One of the biggest challenges in digital marketing is measuring offline conversions from online marketing executions— and the muddled attributions that tend to follow. In our experience, 80% of online shoppers purchase lower-ticket items like clothing or electronics, but only 40% will actually purchase items like furniture or appliances online— showing us that consumers generally prefer buying big-ticket items in-store. So, how do retailers (particularly those that sell larger-ticket products) reconcile online advertising with in-store shopping— and how do they measure whether their online ads are actually translating to offline purchases?
Digital campaigns can appear daunting without an obvious means of tracking offline events from online ads.
Building a stronger affinity for online marketing requires trust in measurable results. Marketers need to see tangible proof that their ads are performing both online and offline. With recent developments and technology advancements, I want to outline how digital campaigns can track offline conversion/actions on Facebook or Google AdWords. For the purposes of this blog, I will use the furniture retail industry as an example since the majority of products are more expensive.
Overview: Tracking Platforms and What Can Be Tracked
Tracking online ad performance can be used in different ways in order to determine if an offline conversion was influenced by a digital ad.
Tracking offline conversions from online ads can be measured on:
- Google AdWords
Once properly set up, marketers can then:
- Track store visits
- Track offline purchases
- Track phone calls to the merchant from the consumer
The goal of offline tracking is to provide directional insights that help you evaluate the impact digital ads have on offline events, such as purchases, sign-ups, store visits, etc.
Once you’ve implemented this system properly, you’ll be able to determine the campaigns, ad groups, ads, keywords and/or messaging that are driving sales. More importantly, you can interpret this date to optimize your campaigns, target different audience segments or adjust your marketing strategy (if necessary).
Things to Consider Before Getting Started
Before learning about the various platforms available for offline tracking, consider the following tips to help you properly set up offline attribution:
- Determine a practical and meaningful conversion window. Some retailers will require shorter or longer conversion windows in order to fully comprehend a campaign’s impact. For example, larger big-box furniture retailers might leverage a shorter conversion window, since these warehouses might have high foot traffic.
- Choose one data set as your benchmark. If you truly want to measure conversion lift, you need to:
- Make sure you are using the same offline data set
- Ensure you aren’t making any significant changes to the campaign so you don’t throw a new variable into the mix.
For example, if a furniture marketer omitted a certain region or store one month, this excluded data would skew how conversions are assessed month to month.
- Make sure your internal key performance metrics (KPIs) are aligned with your attribution system from the onset, otherwise it’s difficult to fully understand the true impact of your online marketing campaigns. For example, furniture retailers need to measure KPIs such as transactions and in-store visits.
How Offline Conversion Tracking Platforms Work and Set Up
Once you have established the parameters above, you can implement the following blueprint for setting up Google and Facebook’s offline conversion platforms.
Google AdWords Offline Conversion Tracking
What you need in order to track offline conversions or events on AdWords:
- Imports, or offline data that is uploaded and transmitted through AdWord’s API
- Google AdWords account
In many cases, an AdWords ad is the first touchpoint of the customer journey. This ad could eventually lead a consumer to purchase a product, on or offline. For example, let’s assume a customer is served your ad; they click on it, peruse your website for a bit, and then maybe wait some time before ultimately purchasing the item. If a customer clicks on your AdWords ad, a unique Google Click Identifier called a “GCLID” is associated with the customer, and this information is passed between Google AdWords and Google Analytics.
In order to track offline conversions using Google, advertisers have to document each GCLID along with any other information collected on the user that clicked. In AdWords, if you enable URL auto-tagging, Google will add a unique GCLID parameter to each destination URL at runtime.
Once the user makes an offline purchase or conversion, the advertiser relays the GCLD back to AdWords in conjunction with details about the conversion that occurred. AdWords then archives this offline conversion, along with other conversion tracking data.
Consider this example: a furniture retailer executes a retargeting campaign against their target audience. Several weeks after they launch it, a consumer who has seen the ad clicks through to the website and requests a sales call, ultimately sharing his or her contact information. Eventually, this user visits the furniture store and makes a purchase.
