When banners started appearing on the Internet, it seemed to be a marketeer’s wet-dream. We can finally measure! The click became king, the magic gauge with which an advertising message could be judged. So much better than TV, a poster or a double-spread in a magazine…

Fast-forward a decade or so and the dream now looks more like a measurement nightmare. Most advertisers have more-or-less managed to properly measure clicks. However, what happens post-click is still a mystery to most people. This is because it turns out that online advertising only solved a small part of the puzzle of “how much do I get back if I spend $X here?” As a higher percentage of spend migrates online, this becomes ever more important to get right.

So, what are the problems?

Here are a series of scenarios for what happens when someone hits a website:

  1. They look at what is on offer and then buy something, register or make an online enquiry.
  2. They are interested and call the phone number on the site.
  3. They look around, don’t interact with anything and decide to come back later.
  4. They don’t like what they see and go, never to return.

The first one is great as we can measure that. The rest are a lot less fun. Phone calls can be attributed using specific inbound phone numbers which is linked in with proper call-centre CRM – hardly anyone is doing this yet.

People that come back later might do so in a number of ways, which ones will be attributed to the ad which originally brought them to the site?:

  • They click at work and then come back to the site at home to make a purchase or research more. NO
  • The are browsing on their iPad and then decide to get a quote on their desktop computer. NO
  • They return after 30 days (which is a time period too many people use as the ‘normal’ cookie length which will remember the original source). NO
  • They search for the name of the company in Google, click on it (or an in-page ad for the company). NO (mostly, but this does depend on whether a complex attribution model is being applied).
  • They have bookmarked the page, come back within 30 days on the same computer and then fill in a quote form. YES (if the tracking worked properly).

All of this means that most businesses assessing their online advertising effectiveness are probably not filling in the spreadsheets properly.

The dirty secret of online marketing?

Most advertisers have a significant percentage of new business for which they have no idea where the lead actually originated. They are credited to the company’s own website or – in many cases – to Google, as this is now the gateway to all websites for many (typing in full web addresses or using bookmarks are both becoming less and less common).

To put this in perspective, a company reviewing online spending without correct data risks cutting the activity which has been delivering new customers. They will not know why sales dip afterwards, but I guess you can always blame ‘market conditions’ or ‘seasonality’ and hope it goes away…

How to fix? Let’s start by measuring calls from online campaigns.