Untangling the Gordian Knot of Campaign Tracking, Part 1

One challenge for any business that does online marketing these days is the proliferation of systems and the data they use. Typically, an organization or its agencies use systems for ad serving, bid management, affiliate management, e-mail marketing, and so on.

Each marketing system has reporting capabilities built in, with the data fed by a tag on key site pages. Often if a conversion event happens within a certain period (e.g., 30 days) after someone has clicked through from an ad, an affiliate link, an e-mail link, or whatever, the system will record that as a sale against that particular channel. Additionally, marketers use a Web analytics system to track campaigns, usually by using tags across the site. They may also look at customer acquisition data in the customer databases.

Today’s online marketers aren’t short of numbers. The trouble is when you have two watches, you’re never sure of the right time. This raises a number of issues:

  • How do you mange all the different tags on the key site pages?

  • If you have different sources reporting conversions up to 30 days later, how do you know which channel is really responsible for the conversion?
  • How do you best attribute conversion effects to the effect of different types of online marketing working together?
  • How do you reconcile all these different data sources?

These aren’t easy questions to answer, but at least the technologies are moving in the right direction. Take the development of universal tags. These tags alleviate the need to have separate tags on your key pages for each tracking system you use. In theory, the universal tag sends the right system the right information at the right time. This technology is still in its early days, and a number of different tracking technology providers are competing in this space.

A more common concern among organizations I work with is how sales or other conversion events are attributed to different marketing channels. Here’s the scenario: a visitor clicks through to the site from an affiliate link one day but doesn’t convert. The next day, the same visitor does a search and clicks from a sponsored link to the site and converts. Both the affiliate tracking system and the bid management system are configured to count sales up to 30 days later, so both will claim the sale.

The online marketer doesn’t know which channel is really driving the conversions, and the sale will be counted twice. Even worse, it may be paid for twice if the channels are operating on a CPA (define) deal. The key is to get to a point where a single tracking system is responsible for attributing conversion events to campaigns based on some criteria.

Universal tags can help this situation, but many organizations use their Web analytics systems to provide that single point of reference, too. Analytics tools can be configured to recognize visitors who arrive from different campaigns and, in the event of a conversion, assign that conversion to a particular marketing channel or campaign.

However, analytics solutions don’t provide the total answer. They only track click events, and the way they attribute the conversion to a channel or campaign is often relatively simplistic. Depending on campaign goals and the process by which awareness is built and converted into a conversion event, an analytics tool’s view of campaigns may not provide the right perspective to make marketing optimization decisions.

Next time, I’ll look at some of these issues in more detail.

Till then…

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