Bernard May is the CEO of National Positions, a 5-time Inc. 500 company, award-winning marketing agency and Google Premier Partner.
We’re all too familiar with the importance of tracking conversions — that is, monitoring newsletter signups, video plays, website purchases and other customer actions that can be analyzed to fine-tune your marketing funnel. All those activities that impact your bottom line, even if they do not immediately lead to a sale.
However, there’s a major problem with conversion tracking, at least in the way it is traditionally practiced — as an online-only phenomenon that fails to account for offline conversions.
Even in our growing digital society, there is still a large portion of consumer activity that takes place outside the digital domains of the laptop and the smartphone. People are still making purchases via traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
In many cases, they end up calling or visiting these places because of an enticing online ad or thanks to a search that began online. However, because these sales are completed offline, they tend not to be counted in conversion data or applied to attribution statistics. This leaves marketers with an incomplete picture of the effectiveness of their ad campaigns in the online world.
The solution to this information gap is to embrace the power of offline conversion tracking (OCT). Properly implemented, OCT can exponentially increase the efficacy of your overall marketing strategy, and any business owner who maintains a storefront out in the “real world” can’t afford to ignore it.
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A Common Conversion Scenario
Let’s say John Q. Public is online one day when he sees a clickable ad promoting a brand-new product for sale at a local retail store. The product — a bag of hammers — is exactly the sort of accessory John needs for the well-appointed garage in his suburban home. Within seconds, he commits to purchasing the bag of hammers. There are multiple ways this transaction can proceed, including:
1. He can click through the ad, which will send him to the retailer’s online storefront, where he can purchase the item and have it delivered to his door for a small fee.
2. He can call the retailer’s phone number to ask a few questions about the product. If he gets the answers he seeks, he’ll go ahead and place an order over the phone.
3. He can drive to the retailer’s brick-and-mortar storefront — it’s right next to the post office, where he needs to go anyway — and buy the product in person.
Option #1 is the classic online conversion. The retailer will be able to detect that John arrived at the online storefront after clicking on the ad, and then purchased the product during the same virtual visit.
But what about Options #2 and #3? Either of those conversions could be directly attributed to the ad John saw online, but there’s no way to link the viewing of the ad to the later sale. That means you, the marketer, are robbed of a key piece of information relating to the reach and effectiveness of your ad.
There is a way around this roadblock, though. Both Facebook and Google Ads give marketers some useful tools for tracking offline conversions.
Offline Conversions in Facebook
How can Facebook detect whether a customer has made an offline conversion? Technically, it can’t — not without some legwork on your part.
You need to collect some personally identifiable information from the customer at the point of sale — name, phone number and email address, with the last-named element being the most critical for our purposes here. This is a practice you should be following anyway, but it’s vital if you want to get Facebook offline conversions to work.
After you collect this data, you simply upload it to Facebook. From there, Facebook will try to determine three key pieces of information:
• Whether the customer has a Facebook account.
• Whether the customer ever saw your ad on the platform.
• Whether the customer saw the ad within a specified period of time.
If all three conditions are met, then you can count the sale as an offline conversion. You’ll need to create an offline event set in Facebook’s Events Manager before you begin uploading data. Also, it is important to remember that offline conversions are ongoing. Therefore, this offline data should be fed back to Facebook continuously to ensure the greatest benefits. I recommend feeding back this data daily for optimum benefits.
Offline Conversions in Google Ads
Things are a little more difficult when it comes to getting Google Ads to track offline conversions. As with Facebook, Google Ads requires you to capture and upload certain personally identifiable data in order to record your offline conversions accurately. However, you also need to obtain a GCLID (Google Click Identifier), the tracking parameter appended to your Google Ads URLs.
There are several ways you can generate a GCLID. One is to set up a Google forwarding number that can be used in your Google Ads. This ensures that phone-based conversions will be assigned an appropriate GCLID and tracked in your customer relationship management (CRM) system. Auto-tagging needs to be enabled for this feature to work.
Another way is to store the GCLID data that is generated when someone clicks on an ad from your website. If the customer later generates an offline conversion, you’ll be able to link it to the relevant GCLID. You can then upload this information via spreadsheet to your Google Ads account.
The Google site has more information on offline conversion imports, and I’ve personally found that it’s well worth the time to study the topic in more depth.
The specific method you employ in tracking offline conversions isn’t as important as ensuring that you do it, one way or another. Otherwise, you simply won’t have the full range of information needed to evaluate how your ads are performing out in cyberspace. As marketers and businesses owners, we owe it to ourselves to add this critical offline data to make our campaigns, our clients and overall investment that much more profitable.
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Author: Bernard May, Forbes Councils Member