4 PPC Tracking Essentials for Small Businesses


All too often I see small to medium-sized businesses spending considerable amounts of marketing dollars on PPC campaigns without having implemented even the most basic of tracking solutions. Other businesses seem to accept that Google’s Conversion Tracking is as good as it gets, and have yet to realize the benefits of having more detailed (but still very simple) goal, event, ecommerce, and custom variable tracking in Google Analytics.

Google AdWords and Google Analytics provide fantastic free of charge functionalities for tracking, measuring, and evaluating the performance of your PPC and non-PPC marketing campaigns, helping you to make more informed decisions about how to improve your return on investment (ROI) from your online marketing activities.

Here we will explore 4 tracking opportunities, which could help you better understand and improve the return on investment (ROI) of your online marketing activities. Depending on your website, all 4 tracking methods may not be relevant, but most websites should look to implement at least two of the below.

1. AdWords Conversion Tracking

Google AdWords Conversion Tracking allows you see which of you Google AdWords campaigns, ad groups, keywords, ads, and search queries are resulting in a desired action. When setting up conversion tracking, you specify what you are trying to measure (e.g. ‘signup’, ‘purchase’, ‘enquiry’ etc.), and you are provided with a piece of tracking code that should be place on your ‘thank you’ or ‘order confirmation’ page. Every time a conversion happens on your website, this conversion tracking code loads and sends data back to Google AdWords, allowing you to see which of your PPC keywords and ads are working better than others.

Example insight from this tracking method

  • Being able to spot that your long-tail keywords are working better than your generic broad-match keywords, allowing you to adjust your click spending accordingly.

What to track

Conversion tracking is great for measuring the primary goal of your website. If your primary goal is an online sale, conversion tracking would be ideal for measuring online sales. If the primary purpose of your website is to generate leads, it would make sense that conversion tracking should measure your online enquiries. For websites which are more brand-based, you might instead want to measure an indicator of engagement such as the view of your store locator or ‘find out more’ page.

Pros

  • Conversion data appears in all AdWords reports and AdWords Editor, making reporting and optimisation very efficient
  • Conversion data can integrate with other Google AdWords functions, such as cost per acquisition (CPA) bidding and conversion optimizer
  • Easy to implement

Cons

  • Applies only to Google AdWords campaigns
  • Difficult to distinguish between multiple different conversions, so is best used to measure only a single action
  • Small 30 day cookie length, so sales or conversions after 30 days won’t be recorded

How to implement

Installing conversion tracking simply involves placing a piece of conversion tracking code on your order confirmation or thank you page. Instructions can be found here.

2. Google Analytics Goals

Unlike Google AdWords conversion tracking, where conversion data only applies to your Google AdWords campaigns, Google Analytics goals allow you to add conversion data to all of your Google Analytics reports.

This means that Google Analytics goals allow you to also track conversions of non-PPC traffic sources, such as Google organic search, Bing search, Yahoo search, and Facebook and YouTube referrals.

Since the release of the new Google Analytics version in 2011, it is now also possible to set up ‘event’ goals in Google Analytics, allowing you to track user interactions where there is no ‘thank you’ or ‘confirmation’ page. By placing a piece of JavaScript code on your videos, external links, or call-to-action buttons, you can track these user interactions (events) in Google Analytics.

Example insight from this tracking method

  • Being able to measure whether Google PPC visitors are more likely to view the contact page, subscribe to your newsletter and click through to your Twitter account than Facebook PPC visitors, allowing you to assess Facebook PPC and adjust budgets accordingly.

What to track

Similarly to Google AdWords conversion tracking, you should look to set up goals that measure a desired user interaction (e.g. signup, registration, enquiry, view of the contact page etc). However, unlike Conversion Tracking, goal data for different goals are kept separate in your Google Analytics reports, allowing you to track up to 20 different goals and monitor each goal separately.

Pros

  • Goal data applies to ALL traffic sources, not just PPC
  • Up to 20 different goals can be created
  • Easy to keep different goals separate in Google Analytics reports
  • Easy to create reports which only show some of your goals
  • Powerful event tracking lets you measure user interactions that do not involve the view of a page (e.g. video plays, signups through widgets, clicks on links to external websites such as Facebook and Twitter etc)
  • 6 month cookie allows you to measure the value of a visitor long after they first visited

Cons

  • Last-click attribution of goal data, so if a visitor originally found your website from PPC, and later returned via Google organic to make a purchase, the sale will be attributed to Google organic

How to implement

Once you have set up a Google Analytics account, adding goals is easy. If you have a thank you or order confirmation page, you can simply specify that this page represents an enquiry or purchase. No additional coding to your website is needed. Implementing events involves adding a line of JavaScript code to your video / widget / external link, but is still very simple to install and extremely powerful once set up. More information on installing goals can be found here, and installing events can be found here and here.

3. Google Analytics Ecommerce Tracking

For ecommerce websites that allow visitors to make an online purchase, Google Analytics ecommerce tracking allows you to add sales and revenue data to your Google Analytics reports. Some additional coding to your website is required to define parameters such as sales, revenue, shipping, SKU, product / service name, but once implemented, will enable you to attribute dollar amounts to each of your Google Analytics reports.

