September 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

Follow the Money

(Page 2 of 3)

The analytic data resulted in several changes to the retailer’s keyword campaign, Belkin says. “They had some keywords that absolutely were producing for them, but they had thought were not, so they had been taking money way from assets that were actually working for them. They’d been flying blind on 50% of their business,” he says.

Omniture’s system is one of number of ways analytics work to link the web to the call center to search campaigns. Retailers have used banks of phone numbers that are unique to designated, selected keywords to track results. Toshiba, for example, which in the past has manually managed about 50 toll-free numbers, is now working with Coremetrics on a system that will bring more automation to the process.

Automation is the only way a marketer looking to track a large keyword program could do so practically. But what happens when an online marketer has 10,000 or 20,000 keywords on both paid search engines? Even with automation, managing 40,000 unique toll free numbers would prove unwieldy. That’s an issue tackled by ClickPath, a web analytics provider whose system uses an algorithm to help shrink what might otherwise be the huge number of unique toll-free numbers needed to link a big keyword campaign to the call center into a smaller, more easily managed rotating pool.

Tracking popular keywords

“You might think that because you have 15,000 keywords on Google and 15,000 on Yahoo you need to have 15,000 toll free numbers on each engine to track those search campaigns to the call center. But we connect the call back to the keyword with a small pool of telephone numbers,” says Ted Carpenter, vice president of ClickPath, which is a unit of Who’s Calling Inc., a provider of telephonic sales lead management technology.

The hosted service tracks call center activity generated by campaigns where keywords number in the multiple thousands, without actually generating and tracking that same number of toll free numbers, by measuring the popularity of keywords in terms of how quickly and how often a keyword brings visitors to a site. Typically, says Carpenter, a small number of keywords in a large campaign will drive a very high percentage of the campaign’s traffic to the site. A larger number individually drive lower volume, but in the aggregate, account for substantial traffic.

As the analytics algorithm, with experience, begins to understand keyword popularity by measuring the volume of traffic the different terms bring in, it starts to dynamically generate telephone numbers from the pool for the most popular ones, and it inserts them into the web page on the site so they are visible to the users who came to that site through that keyword. The number, representing a call to action, stays visible to the user as he or she clicks through the site. Less popular keywords, when they actually do get a click and bring a searcher to the site, receive a dynamically generated number at that time from a rotation pool of phone numbers. After a keyword doesn’t get searched at all for a set amount of time, the toll-free number generated for it goes back into the pool for recycling and reuse.

Carpenter says that because users who come to the site through a paid search campaign and then contact the call center do so within the context of a unique toll free number, ClickPath can take that information and integrate it back into its web systems and match up those two interactions. “Then the web analytics portion of the product lets the site operator see all the calls that were made, and all the information surrounding those calls, with their online conversions,” he says.

ClickPath has yet to share any retailer’s experience with the system, which is a relatively recent launch, but a b2b client, payments processing equipment seller Merchant Warehouse, has been using it since January to track sales in its call center, where the majority of its sales are transacted, from people using the phone numbers dynamically generated through its online campaigns. Within the first week, Merchant Warehouse saw which keywords were performing and which weren’t, and it cut spending on underperforming terms, reallocating the funds to campaigns that were generating calls, which its model defines as conversion. By consistently identifying and spending on the keywords with the highest value and the lowest cost, the company cut its keyword costs by 75% over six months.

The elusive store information

Carpenter says one place he sees the system having application in online retail is where items have a high dollar value or are a high- consideration purchase, such as a home entertainment system. “We’ve got this swell of the Baby Boom generation that is used to using the phone,” he says. “For such purchases, they’re not about to forsake that for a strictly online transaction.”

While the analytics technology exists to track customers’ web search activity out to call centers, tracking the effects of online search out to store purchases remains more elusive. Consumers can shop anonymously in the retail environment, and in that situation, there’s no telling what advertising or marketing effort may have driven them into the store.

Online coupons for store redemption are one way to tie customers to campaigns, but they don’t always provide a complete view because customers who visit the store as the result of an online campaign don’t always remember to redeem the coupon. Loyalty or membership programs that provide ongoing benefits such as points or discounts to members afford analytics another opportunity to track the offline behavior of customers who are also online. In fact, Recreational Equipment Inc. has become so proficient at tracking members’ behavior across channels that it now purchases keywords for their ability to influence offline purchases as well their ability to generate conversions online, according to Forrester’s Chatham.

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