September 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Follow the Money

Analytics tools jump channels in a quest to measure keyword value offline

Not long ago, direct marketers might have waited three to six months before they knew if an advertising campaign was producing desired results. But that was before e-commerce, sponsored search engine marketing, and most significantly, analytic software that captures information on how many consumers click on and look at an online listing, and which listings lead to the most sales.

The rise of web analytics meant that marketers who paid for a high position on a given keyword on a given search engine could now figure out the value of that keyword investment in terms of its return in conversions. Able to calculate return and plan marketing spending with a new level of precision, it wasn’t long before marketers started thinking beyond what happened offline, and about how analytics could be used to track customer behavior that originates with an online search all the way out to where most retail sales are transacted: in the call center or in stores.

A good starting point

New generations of web analytics are seeking to answer that question. “You can look at what people view on the web site, and what they ultimately end up purchasing. You can track if a keyword leads to an offline purchase of an item associated with the keyword. That is indicative of the kinds of capabilities people will ultimately be building,” says Forrester Research Inc. analyst Bob Chatham. “Web analytics is a good starting point for the profile of that kind of information.”

Staples Inc. has a wealth of transactional data on what customers buy online, from its catalog and in its stores. With a recent launch of Coremetrics Inc.’s LIVE profile system, which captures customer-specific online behavior over time, Staples aims to boost its integration of transactional behavior with customer behavior data for more insight into what online campaigns do to drive activity across channels. “We are working on the ability to see that a searcher came in off Google to the web site, for example, looked at a product, didn’t buy it then but walked into the store later to purchase it and put it on their Staples reward card. You want to be able to attribute those sales appropriately for the lead- generating entity,” says Colin Hynes, director of usability as Staples.

But as Hynes himself says, it’s still a challenge to stitch that cross-channel information together. As a first step beyond measuring the profitability of a search campaign solely in terms of direct conversions off a keyword, some companies are starting by seeking to quantify the value of keywords that produce conversions which lag the initial click on a search listing. Capturing these conversions, though they may happen days or weeks later, provides a more accurate assessment of keyword value. Some analytics packages can track such latent ROI, and some marketers are putting them to work. Such information can present the value of keywords in an entirely new light.

Matt Belkin, vice president of the best practices group at hosted analytics provider Omniture Inc., offers an example. “Say our company buys the term, ‘web analytics’ for our lead generation site, Omniture.com,” he says. “If we measure a click-though rate of 1%, that is a pretty bad click-through rate, so based on that, we might decide to stop bidding on ‘web analytics.’ But we really have no visibility as to whether that click-through eventually generates leads and revenue for us.”

The next level

Taking it to the next level would mean using analytics to measure the searcher’s behavior beyond the initial click, but still within the same user session. If searchers who did click through on “web analytics” view information on the site but leave without taking any action, the keyword has produced a click, but no conversion, and signs still point to an unsuccessful keyword campaign. Configure analytics to capture multi-session information, by customer-which Omniture’s SiteCatalyst tool does by means of cookies or other assigned identifiers-and a different view of the term’s marketing value emerges.

If a searcher clicks through on the keyword, returns seven days later and fills out an online request for further information, the keyword has ultimately resulted in a conversion. “Because we measure multiple sessions we can say that although it took seven days instead of happening in the initial session, the keyword has generated a lead for us,” says Belkin. Marketers in the search arena managing keyword investment to a targeted ROI typically aim for a target in excess of 10 times return on an average spend, he adds. “With this kind of visibility you can much more effectively manage your marketing dollars,” he adds.

Belkin grants that though it represents best practice, multi- session tracking and measurement is still in its infancy among online retailers. But if capturing the value of a click across more than one session more accurately quantifies the value of a keyword, it stands to reason the picture would become even clearer if search marketers could also measure any activity the keyword drives in the call center when searchers jump from the web to the toll free number displayed on the site. Some marketers are using analytics to do that as well, but the cross-channel link-up is more challenging than tracking activity that occurs online only.

A unique number

One Omniture customer, an online furniture retailer, knew that while browsing its web site played a critical role in the selection process, 50% of its business actually closed in its call center. To capture the web-to-phone crossover-and ultimately, the true vale of the keywords that brought searchers to the web site-Omniture established a unique user ID number for every visitor who entered the site that was tied to the keyword and the search engine that brought them to the site, then to the call center. The number appeared on the page when the visitor first entered the site and stayed with the visitor throughout the session. When a web visitor called the retailer’s call center, it was built into the call center agent’s script to ask for the unique customer number. The number was then fed back into Omniture’s SiteCatalyst analytics tool to close the loop and link any call center sale back to the keyword that led the visitor to the site.

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