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Businesses of all shapes and sizes are slowly coming round to online marketing and its benefits.

However, since the beginning of the global recession in 2008 the need to justify every penny spent on marketing has become more and more important as businesses try to claw back profit margins and reduce overheads.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) has for many businesses become one of the main focuses of their online marketing strategy.

Businesses are now investing tens of thousands of pounds into the industry every year, pushing the need for better analytical tools and more insight into ROI.

But how much do you really know about your search marketing campaigns?

The relationship between online search advertising and online sales can be easily quantified, but how many online searchers convert offline, under the radar of your powerful analytics tools?

In some industries it is estimated that up to 43% of conversions take place over the phone and 65% of businesses consider the phone to be the best source of leads thanks to the quality it drives. (ConStat Commerce Monitor Wave XIII). 

Measuring the success of an SEO campaign is not always easy, especially when you are trying to report on and explain the benefits to your superiors/Board of directors.

If your product or services is a ‘considered purchase’ or one which is complex and requires any customisation, you may find that your online conversion data won’t accurately reflect the sales or number of leads your SEO work is actually generating. If you are relying on online analytics alone - frankly you’re doing yourself an injustice.

It’s good to talk 

So common is the problem with consumers who search online and do not convert via e-commerce that Google has an acronym for it: ROPO (people who ‘research online but purchase offline’). 

Consider for example you sell display stands B2B. You may sell products online via your e-commerce platform, but a significant proportion of customers are likely to want to speak with you on the phone about their specific requirements.

If those telephone customers have come via an organic search, your business is likely not to be tracking this or attributing it to your active SEO work. 

Without clever systems in place, keeping track of all inbound calls across all your salespeople is extremely hard. Human error prevails here and it’s likely even if your sales team should be asking how people hear about you - they probably aren’t in every instance. 

In this scenario analytics alone won’t be much use to you in the justification of a yearly SEO budget. You need to be making sense of customer’s behaviour offline by measuring phone conversions as well as your online conversions.

Empirical data will help you convince your CEO that investment in search is, and was, the right thing to do. 

The solution:  accurately measure success in real time

A number of seriously clever call tracking tools exist to help resolve your problems with attribution by accurately measuring offline conversions and ultimately providing insight into the return from your investment from all online advertising, be it SEO or paid search. 

Innovative tools (such as AdInsight) can help track what keywords are causing people to pick up the phone and ring you. This insight will inform your decision on what keyword’s to target, give you new ideas for keyword expansion (e.g. common misspellings) and perhaps even suggest which terms you might want to purposely not optimise for in the future. 

The system tracks every call by assigning a unique number to each visitor on your site at any given time. The telephone number dialled will give the business a view on what each customer searched, what source they came from and what their behaviour was onsite.

This information can be used to make changes to your site to make it more conversion friendly, fixing any page with high exit rates and the lessons learned from organic traffic can help shape your paid campaigns too. 

To set it up is relatively simple; you implement a short bit of code around your onsite telephone numbers and the tool dynamically generates unique numbers in your styling which are displayed to the visitor. 

The backend systems are even cleverer and more intuitive. The high levels of possible customisation available mean you can create the system around your business’ needs and your personal sales processes. If you are really in to the psychology of sales for example, call tracking systems can deliver a ‘call whisper’.

Less sinister than it sounds, a call whisper lets your call handlers know what keyword a customer used online to find you. This keyword can then be used in the first few minutes of the call to cement in the customers mind that they have come to the right place and encourage a sale. 

Other helpful features include call recordings (giving you an audit trail and training tool), and missed call messages. Therefore if you miss a call the tracking tool will ensure you have the telephone number of the customer on record so you can call them back. 

Most importantly, in my opinion, the systems allow you to track the value of a sale completed offline. This gives you clear insight into which keywords generate the largest or most profitable orders and can help you allocate your SEO (and PPC) budgets more effectively. 

Centralising intelligence

No busy marketing or digital manager wants a host of different analytics to contend with. If your data is all over the place it’s less impactful.

These tools allow you to merge the offline tracking with your existing Google Analytics data meaning that you can pull monthly reports seamlessly from one place while still accurately measuring offline conversions.

Equally, if you rely on a CRM system like Salesforce, the more developed tools will integrate your data here too ensuring all systems work in unison. 

So why don’t more people track their calls?

The honest answer is I don’t know. Personally I don’t feel the cost of such tools is prohibitive at all, it’s remarkably cheap: usually comprising a small monthly licence fee and a pence rate per minute for the inbound calls.

The costs of the service are nothing when compared with the value and ROI derived from having access to the data they provide. 

In summary

Many clients are amazed at how much business offline is generated online. While call tracking is not a new innovation; so many businesses I meet are not clued up about its many advantages and even fewer actually use it.

It surprises me that businesses with high value, or considered purchase products for sale are not more concerned about tracking offline ROI from their marketing campaigns. Whether it’s online advertising or even some more traditional types of advertising like outdoor you want to measure, call tracking tools can be invaluable. 

On a practical note, proper use of call tracking will add value to your campaigns, helping you justify your budgets, increase the number of conversions you get from your existing budget and identify any weak areas of your SEO keyword strategy that could be cut to make your budget go further each month. 

If you are investing significant time and money on SEO or allocating big budgets to pay per click advertising then I can’t stress how useful this insight is for your reporting.

It will open your eyes to what activity search marketing is actually directly creating, and make you look like a hero to the Board of Directors when you can show that the search marketing activity you proposed is actually delivering significantly more ROI than you first thought. 

Jimmy McCann

Published 29 October, 2012 by Jimmy McCann

Jimmy McCann is Head of SEO at Search Laboratory and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can connect with him on Google+

6 more posts from this author

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Michael Charalambous

This is an excellent post. It's amazing the amount of companys that have websites and still do not have SEO as a tactic.

over 3 years ago

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Mike van der Heijden

Thanks for the article Jimmy. It's suprising how many businesses do not yet see the value of online marketing.. especially in Australia!

over 3 years ago

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Ian Gregory

Nice work on the post. Don't forget though about other offline channels such as the high street stores. I'd go as far as to suggest that it's almost impossible to track the true "halo" effect of your online marketing efforts. Some research I was part of for google a couple of years ago identified that 90% of people researched online before making a purchase. 50% of this group then went on to make a purchase through an offline channel. This gives some insight into the ropo effect but this will vary by industry and product.

over 3 years ago

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Freddy Aurso

Very good post! Marketing is becoming increasingly technical, and it seems like companies fail to recognize that they need to do more than invest in tracking technology. They actually need to learn how to use it as well..

over 3 years ago

Paul Walsh

Paul Walsh, Founder & CEO at Infinity Call Tracking

Good article Jim,

A note for readers that you should also be looking to track what happens post call. CRM integration with call tracking is the holy grail.

Contact Infinity Tracking to find out more.

over 3 years ago

John Romaine

John Romaine, Director at Works Media SEO

Interesting.

I just stumbled across this article and noticed the publication date. I run an SEO agency and am beginning to see a trend with business owners moving away from SEO and gravitating towards social media.

about 1 year ago

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