Why You Need to Track (the right) Conversions in Your Direct Response Digital Advertising

Why You Need to Track (the right) Conversions in Your Direct Response Digital Advertising

15th July 2015

If your main success metric for your direct response digital ads is how much traffic you’re getting, the cost per click, bounce rate, or even click through rate, you NEED to read this.

It might sound obvious to many of you reading this, but I never cease to be amazed at the amount of advertisers not using conversion tracking, or focusing on the wrong metrics when evaluating the success of their direct response advertising campaigns.

I’m not saying that traffic, CTR, CPC, bounce rate etc aren’t important metrics, but they’re ‘micro metrics’. They’re nice to keep an eye on, and they can indicate when areas of your campaigns could be improved, but they’re not going to make you the big bucks, which is ultimately what most clients / bosses are looking for!

Putting too much focus on these micro metrics without using conversion tracking is like playing football and counting how far you run during the game, rather than how many goals you score. All the while your competitors are getting richer and richer because they are counting the goals they are scoring!

Clicks do not correlate well with business results

Nielsen have conducted extensive research which concluded that clicks do not correlate well with business results, and Facebook’s own study below illustrates this too:

 “You may be thinking, “Even though clicks may not capture most of the value, maybe they are still our best proxy for online conversions.” Well, we looked at that specifically for a major US fundraising campaign. Here we break out the incremental value by demographic. Clicks per person are in red and incremental donations are in blue. If we just optimized for clickers, we’d be going after the 65+ set. Instead, the highest incremental value came from males 35-54, even though these people didn’t click as much.” – Facebook.


This study showed how the users who clicked Facebook ads most, weren’t actually the ones that donated the most. The same concept could be applied to ecommerce ads where the users who click ads most aren’t necessarily the ones spending the most. It can even apply to offline conversions where the audiences generating the largest level of clicks aren’t actually the ones who go onto your store and buy your products or enquire at your office.

All of this emphasises how focusing on and optimising for clicks, cost per click, or click through rate can be misleading.

Conversion Tracking Types

As AdWords, Bing Ads, Facebook, and Twitter are the most common online advertising platforms used for direct response ads, this post will share all the different types of conversion tracking functions you could be using to really determine if your advertising is effective.

Offline Conversion Tracking

This is the most common type of conversion tracking missing from online advertising campaigns, because advertisers aren’t aware it’s possible. Naturally we can’t yet track everything offline and relate it back to our online advertising, but this is an area of the industry that is advancing at a really fast pace.

Facebook Offline Conversion Tracking

Facebook’s offline conversion tracking allows advertisers using Custom Audiences to upload hashed data (emails, phone numbers, addresses and encrypted transaction information), and then have Facebook match it to their own database. The result is aggregated data about the purchase behaviour of those who viewed Facebook ads and those who didn’t. You can then see the conversion uplift your ads create offline and assign your budgets accordingly! To get this set-up you’ll need to speak directly with your Facebook rep.

AdWords Offline Conversion Import

Businesses such as car sales companies, where the final conversion usually happens offline, will find AdWords offline conversion import is a game-changer!

It requires the work of a developer to implement, but essentially it works like this:

  1. Someone clicks your AdWords, lands on your site, and submits an enquiry form. In the car dealer example it could be to request a test drive or ask for more information
  2. When they submit the enquiry form, there is a hidden field which recalls their unique click identifier number (GCLID) that every AdWords click is assigned
  3. The data from your form is automatically imported into your CRM system, including this GCLID
  4. When you finally close a sale offline, be it by phone or in person, you log this within your CRM system
  5. At the end of the month, you export all the closed sales from your CRM with their GCLID number
  6. You upload this data in a spreadsheet to the AdWords interface
  7. AdWords match the GCLID number with the click that it originated from, including the keyword, ad and all the normal conversion data you’d expect

You can now see which of the online enquiries you received actually resulted in closed sales, and optimise for these as a priority. The data even allows you to see what time of day the click that resulted in the sales occurred, so you can make scheduling bid adjustments based on when the clicks that lead to real sales actually happen.

This type of offline conversion tracking has the advantage of being able to attribute sales right down to the very keyword that started them, rather than being based on an aggregate result like Facebook’s offline conversion tracking. It also requires the user to complete at least one online conversion before the sale closes offline too, which is something that Facebook doesn’t require.

Learn more about AdWords Offline Conversion Import here.

Call Tracking

Third Party Call Tracking

If phone calls are essential to your business, call tracking is something you shouldn’t be without.

Although not specific to any particular advertising platform, call tracking from companies such as Infinity allow you to track what traffic course a user came from if they call your site. They even go into as much depth as being able to tell you the exact keyword from your PPC campaign that triggered the click and resulted in the phone call. This makes them fantastic for attributing phone call conversions to the exact campaign element they came from.

The benefit of this kind of call tracking is that it covers all your traffic sources, whether it be direct, paid organic, referral or anything else!

AdWords Website Call Conversions

Not to be confused with counting call extensions as conversions, website call conversions allows you to place a small snippet of code around the phone number on your website, and then when a user clicks through from an AdWords ad on a mobile device and chooses to click the number on your website and call, it will be tracked as a conversion.

You can learn how to implement AdWords website call conversions here.

The limitations of this tracking is that it only works on traffic which arrived at your site via AdWords, whereas third party call tracking will work on all traffic sources. It’s also a good idea to be aware that this works by displaying a Google Forwarding Number which is a dynamic number that appears differently for every user that lands on the page via PPC. The number can be a bit strange looking as it doesn’t have a local area code, so this could potentially discourage users from calling because they could be concerned about call changes. To reduce the likelihood of this I’d recommend writing on your website next to the number that it is a free-phone number (if your number is free-phone) or a local call charge rate.

