Is the New Google AdWords Offline Conversion Tracking Worth the Investment for SMBs?

It’s been a looooong time coming but Google AdWords finally has an offline tracking system for sales that take place beyond where your customers’ cookies can track them.

I mentioned this to a mom and pop shop and they insisted that even though Google wants to track their delicious melt in your mouth chocolate chip cookies, they’ll never get their hands on the recipe. I then explained to them that consumers visiting their ecommerce site might buy a box of cookies, register for an online baking course or sign up for their cooking newsletter, all which are valid, trackable conversions. Now with Google’s new AdWords Conversion Import feature, they can also track cookie sales that didn’t come directly from their website but rather through a phone call or even an in-person visit to their bakery.

Adwords Conversion Import
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Why is this a big deal?

Because it really is a big deal. The current flow works as follows: A prospective customer sees your ad, clicks on it, and visits your website. That prospect then makes a purchase, and a digital message (in the form of a Google Click ID) is passed back to Google AdWords indicating that a sale (or other conversion) has been made. Users can then view the cost per conversion and other metrics in their account.

A problem occurs when someone clicks on the ad, visits your website and then calls to place an order. In some cases, there’s an especially long sales funnel, especially in B2B markets where prospects might try a demo, have meetings, and arrange the details of the sale before actually buying the product or service. Since they weren’t buying online, there was no definitive way to track them using Google AdWords.

Of course, with AdWords extensions such as the ability to include an address in the ad itself, you may never know that someone seeing the ad lead to the sale. For example, someone could see that ad, jot down the address, and come to the store in-person. That type of conversion is almost impossible and unfeasible to determine but that part of the market is not what this feature relates to.

The Offline Solution

With the AdWords Conversion Import feature, the seller can add the sale into the system long after the original click has occurred. This can be weeks later but the conversion can still be followed.

This also allows companies to track repeat customers by recording a conversion online and then tracking additional sales which may occur offline. In this way, businesses can increase their reach by better understanding how their target market is reacting to their advertising.

I’m actually surprised that Google waited this long to release such a useful and seemingly simple-to-implement feature. It’s a natural progression of trying to tie everything together within the larger AdWords system to get a more complete picture. It also helps Google AdWords campaigns justify their existence (and budgets). It provides a dollar value to their return on investment reports.

Still a bit unclear on how it call works? Google’s Product Manager, Jon Diorio, talks about the new AdWords Conversion Import feature in this video:

Two Ways to Track Offline Conversions

The two main ways to track offline conversions are through third party software and manual updates.

Third Party Software (Enterprise Level)

Until now, many larger companies have been combining Google AdWords with third party call tracking solutions and analytics tools to integrate their online and offline data. These were typically part of software suites that offered this service as one of their key features to entice enterprise level companies to use their products.

Google now offers “mild” support for tools such as Salesforce, SugarCRM, Mongoose Metrics, and Marketo. In the past, Google Analytics didn’t communicate with these software offerings, but that has changed with the release of the AdWords Conversion Import feature. Below are several links that will walk you through the Adwords integration process with the companies mentioned above.

Manual Tracking (SMBs)

For smaller companies, tracking offline sales conversions are equally beneficial but more cumbersome. While small businesses likely make up the majority of companies using Google AdWords, they may have difficulty competing with larger enterprises with respect to the AdWords Conversion Import feature.

Effective use of the feature relies on the company’s ability to manually upload data into the system on a continual basis. Even if the company hires a marketing firm, they still have to communicate on a regular basis to keep track of sales. I envision most companies not having the time for these tasks. Most SMBs likely don’t have the time for this manual work.

Also, this could inadvertently force companies to rely on Google that much more, which they may not necessarily like.

Technical Pitfalls

Technical Pitfalls
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There are a few areas to watch out for when using the offline conversion feature.

Conversion Tracking Must Already Be Enabled

Companies need to have an online conversion tracking system already in place before they can engage in offline tracking. So, if you’re already looking at your online conversion data, you can use this new feature. Otherwise, you will have to enable the online part and then follow it up with offline tracking.

Not a Good Fit for Auto Bidding

We lead busy lives in an increasingly automated world so it’s not surprising that so many companies take advantage of the automated Google AdWords Conversion Optimizer bidding strategy. The problem is that in order to track offline conversions, companies must avoid it. This makes sense since that method relies on AdWords to automatically bid for them but that assumes that the data being collected is in real time. The thing is, since companies will import their conversion data periodically (such as weekly), the data will not be in real time and the system won’t work as well. That’s because the decisions made by the automated bidding process will be based on partial data.

Manual Tagging Issues

For Google Analytics to work properly while using the offline tracking feature, no manual tagging in the account (e.g., utm=eee or source=34rf2) is allowed. Auto-tagging must be enabled for the import conversion feature to work. That’s because the same Google Click ID would be assigned to too many ads and it would mess up the results.

Spreadsheet vs. Digital Form Fields

Google wants businesses that are manually uploading their data to use an Excel file. They offer an Excel file template to work from. While manually preparing and uploading spreadsheets is a common way to track data, it would be nice to see a simple digital form field where sales could be entered as they come in. Many mom and pop shops would have an easier time logging in and adding info directly into a form field than trying to figure out how to use and upload a spreadsheet.

Overall Benefits

New Google AdWords features will always be welcomed by web marketers. When properly implemented, AdWords Conversion Import has the potential to yield richer data than companies have had access to up to now. It can also add to our knowledge of consumer behavior and better manage marketing budgets and ultimately return on investment.

Any questions, comments or thoughts regarding the new Google Adwords offline conversion tracking system? Jump in the comments & I’ll see you there.

— Brian Rotsztein

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About Brian Rotsztein
Brian Rotsztein is an Internet marketing consultant, entrepreneur, author, and speaker. As the head of multiple brands such as Uniseo a boutique Internet marketing agency, he brings a seasoned approach to working with clients and helping them gain a competitive advantage. He writes about social media, SEO, content marketing, and PPC.
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