At the end of the week, as the furniture retailer reviews its sales, they send the prospective consumer-turned-buyer’s conversion information (and respective GCLIDs) and date/time of the sale to AdWords. The aggregated data can then be analyzed in order to see which keywords, queries or ads are contributing to lead submissions, sales or phone calls.
According to Google AdWords support blog, advertisers might consider recording a conversion if any of the following occur:
- When they close a sale offline (for example, over the phone or in person) and track this sale in another sale, such as Salesforce
- 30 days after the online sale so you can exclude transactions that resulted in a return
- Only if the sale was made to a new customer
- Only if it is a customer’s 2nd purchase
Types of Offline Conversion Tracking in AdWords
There are two main steps in tracking conversions that start with a click (note: this setup differs from tracking offline conversions that start with a phone call). When setting up tracking for conversions that start with a click:
- Set up offline conversion tracking
- Import conversions into AdWords
The two types of offline conversion tracking in AdWords are:
- AdWords Conversion Import for Salesforce: If your business uses Salesforce’s Sales Cloud® to track leads and opportunities, Google lets advertisers import offline conversions from Salesforce into AdWords to track when new leads turn into customers.
- AdWords Conversion Import: AdWords Conversion Import allows advertisers to import conversions that are tracked in other programs/platforms into the AdWords interface for the broadest offline conversion tracking. This sanctions to advertisers import conversions that originated with an ad click or with a call from your ad.
For conversions that start with a phone call, AdWords can measure clicks-to-call from mobile ads, but not manually dialed calls from desktop ads. However, this setup does support any call you may receive from your website once someone clicks on a desktop ad. In order to implement phone call tracking, you must be able to:
- Receive calls in an eligible country with Google forwarding numbers
- Have call extensions or call-only ads
- Have a call tracking system in place that track the caller’s phone number, call start time and track when a calls leads to a conversion or action
How to Import Offline Conversion Data into AdWords (Source: AdWords support blog)
Step 1: Prepare your data for import
- Be sure not to remove the row that begins with “Google Click ID,” or your import will fail.
- Make sure your data doesn’t include additional columns or any personal information.
Step 2: Choose how to enter your timezone in the file
- If all of your conversion times are in the same time zone, set the time zone once in the “Parameters” row.
- If your conversion times are in different time zones, add the time zone to each conversion time. See the instructions and table under “Conversion Time” in step 3 below. If you don’t enter a time zone in the “Parameters” row, delete the “Parameters” row.
- Or, you can enter a time zone in both the “Parameters” row and the “Conversion Time.” “Conversion Time” will be used first, and if any conversion is missing the time zone, the “Parameters” value will be used.
- Use one of the following formats to enter the time zone: Enter your time zone ID from this list. This method is recommended to avoid errors during daylight savings time transitions.
- Enter your GMT offset by indicating + or – and then the 4 digit time difference. (For example, New York’s offset is -0500, and Berlin’s is +0100). If you use Greenwich Mean Time, then simply enter +0000.
Step 3: Add a new row for each offline conversion, filling in the columns as follows:
Google Click ID: the GCLID that led to the offline conversion. (If you haven’t already, follow the instructions to set up offline conversion tracking to learn how to get this.)
Conversion Name: the name of the conversion action (for example, “lead qualified” or “contract signed”). It’s important that you use the exact same spelling and capitalization that you did when you created this conversion action in your AdWords account.
Conversion Value: (optional field) a number representing the value that you place on the conversion. It could reflect a currency value, or you could simply choose to enter relative values of 0-10 (negative numbers are not accepted). If you leave this field blank, AdWords will automatically apply the “conversion value” that you defined in Step 2.8 when you created your new offline conversion action.
Conversion Currency: (optional field) the currency in which your conversion value is provided. You’ll use this if you report conversion values in more than one currency, or have multiple accounts that are billed in different currencies.
