Making the Call – Attributing phone sales to paid search

One of the more difficult measurements for online marketers is the contribution of online campaigns to phone sales. Often times retailers promote considered purchases, with consumers needing the security of talking to a “live” person before purchasing. In the case of service organizations or B2B companies, the phone is the easiest and often the only/best way to complete a sale. Yet, with the performance-based nature of search marketing, paid search return is often only calculated on transactions that can be directly derived from that transaction occurring on the site (i.e. customer conducts and completes a sale online). What is often ignored is how search plays into driving inbound sales calls. Even though the transaction is ultimately closed offline, it may have started with a click on a search ad. These sales (or at least a portion of) should be attributed paid search.

But how? This can be achieved in a many ways – some more exact than others. But using one of the few methods should provide you with enough guidance to understand the impact of phone sales on your paid search ROI. Here they are (in order of accuracy):

Ask the visitor:

Often time this is overlooked as an option, but simply having your call center team ask the visitor if they found you by Google, Yahoo or MSN should provide you with some indication of where your traffic/sales is coming from. Many marketers struggle with getting this information provided back, but this can definitely work, especially with smaller web sites that only have a few folks taking phone orders.

Turn off your paid search campaigns for a few weeks:

While this is NOT RECOMMENDED, this is a fairly straight-forward way of determining the impact the loss of paid search would have on your phone sales. Although probably not realistic for most sites, we have actually seen this technique used to settle disagreements between SEO and PPC teams about the impact of paid search on how paid search and natural search work together. The impact was clear, not only to the SEO team, but also the call center.

Apply a percent of overall orders:

Determine the percentage of overall orders your phone sales make up and apply that percentage to your paid search campaigns. For example, if your site get 100 orders in a month and 20 came from the phone, apply at 20% bump to your search orders revenue.

Apply a percent of overall traffic:

Determine the percentage of traffic paid search drives to your site and attribute that amount of orders/sales to your paid search campaign. For example, if paid search drove 15% of your overall traffic, take 15% of your phone orders and attribute that to paid search.

Compare geographic data:

Assuming you are using some type of web analytics tool (if not, get Google Analytics on your site ASAP. It’s free and very easy to install), you have a good indication of where your search traffic is coming from. See if there is a correlation of location source of traffic and location source of calls/orders. If you see that 20% of your orders come from a specific state, and your paid search campaigns are driving a good amount of traffic from that area, some assumptions about the source of those orders can be made. Although not precise, you can evaluate

Use unique phone numbers:

This technique takes some technical integration, but can be very valuable. Set up your site to identify the referrer and/or cookie of a visitor. If determined that the visitor came from paid search, you can display a unique phone number and track calls/sales through that number. Use one number for all paid search traffic, or if you need further segmentation, use a different number for each engine. There are a number of lower cost service providers that provide call tracking (ex.Voicestar) and may be worth a look. Typically they can manage all of your unique numbers and provide some useful reporting.

Include unique tracking code on site:

A tactic that has been used by direct mailers for years, you can include a unique code at the bottom of every page that is derived from a visitors cookie. Like the unique phone number approach described above, this technique would assign a code to a visitor (cookie or session ID) based on where they came from. This takes some technical know-how but can be very effective, especially in helping your call center identify these visits for you. Your phone team can simply ask a user to scroll to the bottom of any page and the code provided can be captured.

Our team at Lever Interactive used this technique for through a combination of JavaScripts and a customized code for each visitor based on the source and medium of their first click. The first script we created checks to see if the visitor has been to the site prior while the second script reads the new cookie and writes a code visible to the website viewer. The code visible to the viewer is a two part code consisting of a letter for the source and a three digit code for the medium. By using this technique, Lever was able to attribute a large portion of phone orders to the appropriate source and medium and was able to gain insights into the relation between keywords and products purchased via phone orders. This information allowed Lever to use different techniques to significantly improve’s conversion rate.

Below is a snapshot of the code for This is the code after clicking through a paid search ad:

Tracking phones sales to paid search is not easy, but hopefully applying one of the methods above will give you better insight into the true cost and benefit of paid search.

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