different types of advertising options to work into your new found zest for tracking results:

  • Radio
  • Television
  • Print
  • Billboards

Print is probably the most wide-ranging in terms of branches of advertising collateral because you can get into newspapers, magazines, flyers, brochures, banners, yellow pages, and so on.

While your approach may be different to each marketing type, the core tracking options are basically the same. You can track in your analytics program via:

  • Separate Domains
  • Custom URL’s
  • Custom Phone Numbers

The beauty of web analytics, specifically a free service like Google Analytics, is that it puts the power of tracking into the hands of a business owner at no cost outside of perhaps a custom set up and implementation by a competent webmaster. All of these tracking methods can be tracked in Google Analytics as well as other robust analytic packages (Clicky.Com as an example, is a reasonably priced product which can do this as well, save for maybe the phone tracking).

Structuring Your Campaigns

With the amount of offline advertising many businesses do, it is easy to get carried away with separate domains, custom URL’s, custom phone numbers, and the like.

What I usually like to do is use a good old fashioned spreadsheet to track the specific advertisements that are running, the dates they are running, and the advertising medium they are using. I also include a column or three for the tracking method(s) used (custom URL, separate domain, special phone number).

In addition to this, Google Analytics offers annotations which you can use to note those advertising dates in your traffic graph area to help get an even better idea of the net traffic effect of a particular ad campaign.

How to Track It

Armed with your spreadsheet of ads to track and notes on how you are going to track them, you’re ready to set up the technical side of things.

The tracking is designed to track the hits on your site via the methods mentioned, once they get there you’ll want to get that traffic assigned to a campaign or a conversion funnel to determine how many of the people actually convert (if you are able to sell or convert the visitor online).

Custom URL’s

A custom URL is going to be something like:

yoursite.com/save20 for an advert you might be offering 20% savings on
yoursite.com/summer for an advert you could offer a summer special on

You may or may not want to use redirection. You can use a redirect method if you are using something like a static site versus a CMS like WordPress. With WordPress, you could create those url’s as specific pages and just no-index them and ensure they are not linked to internally so you keep them out of the search engine and the normal flow of navigation. This way you know any visit to that page is clearly related to that offline campaign.

A redirect would be helpful where the above is not possible and you need to use Google’s URL builder to help track the campaign and not lose referral parameters on the 301.

So you could use the URL builder to get the following parameters if you were promoting a custom URL like yoursite.com/save20:

http://www.yoursite.com/savings.php?utm_source=save20&utm_medium=mail&utm_campaign=bigsave

Then you can head into your .htaccess file (Apache) and insert this code:

(should be contained on 1 line in your .htaccess file)

RewriteRule ^save20$ /savings.php?utm_source=save20&utm_medium=mail&utm_campaign=bigsave [L,R=301]

When you test, you should see those URL builder parameters on the landing page and then you know you are good to go :)

If you are worried about multiple duplicate pages getting indexed in the search results (with slightly different tracking codes) you can also leverage the rel=canonical tag on your landing page

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://site.com/folder/page/”/>

Separate Domains

Some companies use separate domains to track different campaigns. The idea is the same as is the basic code implementation with exception that you apply any redirect to the domain rather than a sub-page or directory off the domain as we did in the prior example.

So you sell snapping turtles (snappingturtles.com) and maybe you sell turtle insurance so you buy turtleinsurance.com and you want to use that as a part of a large campaign to promote this new and innovative product. You could get this from the url builder:

http://www.snappingturtles.com/?utm_source=national&utm_medium=all&utm_campaign=turtleinsurance

The .htaccess on turtleinsurance.com would look like:

(should be contained on 1 line in your .htaccess file)

RewriteRule .* http://www.snappingturtles.com/?utm_source=national&utm_medium=all&utm_campaign=turtleinsurance [L,R=301]

This would redirect you to the home page of your main site and you can update your .htaccess with a sub-page if you had such a page catering to that specific market.

Custom Phone Numbers

There are quite a few ways to get cheap virtual numbers these days and Phone.com is reliable service where you can get a number for roughly $4.88 per month.

I know companies that implemented custom numbers for a bunch of print ads and it was pretty eye-opening in terms of which as performed better than others and how much money is wasted on untargeted print campaigns.

There certainly is a somewhat intangible brand equity building component to offline ads but it is still interesting to see ads which carry their weight with traffic and response rates, as well as being really helpful when it comes time to reshape the budget.

Here are a couple handfuls of providers which offer phone tracking inside of Google Analytics. Most of these providers will require the purchase of a number from them to tie into a specific URL on your site or just right into the domain + help track those calls alongside the pageviews generated.

Some campaigns are wide-ranging enough to where you may want to target them with a custom number or two and a custom URL or domain. Using a spreadsheet to track these measures along with using Google Analytics annotations to gauge traffic spikes and drops offers business owners deep view into the use of their marketing dollars.

Custom Coupon Codes

If you run a coupon code through Groupon you of course know where it came from. But other channels are also becoming easier to track. Microsoft Office makes it easy to create & track custom coupon codes. There are even technologies to allow you to insert tracking details directly into coupon codes on your own website (similar to online tracking phone numbers via services like IfByPhone or Google’s call tracking). Some online coupons offer sophisticated tracking options, and Google wants to get into mobile payments to offer another layer of customer tracking (including coupons).

Finding a Reputable Provider

If you are a business owner who thinks “wow this is awesome, how the heck do I do it?”, well here is some advice. If the field of web analytics is mostly foreign to you I would suggest finding a certified Google Analytics provider or ask if your current web company can do this for you. Certainly there are plenty of competent people and companies that are not part of the Google Analytics partner program.

If you are interested in a Google Analytics partner you can search for them here. There is also quite a bit of information in the self-education section of Google Analytics.

I would recommend learning how to do this over a period of time so you can make minor or major changes yourself at some point. Also, it helps to establish a business relationship with someone competent and trustworthy for future tasks that may come up, which you cannot do on your own.

If you are a service provider, start implementing this for some of your local clients and you’ll likely be well on your way to establishing yourself as a sought-after marketer in your area.

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