Example insights from this tracking method

  • Being able to see that your Australia-targeted PPC campaigns are delivering a 200% higher ROI than your US-targeted campaigns
  • Being able to see that visitors from Twitter have a low conversion rate, but when they do make a purchase, they tend to have a higher average basket value

What to track

Ecommerce tracking is great for measuring sales and revenue, so only really applies to websites that allow visitors to make an online purchase.

Pros

  • Allows you to attribute revenue data to each traffic source (Google PPC, Google organic, Facebook PPC, Twitter etc)
  • Allows you to measure a RPC (revenue per click) metric, making it possible to determine how much a visitor from each traffic source is worth
  • Allows quick and easy comparison of product performance / average basket value / ROI by traffic source, campaign, and keyword
  • 6 month cookie allows you to measure the value of a visitor long after they first visited

Cons

  • Like Google Analytics goals, ecommerce tracking uses last-click attribution, so if a visitor names multiple visits before purchasing, revenue will be allocated to the most recent traffic source, not the source which originally delivered the visitor

How to implement

Ecommerce tracking involves adding some additional coding on your website to define values such as quantity, revenue, tax, shipping cost, SKU, and product description. Instructions for installing ecommerce tracking can be found here and here.

4. Google Analytics Custom Variables

Google AdWords conversion tracking has a maximum cookie length of 30 days, which means that if a sale or signup happens from a Google PPC keyword after 30 days, it will not be attributed to that Google PPC keyword.

Although Google Analytics has a longer default cookie length of 6 months, if a Google PPC visitor returns to the website via another recognized source (e.g. Google organic, referral etc), then the newest referring source will overwrite Google PPC as the referrer, and receive credit for the sale (last click attribution). This means that Google AdWords conversion tracking data and Google Analytics goal tracking data will never be exactly the same, while purchases after 30 days will not being attributed to the source which delivered the first-click.

To overcome these problems, it is possible to define custom variables in Google Analytics, so that any conversions or revenue that arises from a Google PPC ad gets assigned to Google PPC, regardless of whether the visitor later goes on to make a returning visit from another traffic source. This will allow more accurate measurement of conversions and revenue from Google PPC ads (or any other traffic source) up to 6 months after the visitor clicked on your ad.

If your website requires users to sign up, you can even track revenue if the visitor later returns to the website via a different computer. By creating a custom variable which collects the visitor’s email address (or username), and by tagging your Google AdWords destination URLs with this custom variable, you can then assume that any purchase or revenue from usernames or email addresses which have this custom variable must have come from a Google PPC ad.

Example insight from this tracking method

  • Being able to measure exactly how much revenue came from you PPC campaigns long after your 30 day free trial has finished

What to track

Custom variable tracking is great for measuring the long-term value of visitors where your product or service may have a purchase lag time of more than 30 days. It’s also great for free trials, where sales are unlikely to occur until after the free trial has ended.

Pros

  • Allows you to determine long-term value of PPC marketing
  • If the first step of your conversion process is to get visitors to sign up, you can also measure revenue from PPC signups even if the visitor purchases via a different computer

Cons

  • You’ll need to create some custom reports in Google Analytics to view the custom variable data, although once this is set up, the report is saved and easily accessible
  • Involves some additional coding to be installed on your website
  • Parameters need to be added to your PPC destination URLs

How to implement

To implement custom variables in Google Analytics, you’ll need to install some additional coding on your website, and tag your PPC URLs with these custom variables. Instructions for installing custom variables in Google Analytics can be found here.

Conclusion

Taking the time and effort to implement useful tracking is a worthwhile investment to set the foundations more accurate measurement of your website performance. The above 4 methods will provide more than enough tracking insight for all but the most complex of websites, and will allow more intelligent and informed decisions about how to improve your ROI from your PPC marketing.

So consider the primary and secondary objectives of your website, and look to install conversion tracking, goal tracking, ecommerce tracking, and custom variable tracking as soon as possible. Once you get used to having an abundance of useful and informative data at your fingertips, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without.

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Alan Mitchell is an experienced Google AdWords specialist, with a proven track record in helping businesses increase their return on investment (ROI) from PPC marketing. To find out how efficient PPC marketing and tracking can benefit your business, please get in touch today.

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  1. #1 by Frederik Trovatten on May 2nd, 2012

    Great roundup Alan.. Concerning the cookie-time of 30 days..How many more sales would you project an e-commerce store will get? The tests I’ve run so far is about 10-20% more conversions, if we go back 30 days.. What’s you take on that?

  2. #2 by Alan Mitchell on May 3rd, 2012

    @ Frederik

    It really depends on the length of your buying cycle. Products and services which have a greater research and consideration period will naturally a higher percentage of sales drop after 30 days, than products or services which are more lower value and have a shorter buying cycle.

    Click to purchase lag also depends on other factors such as price, promotions, competitor offerings, and seasonality among others. I would recommend installing the additional tracking to measure PPC sales after 30 days, and see if you can accurately determine the typical click to purchase lag time for your business.

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