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Having worked almost exclusively with retail websites for the last four years, I’ve spent a lot of time analysing data for different channels and trying to attribute value to specific marketing campaigns and projects.

Whilst doing this I’ve found a number of fairly obvious (only when you really think about it) potential threats to everyday attribution that I wanted to share.

Online marketing activity supporting offline sales

We recently saw this happen with a retail client we were working with who recorded significant growth in offline sales generated by the website. This success wasn’t being attributed to the SEO work we were doing, which was a big mistake on our part.

Attributing increases in offline sales to online marketing efforts is notoriously difficult, but regularly matching offline sales figures to increases in website traffic is the way that we are doing it at it at the moment.

For me, offer codes (not necessarily for a discount – could be for free next day delivery etc) represents the most effective way to track offline customers who have been influenced by your website and online marketing activity. There are obvious limitations with this, however running tests to get an indication of the percentage of people using the code would allow you to use a multiplier to get a better idea of how online is supporting offline sales.

The most common method for smaller retailers is simply to ask how the customer found the product, however this is often more difficult in commission-driven sales environments and people also often forget their first touch point. I would recommend adopting this principle anyway as it will help you to attribute value to specific channels as opposed to just the website.

Another slight win for this could be to promote ‘reserve in store’ functionality, which would help to attribute some offline sales to the original online impression.

Offline marketing activity supporting online sales

In the same way as online > offline, the effectiveness of offline activity is often under-attributed to the correct marketing campaigns.

In the past we’ve seen clients run offline adverts (promoting their website) without telling their online or ecommerce team, leading to false attribution to other brand-focused activity.

Attributing value from offline marketing to online is a bit easier than the other way around, as you can use vanity URLs to track how people came to the website and create segments to track how those people engaged with your website based on their landing page (which should only be accessible / promoted via the advert).

Another common way to track the value of offline marketing activity is to use QR codes alongside a vanity URL.

We had an example a few months ago where we were unaware that a client was running tube advertising for an event they were organising and the value was being attributed to the emails being sent out.

We then started using a QR code and a specific URL to help us attribute the value to the specific adverts.

PPC and display advertising not getting attribution from phone sales

This one is particularly common and can be detrimental to marketing campaigns when action is taken. It’s really common for people to look at PPC / display as a under-performing marketing channel when it’s actually generating a lot more sales / leads / revenue than you think.

We were working with a retailer recently who was spending a lot of money on PPC, which after having a brief look at their analytics I thought was a mistake. However, when I spoke to someone within the business I found out that they take at least 50% of their orders over the phone, which although they weren’t tracking, was obviously benefitting from their PPC efforts too. I've seen plenty of other people make this mistake too and then lose out by reducing their online ad spend.

In this scenario, I would recommend looking at call tracking (from someone like CallTracks or Infinity Tracking) to successfully attribute phone sales to specific channels and keywords.

Visitors choosing to buy products offline when browsing online (impacting conversion rate)

We work with a wine retailer who have offline stores as well as an ecommerce website. Something that we’ve found is that a large proportion of their visitors would prefer to find a product and then buy it from their local store, which inevitably influences their conversion rate.

We discovered this by monitoring buyer behaviour and again trying to attribute offline sales to increases in website traffic.

Subscription-based / on-going revenue not being reflected with bottom line figures

This is something that has been really frustrating for us, as it makes reporting a lot more difficult. Last year we built a finance extension for Magento, which is being used on one of our clients (and soon to be more of them), which only assigns 10% of the value of the order to a transaction being recorded.

This black hole also applies to businesses running a subscription model, as only the initial payment will be assigned to the transaction value.

There’s not really a way to counter this, as assigning value via goals or trying to over-ride the transaction value could be misleading, as there’s no guarantee that the user will pass the security checks or continue to subscribe for a set period of time. For reporting on deposits, I’d recommend taking an average for the number of people that complete the transactions and then using the full revenue of the products within a clearly labelled forecasted revenue field. 

These are just a few examples of issues, there are plenty more that have annoyed me and loads more that I’ve not faced / thought of. If there are any other reporting black holes you can think of (eg: browser previews impacting data or PayPal revenue not being included within reports), please feel free to document them in the comments below.

Paul Rogers

Published 19 February, 2013 by Paul Rogers

Paul work as Digital Marketing Manager for Session Digital / Inviqa and is also the Co-Founder of MageSEO. He is a contributor to Econsultancy. 

3 more posts from this author

Comments (7)

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Nick Stamoulis

I think the hard part about measuring online attribution is that since you can have so many campaigns running at once it's hard to say that one specific campaign is the main reason that customer converted. I think it's usually a mix of campaigns and touch points (and depending on how long your sales cycle is that can be quite a lot) but that makes it much harder to track.

over 3 years ago

Huw Waters

Huw Waters, Head of Marketing at Capita Learning Services

Really nice and informative article, Paul. It's great to see attribution coming back onto the radar. I feel it's dropped away from a point of discussion in recent years, but in the era of big data and garnering a real, true understanding of customers and how and where to best serve them, it is even more relevant now than it ever was.

over 3 years ago

Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers, Digital Marketing Manager at Session Digital / Inviqa

Thanks for your comment Huw - I completely agree, attribution has become a hot topic over the last six months or so and it's definitely something that was being ignored by a lot of people before.

over 3 years ago


Brendan Lee, Marketing Effectiveness Manager at RBS Corporate Division

Digital tracking codes (incl. Friendly URLs) and unique telephone numbers are great for attribution, though you have to be careful of any bookmarks resulting from these, and there's only really a limited number of FURLs you can get away with.

Disappointing to hear that you advocated the use of QR codes on tube advertising however. Appreciate that there is now wi-fi on some of the network, but not sure how widely this is used...

over 3 years ago

Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers, Digital Marketing Manager at Session Digital / Inviqa

Hi Brendan,

Thanks for your comment. Good point with the phone numbers, I forgot to put that in.

The advert was at a station but it was outside, apologies I didn't make that clear. I don't really like the use of QR codes anyway but the decision was made by the client - I would've preferred to go with a vanity URL.



over 3 years ago

Ali White White

Ali White White, Director at Elliptycs


Great article and right on the money for me.

In our business all our sales are offline with a huge proportion of enquiries coming via telephone from online channels. Naturally this makes me a great a great advocate of using Calltracks as you said to see which referrer & keyword drove the phone call from our website.

Interestingly for our company until we started visitor tracking we assumed PPC drove more phone enquiries then it actually did – but now we spend MORE than we did before because we ended up changing the keywords and paid ad content to get a better ROI.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend adopting reporting from staff though. As you said customers may not remember the first touch point and in my experience this is most often the case – so I wouldn’t want to base any decisions off the wrong data.

over 3 years ago

Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers, Digital Marketing Manager at Session Digital / Inviqa

Hi Ali,

Thanks for your comment. I know a lot of companies that swear by Calltracks and I think phone tracking is almost fundamental for big online businesses who are allocating large proportions of their budget to different channels.

I also agree that it's important to only look at data that is going to be accurate and indicative.

over 3 years ago

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