This article is devoted to some of the reasons for, benefits and mechanics of, AdWords conversion tracking. A good primer for this would be my posts on the Evolution of the AdWords Advertiser and PPC Implementation Strategies.
Direct-response marketing has been around for over 100 years. Since the early days of mail-order catalogs. Pre-internet direct-response marketers were at the mercy of the postal system and the placement of “inquiry cards” appearing in catalogs or magazines. The cycle time for feedback on things such as ad copy, graphics or item popularity was measured in months.
Conversion tracking is arguably the single most important feature of search engine marketing, simply because of how much it reduces the time it takes to receive feedback on many important aspects of the search engine marketing selling process; keywords, search terms, ad copy, landing pages, website features and functions, etc.
Most novice AdWords advertisers view conversion tracking as a nifty feature and not as an essential tool for optimizing campaign performance. I won’t say that conversion tracking is always necessary, but there is almost always some value to be gained by implementing some basic functionality. If you aren’t willing to consider making conversion tracking a top priority, then you aren’t serious about optimizing your AdWords account! If you hire a professional to manage your AdWords account and you don’t have accurate, reliable conversion tracking in place, you have significantly hampered their ability to make significant improvements in your AdWords campaign.
My analysis of your AdWords account, whether it is before you retain me or after, will be focused in large part on conversion tracking. How I create and manage your account is highly dependent on whether conversion tracking is in place, working properly and tracks actions that are a meaningful part of the engagement process. Without reliable conversion tracking data, it’s like throwing something “over the fence” and hoping it hits the target.
The process of optimizing an AdWords campaign is about knowing what works and what doesn’t. You want to focus on and promote what works and filter or pay less for what doesn’t. Conversion tracking is a valuable tool to help you do that. At the end of an evaluation period, you may see an increase or decrease in the number of leads or sales, but if we are unable to track these actions back to a keyword and search query in your AdWords account, we won’t know what to adjust. If you are expecting some undeniable surge in leads or sales because you have begun an AdWords campaign, you are being unrealistic. If you have some other application that tracks visitor actions, there is no way to import the information we need into AdWords and it won’t help. If you rely on email messages from website visitors because your email address is displayed on your website, we are unable to track this action and it can’t help optimize your campaign.
If your objective for hiring me is to simply increase traffic to your website, without concern for the quality of traffic, then don’t worry about conversion tracking. On the other hand, if your objective is to increase the amount of profit, then we need to begin the engagement talking about conversion tracking. Because if we don’t select or create meaningful actions visitors can take on your website that tell us they are interested in what you offer, you have significantly reduced my ability to optimize your account and increased the amount of time it will take to make substantive improvements.
As advertisers, we can’t control what prospects search for. We can only try to influence what they see when they perform a search. It does little good to optimize your website or build an AdWords campaign for terms prospects don’t use or don’t use often enough. Therefore, our first task is to identify what users search for, how often and then match that to what you want to promote.
There will always be more traffic than you can afford to buy. Therefore, we need to determine where is that “fine line” that determines what we display ads for and what we filter out? When I review an account’s history, I try to determine what has been working and what hasn’t. If there is little or no conversion tracking data, it just makes the process more difficult and take longer.
If you believe the nature of your business and the way you engage with prospects doesn’t lend itself to AdWords conversion tracking. Or if you believe designing, developing, implementing and managing website functionality that uses conversion tracking is not worth the investment required. Then you may be at a considerable disadvantage when it comes to optimizing your AdWords campaign.
AdWords conversion tracking is free and relatively easy to set up, assuming you have an appropriate action that is a meaningful part of the selling process that a visitor will take within 30 days. Here is a short YouTube video on how to set up conversion tracking in your AdWords account.
I often find that an advertiser has all the right conditions for implementing conversion tracking, but simply hasn’t done it, for one reason or another. If they would allow me to take the time to help them implement conversion tracking before working on their campaigns, I would. The sooner you begin collecting conversion tracking data, the better.
Even with all its advantages, conversion tracking is not perfect and should be used to analyze trends and not an exact representation of every action taken on your site. More specifically, it will not work correctly if:
- The visitor does not accept cookies
- The visitor deletes their cookies
- The visitor does not have Java enabled in their browser
- The visitor takes the action more than 30 days after clicking on the ad
- The Java script tracking code is not placed on the page properly
- The visitor gets “cookied” using one computer and converts or takes the action on another computer.
Even with these caveats, it’s usually well worth the time, effort and expense.
Now that you have a better appreciation for the value of and limitations of conversion tracking, let’s peel the onion back a bit further.
Because conversion tracking typically uses a 30-day cookie, cost/conv data for any given keyword on any given day will change based on newly registered conversions. Here is something for you to think about. If you want to know the effect a change you make today has on cost/conv, you need to wait at least sixty days and then look back thirty days. Otherwise you will be dealing with incomplete and misleading data.
You need to resist evaluating a new keyword based on short-term data. Also keep in mind that the number of impressions and clicks can vary considerably from day-to-day. You must be willing to have the necessary confidence, commitment and patience or you should not be doing this.
Depending on your market, conversion tracking data can increase many fold over the life of the cookie, as visitors return to your site (from non-AdWords links) and convert. I make the distinction, “from non-AdWords links”, such as a bookmark, organic listing or website referrals, because AdWords attributes the conversion to the last-clicked ad, keyword and search term, even if the keyword or ad is paused.
I make the point about paused keywords because you will continue to register conversions in your account from keywords in your old campaigns, which may be paused, and you probably won’t be looking at those keywords when we launch a new ad group or campaign(s).
Now that I’ve made some important points about the virtues of conversion tracking, I’ll admit that it isn’t always necessary or appropriate. Each case must be evaluated based on the merits. In those cases where we elect not to use conversion tracking, there are other tools and techniques we can use to optimize your AdWords campaign. Google Analytics provides metrics such as bounce rate, average number of website pages visited, average time on the website and more. In addition, one of my favorite techniques to determine the relative quality of a visitor is their search query. If the visitor’s search query is highly relevant to what we are advertising, especially if it indicates an interest in making a purchase, then that search query or what Google calls a search term, is well worth the money spent. In situations where conversion tracking isn’t being used or isn’t reliable, this is how we will determine the relative performance of the campaign.