AdWords Call Extension Tracking

Since the introduction of Enhanced campaigns a couple of years ago, you’ve been able to track any calls generated by AdWords Call Extensions as conversions. This is handy, but it’s not as comprehensive as website call conversions or third party call tracking as it only tracks clicks from call extensions on your ads, not even calls from users clicking a number on your website. Unlike website call conversions, it does work across desktop and tablet, not just mobile.

To set these up just set up your call extensions and choose ‘Use a Google Forwarding Number’ where you’ll get the option to choose how long the call needs to last to be counted as a conversion.

Ecommerce Conversion Tracking

If you’re an ecommerce shop, you’re probably well aware that the most important thing you should be tracking is your sales. But simply tracking the number of sales isn’t adequate enough with the ecommerce tracking options available today.

It’s essential to also be pulling in the basket value (conversion value / review) of each transaction so you can get clever with your optimisation. It’s also important because ultimately the number of transactions a campaign is generating might not be equal to the revenue it’s generating, as seen in the Facebook donations example earlier in this post.

You might be thinking, ‘but I tag and track all my traffic in Google Analytics and I can see the revenue it generates in there’, but it’s still important to track revenue in the individual ad platforms you use if possible, as each Google Analytics and each of these platforms can have discrepancies between data or use different attribution models. By tracking revenue in the ad interface it allows you to get a more balanced view of what is happening and it also means you can optimise for conversion value directly within the ad interface, which gives you more functionality in most cases, rather than referring back and forth to Google Analytics.

AdWords Conversion Tracking

In AdWords the best way to get revenue data in the interface is by setting up Google Analytics Ecommerce tracking and then import this into Google AdWords in the same way you’d import a normal Google Analytics goal into AdWords. Choose the goal called ‘Transactions’.

Facebook Ecommerce Conversion Tracking

By customising the code of the standard Facebook conversion tracking pixel you can dynamically pull-in the conversion value of each transaction.

There are instructions on how your developer can do this here and here.

Twitter Ecommerce Conversion Tracking

Twitter works in the same way as Facebook for ecommerce conversion tracking and requires some code customisation which you can find instructions for here.

Bing Ads

Bing Ads conversion tracking can also pull in the basket value of your conversions with some code customisation. Instructions can be found here.

Page View Conversions

The most traditional type of conversion tracking is page view conversions, where your advertising platform provides you with some code to place on the final confirmation page after a conversion has taken place. This code then counts a conversion each time the final confirmation page is viewed.

This kind of conversion tracking is great if you’re counting contact form submissions, enquiries, downloads or anything else which is a straight forward action resulting in the user seeing the final conformation page.

When you set this type of conversion up in AdWords, there’s also an option to set a value for the conversion. To decide what your value should be I’d recommend doing the following:

  1. Work out how many form submissions you get from the site via PPC (for this example we’ll say 100 per month)
  2. How many of those submissions actually result in closed sales? (for this example we’ll say 10)
  3. What is the average monetary value of those closed sales? (for this example we’ll say £500)
  4. If you make 10 sales per month from PPC, generating £500 per sale, this is a total of £5,000 revenue per month, but you need to generate 100 form submissions to make this, so the average value of a form submission is £50 (£5,000 / 100).

It’s a good idea to allocate some value to form submissions even if it’s a rough estimate as it gives a nice indication and reminder of how many conversions you need to get to be profitable.

To set up this conversion tracking in AdWords choose ‘website’ as the conversion type, following the instructions here. For Facebook, instructions can be found here. With Facebook you need to make sure you associate the pixel with every ad you create each time you create it, by ticking the conversion tracking box next to the ad and selecting the pixels you’d like the ad to track. This is unlike AdWords where all campaigns, ad groups, and ads track all conversions in the account automatically as long as the conversion has been set up once.

For Twitter instructions can be found here, and Bing ads instructions can be found here.

App Conversions

As app usage slowly cannibalises the time users used to spend using the internet on their phone in other ways, it’s essential to track any valuable actions users might be taking on your app, as well as installs of your app (depending on your advertising objectives).

If you’re looking to measure installs as a result of Facebook app advertising, you’ll need to work with a Facebook Measurement Company using the Facebook DSK. The same is required for measuring in-app activity.

For AdWords app installs and in-app actions, you can find android instructions here and iOs instructions here.

Twitter app tracking for iOs can be found here and Android instructions are here.

Button Click Conversions

Don’t have a final confirmation page URL to track? No problem, you can track button clicks with Google Analytics Event Tracking and goals, which can then be imported into AdWords.

Event Tracking works by placing code around the button on your page, which contains labels for the action that has been taken, which Google Analytics then track when the button is clicked. You can then set the event up to be tracked as a goal in the goal section of Google Analaytics, which can then be imported into AdWords as a conversion, just like normal Google Analytics goals.

Here are instructions for setting up event tracking and once you’ve completed the goal creation you can import it into AdWords using these instructions.

Track Micro Conversions Too

Now you’ve got your focus on the most important conversion for your site, you can also track micro conversions that might assist in optimising for the conversion process.

For example in your AdWords account you might have campaigns structured based on the users stage in the purchase cycle. At each of those stages, the conversions that happen are going to be different, for example if it’s a high value item users at the start of the cycle might fill in an enquiry form requesting more information, whereas when someone’s at the end of the cycle an online transaction might be the prominent conversion you want to track.

By tracking the contact form as a micro conversion and transactions as the macro conversion, you’re able to optimise for all stages of the purchase cycle.

Conversion tracking has come a long way in the last few years, and it’s now possible to track almost anything! The advertisers who make the most of conversion tracking will be the ones who ultimately get the most value from their advertising efforts, so what are you waiting for? Set up your conversion tracking today!

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