Conversion Time: the date and time that the conversion occurred. See the table below for a list of acceptable date formats (e.g. MM/dd/yyyy HH:mm:ss). You can add a time zone to the conversion time by using one of the last 4 formats listed. Replace “+z” with the GMT offset by indicating + or – and then the 4 digit time difference. (For example, New York’s offset is -0500, and Berlin’s is +0100). Or, replace “zzzz” with the time zone ID from this list.
Step 4: Import your conversions
To import your offline conversions to AdWords, you’ll need to upload your conversion file into your AdWords or manager (MCC) account. (Keep in mind, imported conversions can’t be removed once they’re imported.)
- In AdWords, click the Tools tab, and select Conversions. If you’re using a manager account, navigate to the upload page by clicking Conversions.
- In the menu on the left, click Upload.
- Click Choose file to locate the template you’ve filled out and saved with your offline conversions information.
- Click the Upload and preview or Upload and apply button.
- If you click “Upload and preview,” you’ll see a preview screen with the estimated changes. Click Apply changes to import the conversions into your account. (Keep in mind, there’s no “undo” option after this point.)
- If you click “Upload and apply,” the conversions will be imported into your account. (Keep in mind, there’s no “undo” option after this point.)
Facebook’s Offline Conversions API: Track Conversions for Offline Events
What you need in order to track offline offline conversions or events on Facebook:
- Facebook ad account
- Facebook Business Manager
- Offline conversion and event data: Offline actions are conversions that aren’t captured with the Facebook Pixel or App Events. You upload your offline event data to Facebook and connect an offline event data set to certain actions that can be attributed to your Facebook ads. Based on the customer identifiers and event names you upload, Facebook can match and measure offline actions by your target audience.
Once users are exposed to or interact with your Facebook ad, marketers can track when transactions occur in-store, over the phone and other offline channels through Facebook’s business platform. By matching offline data from your customer database (CRM) or point-of-sale system to your ad reporting, you get more well-rounded insights that can be used to assess advertising campaigns across Facebook, Instagram and Audience Network.
Similar to Google’s offline conversion tracking, Facebook allows merchants to configure their advertising accounts for offline conversion tracking. Then, offline conversion event data is sent to Facebook through their application programming interface (API). Lastly, Facebook’s intelligence isolates offline conversion events and correlates each event with Facebook users who viewed the merchant’s ads.
Since the majority of brands or merchants are running multiple online campaigns across several networks (about 80% of brands in 2014 ran multichannel or cross-channel campaigns), users have ample opportunity to be exposed to the merchant’s ad. That being said, being exposed to a brand’s Facebook ad doesn’t necessarily mean that ad was solely responsible (directly or indirectly) for an offline event or conversion.
Here, consistency is key. Establish an approach to analyzing offline conversion data; this can then be applied using Facebook’s Ads Insights API. Leveraging the Facebook API’s Breakdown and Breakdown Actions functionalities, brands have better insights into which customers viewed their Facebook ads and fulfilled a specific offline action goal.
For example, one of our furniture retailer clients was able to show that for every dollar of e-commerce revenue generated from Facebook ads, the brick-and-mortar store aggregated an additional $3.00. Over time, Facebook’s Offline Conversions API provides marketers with enough information and data on user behavior, which can then be used to confidently optimize investments.
The secret to successfully tracking offline conversions on Facebook is having really fine-tuned first party data information on consumers, including email address, phone number, first and last names, gender, etc. Facebook lets you upload up to 17 identifiers, which are the pieces of customer information that allow Facebook to accurately match (we’ve seen about an 80%-85% matching success rate). See the section below, “Third Party Data Integrations for Instant Access,” for further explanation.
Creating an Event Set in Offline Event Manager
In some cases, an event set might be automatically created and assigned to your ad accounts depending on which industry you’re in or the type of business you are. You can manage your offline events in the Offline Event Manager and can manipulate event set assignments and permissions in the Offline Event Sets segment under Business Manager Settings.
You must be an administrator on at least one Business Manager account in order to create offline event sets in Offline Event Manager. Follow these steps:
- In Business Manager, choose your business.
