Tips for Tracking Offline Orders: PPC & Catalog

Taking Telephone OrdersYesterday we posted on tracking affiliate sales placed by phone, and today we’re going to address two other marketing channels you may need to track if you take orders offline.

The simple solution is to ask customers where they heard about your offer / website. The problem is often customers don’t remember, or even worse can give you incorrect information. But there are at least 8 alternative ways to track conversions from PPC or catalog orders.

Serving Different Toll-Free Numbers

Use a script (like JavaScript) that serves up different phone numbers based on a referring ad network or other PPC engine (example: Google AdWords or Price Grabber). You typically would use one toll-free number per ad network, but you may want multiples if you want more specific campaign traffic (i.e. Valentine’s Day AdGroup separate from general AdWords or Google Search ads vs. Content Network).

This method also uses cookies to display the same phone number as your visitor navigates your site. Session IDs will work only for one visit, but are accepted by more browsers than persistent cookies which will deliver the same number upon repeat visits from the same computer and browser.

For displaying telephone numbers for print and mobile campaigns, this is an effective approach.

When analyzing your data, conversions per telephone number is what really matters. The same customer could write down the number and call it a few times before purchase, inflating your absolute referrals and diluting your real conversion rate. Unless your system tracks unique telephone numbers and you can factor out repeat calls.

Also, make sure in email correspondence that you use the campaign-specific telephone number for the reasons above. You don’t want to attribute an AdWords conversion to your regular number.


Another approach is to use extensions specific to each referral source or keyword. Example: 1-888-555-8888 ext. 88

Reference Codes

Like with affiliate tracking, you can also program your site to deliver unique codes based on referral source which customers can provide your customer service representatives (CSRs) when requested.

Customer Tagging

Customer IDs can be assigned to customers who have accounts, have purchased from you in the past or who otherwise are provided with a special code to present to your CSR when the order is placed by phone.

Call-back Form

You can also use a call-back form mentioned in yesterday’s post. A customer requests a call-back through a web form which can be tied back to the keyword and source through code in a hidden field.

Pricing Variations

Another method is to show a slightly different price based on referring source / campaign. For example, Google AdWords traffic would be shown $47.95, Yahoo traffic $47.98 and MSN $47.99 and catalog $48.00. One caveat of showing different prices to different customers (though very minimal difference) is potential CSR confusion.


Commercial pay-per-call services provide unique phone numbers for your pay-per-click campaigns rather than you developing your own system. They may also provide analytics including call length, keyword and channel conversion, ROI and other performance indicators.

Pay-per-call is more useful for B2B or B2C retailers who don’t have a website but still want to advertise in search. But for some products / retailers that typically requires phone assistance and selling, even a multi-channel merchant could test pay-per-call ads vs. regular search ads. Since pay-per-call comes with its own tracking, it won’t interfere with your other tracking systems though it may complicate your overall campaign management.

Tracking Catalog Orders

If customers can request a catalog through your website, make sure you’re using a contact form (not a phone number) so you can track the completion of the form request as a conversion, and trace that conversion back to the referral source and keyword. (This goes beyond what Google Analytics can offer).

When you send out the catalog, you can add a sticker with a tracking code. Your customer service rep will ask for the catalog code when a customer makes a purchase, and you can track the conversion all the way back to the source and keyword.

Detailed tracking of telephone or catalog orders will provide you with the most accurate data on the ROI of your various channels. For businesses with mostly phone or catalog sales, this is essential, for others, it’s a nice-to-have.

A discussion over at Search Engine Roundtable mentions some service providers you may want to look into.

How do you track offline orders? What do you recommend?

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4 Responses to “Tips for Tracking Offline Orders: PPC & Catalog”

  1. Luke says:

    We have an indial range of 100 numbers and we set up specific numbers for different marketing campaigns. With our phone system we can record and log every call that comes to each number so we have a clear set of results from each promotion.

    We bought some toll free alpha word phone numbers like 1300 MYSITE (AUSTRALIAN) a few years ago in order to measure the response as each redirection (to an extension) was logged. My experience is that using a numeric number is more successful than a word. I read somewhere later that it is because people think they will remember the number and don’t write it down and then forget.

    These two methods worked for me and we believe were the simplest for the client to use. That being no extra steps, just dial and talk.

  2. Toll free numbers are much cheaper than most people realize. They go down to about 3 cents per minute and just a couple bucks per month with the most competitive carriers. And since you’re basically paying for the amount of water going through the pipes, not the number of pipes, it makes sense to use multiple different pipes so you can tell where the water is coming from. It costs almost nothing to track things that way. It’s very easy and very accurate because you just look at your phone bill each month!

    Bill Quimby
    1-800 MARKETER
    Toll Free

  3. The only thing that is potentially concerning about lots of differnt “pipes”…

    From a consumer point of view, if they think that they are calling different competitors based on different numbers and then wind up at the same company, it creates a feeling of mistrust and annoyance.
    I know for myself, if I am looking for something online and all links end up leading to one place..( which is often done with SEO tactics and link farms), it makes me avoid the particular company like a plague.

  4. This is a really well written and informative article. I have a few ‘take-away’ pieces from this that I will certainly be implementing/testing.

    Thanks for sharing,


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