- In the drop down menu, choose Offline Events to go back to Offline Event Manager.
- Click Create Offline Event Set in order to make a new offline event set.
- Give the event set a name and descriptor, then click ‘Create.’
- Choose which ad accounts will be assigned to your event set for tracking, but note that all campaigns housed within the selected ad accounts will use the defined offline event set.
- If you choose to do so, you can enable Auto-Tracking for future campaigns.
- Lastly, grant business partners permission to access the Offline Event Manager.
Uploading Offline Events in Offline Event Manager
Before uploading offline event sets using Offline Event Manager, make sure that you have a Business Manager account and that someone within your business has the proper permissions to access the ad account associated with the offline event sets.
For each entry uploaded, there must be an Event Time in the form of a date or unix timestamp, and if you don’t have an exact time, use the following day’s date so all conversion attributions are accounted for. Furthermore, each entry is required to have a proper case-sensitive Event Name:
- Purchase, Lead, Other, ViewContent, Search, AddToCart, AddToWishList,InitiateCheckout, AddPaymentInfo, or CompleteRegistration
If you set up a purchase event, ensure that you’re including a Value and Currency field. You can choose zero as a Value, but this disables cost performance measurement and cost-based optimization features.
In order to upload offline events in Offline Event Manager, follow these steps:
- In the Business Manager drop-down menu, choose Offline Events > Offline Event Manager.
- Upload the specific offline event sets from the selection, or important event sets by clicking Upload Offline Events.
- Upload the data source file (.csv or .txt) by dragging and dropping it into the upload box, then name the upload.
- Facebook will then direct you to map your uploaded data to the corresponding identifiers and data types.
- Lastly, click Upload and keep your browser window open until the file is done uploading.
Third Party Data Integrations for Instant Access
Connecting campaign exposure data to offline events can help marketers understand which campaigns are generating the best return on investment (ROI), providing insight for optimizing campaign performance and justification for budgets adjustments or reallocations. However, not all marketers are equipped with the technical resources needed to integrate with Facebook’s Offline Conversions API. To that end, Facebook has established partnerships with data connectivity platforms that streamline the integration process.
You can also define up to four event descriptors (event names), including conversion goals like ‘purchase,’ ‘view content’ or ‘add to cart.’
Tracking Offline Conversions From Online Ads: A Case Study
Tracking Offline Conversions From Online Ads: A Case Study
One of our clients, a leading regional furniture retailer, is distinguished by its high-quality, affordable home furnishings. Our client wanted to advance its digital approach among the core target in order to establish an online ad presence, drive customers in-store and ultimately understand the value of digital marketing as a whole. They already had a formidable offline advertising presence on traditional channels, and with the help of Katana’s personalized direct marketing strategies, the client now has a strong online ad presence as well.
We split up our digital efforts by region into different ad groups, or ad sets. This has allowed us to tie store visits or purchases back to an individual ad and the city that the visit/transaction occurred.
Our implementation of offline tracking on Facebook and Google AdWords has proven to be extremely positive and impactful in measuring store visits and offline transactions. Within a 30-day window of implementing offline conversion tracking, we were able to identify:
- 26x the return on investment (ROI)
- $53 cost per purchase
Digital marketing campaigns for brands, especially those that sell bigger ticket items, are remiss without the use of offline conversion tracking. Assessing the efficacy of online ads, and their corresponding offline impact, solves a lot of the ambiguity that can surround a digital campaign.
Our recommendation is to amass several months of offline conversion tracking data before you confidently optimize campaigns. It’s hard to definitively find a relationship between cause and correlation. As a final note, I highly advocate for brands to pursue online advertising because we have found it to be an extremely successful marketing strategy for both our past and current clients.
Digital ads warrant cost-efficient scale, hyper targeting capabilities and better exposure to the emerging millennial demographic. Furthermore, proper offline tracking setup enables marketers to make advanced optimizations to enhance campaign performance and ultimately drive conversions!
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