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How to Track Offline Campaigns for Local SEO

Google has been more caring when it comes to accommodating search queries that contain local modifiers. In the past when someone uses location + keyword, Google tries to find results based on conventional means. That is, look for the pages that match based mainly on the presence of these keyword combinations, and to a later extent, relevance of inbound links and anchor text.

Effective advertising: Hong Kong MTR can use such campaign to help discourage last second dash on closing doors. Source: thepirata.com

Effective advertising: Hong Kong MTR can use such campaign to help discourage last second dash on closing doors. Source: thepirata.com

Now Google serves results more geared towards local flavor. The search engine giant is increasingly focusing on serving local results and local modifiers are sometimes not even a necessary part of search queries.

Importance of Local Search to Local Business Owners
Google’s shift towards personalized search and local search results offers tremendous opportunities for business owners operating locally — hair salons, pizzerias or shoe retailers — to be get better search engine visibility. And while local businesses continue to rely on offline marketing initiatives such as print ads, display banners or even leaflets, failure to leverage on online presence could mean missing business opportunities. This is especially true in Hong Kong where household broadband penetration rate has reached 82.9% in January 2011.

Tracking Both Offline and Online Marketing Campaigns
I’ve mentioned that it is not only online marketing that can be tracked, offline campaigns can also be monitored in parallel with online counterparts. By doing so, marketers and business owners can now determine which method delivered best results — which one yielded greatest sales volume, lowest cost per acquisition, best ROI or any appropriate metric. Not to mention the combination of tracking both offline and online campaigns opens up a bigger picture for us to see.

Challenges to Tracking Offline Advertising
Among the most common offline marketing channels available are radio, print (newspaper, magazine, leaflets, brochures, flyers), television and outdoor display banners. Even though television channels mention about number of households who watch specific TV programs, radio stations mention about their power (how far their broadcasts can reach) or magazines disclosing the actual number of copies in circulation, it is still anybody’s wild guess what percentage of the intended target audience were actually captured by the ads and commercials. Let alone determine how each channel influence the buying cycle that eventually fulfills a transaction. Therefore, it is necessary to go a little further if we want to verify how effective our offline campaigns.

Methods to Track Offline Advertising
If we are advertising on various offline channels, each of these channels need to be distinguished from the others. Otherwise, it will be hard to tell if a buyer inquired about our products was through a print ad we launched or through brochures we distributed at the street corner. Such segmentation of marketing channel can be implemented through the following:

1. Custom URLs
a. www.website.com/you-saw-this-on-our-flyer
b. www.website.com/you-saw-this-on-our-print-ad
c. www.website.com/you-saw-this-on-our-tvc
d. www.website.com/you-saw-this-on-our-bus-ad

Obviously we’d want to make the URL as short as possible to ensure the interested party remembers the URL and does not misspell it. But if our it’s beyond our control to create a short URL — already long domain name and website structure does not permit first-level subfolders — using URL shorteners is possible.

Photo credit: online.wsj.com

Vanity car plates often attract people who may take photos or even blog or tweet pictures about these interesting objects. Photo credit: online.wsj.com

2. Vanity domain
Just like custom car plate numbers, vanity domains are a popular alternative to custom URLs because they are probably easier to remember. However, they can be a costly option, not to mention the amount of work required to maintain these domains.

3. Custom phone numbers
Using custom phone numbers only works if you have enough resources (ie. phone lines) to accommodate specific marketing efforts.

With these ideas in mind, it’s time to create a bit of structure. Get a pen and paper or open your Excel worksheet and tabulate campaigns, methods, implementation dates and other remarks before making any implementation.

Campaign Date Type Tracking URL
The Standard Ad Apr 1 - Apr 30 Print /standard
SCMP Ad Apr 1 - Apr 30 Print /scmp
Flyer at Wan Chai Bridge Apr 1 - Apr 15 Print /flyerwc
Flyer at Wan Chai MTR Apr 16 - Apr 30 Print /flyerwm
TV Spot at TVB Pearl Apr 1 - Apr 15 TVC /tvbpearl
TV Spot at ATV World Apr 16 - Apr 30 TVC /atvworld

Google Analytics supports annotations which allows you to create notes on specific dates so you have a hint why there is a spike in traffic. From the table above you can annotate that on April 1 you started to roll a campaign on The Standard as well as other marketing channels.

Implementing Campaigns
Obviously we want to set up our landing pages before we distribute our marketing materials. This means we have to set up the folder structure as defined in the table above. Since we purposely create these pages to capture audience from offline, it is important to note that these pages should not be linked from anywhere in the site in order to isolate the page. In fact, we may need to implement robots.txt or noindex directive to restrict search engines from crawling and indexing these pages. This helps ensure that visitors who came to the site must have been referred by an offline advertising medium rather than a search engine result or a referral from another page. Of course, if an external site links to these pages, that’s beyond our control but with Google Analytics data can be filtered.

Also we have to ensure that the user experience is not disrupted by the time visitors reach those pages. That means if a reader of The Standard newspaper was promised 15 per cent discount with purchases above 100 dollars, that message must also be visible on the landing page. To make things more consistent, getting the print ad and landing page utilize the same layout (colors, fonts, etc) may help bridge the user experience.

Like paw prints that help us determine whereabouts of our pets, Google Analytics tracking codes help us determine where visitors of our website came from. Just enter the landing page and populate the necessary parameters like campaign source and medium.

I talked about URL shortener earlier. It’s not necessary but in case there is a need to do so, let us make sure that tracking codes are already tagged in the URL before we use shorteners like bit.ly, tinyURL or Google’s version.

Assuming that all pages are set up, it’s time to structure the URLs. If our landing page is the same as stated in offline media, there is no need to do redirection.

URL as it appears on ad: www.website.com/20percentdiscount
Actual URL: http://www.website.com/20percentdiscount?utm_source=Print&utm_medium=Standard&utm_campaign=20PDiscount

But if the actual URL is longer than that advertised, a 301 redirection is necessary:

URL as it appears on ad: www.website.com/20percentdiscount
Actual URL: http://www.website.com/campaigns/2011/20percentdiscount?utm_source=Print&utm_medium=Standard&utm_campaign=20PDiscount

The .htaccess file in your server can help implement this redirection:

//301 Redirect Old File, one line of code
Redirect 301 ^20percentdiscount /20percentdiscount?utm_source=Print&utm_medium=Standard&utm_campaign=20PDiscount

RewriteRule ^save20$ /savings.php?utm_source=save20&utm_medium=mail&utm_campaign=bigsave [L,R=301]

In case you need one, try the free .htaccess redirect generator. Please test and ensure it works before deploying these changes live. Check and ensure that the entire URL loads and URL parameters are intact.

google-analytics-campaignsFor separate domains, a similar redirection using .htaccess is also employed. For example, the domain www.hancock-movie.com is visible on public buses in the city.

www.hancock-movie.com is actually redirected to
www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/hancock/

We need to apply URL builder to build the tags and simply apply redirection script at www.hancock-movie.com‘s .htaccess code:

RewriteRule .* http://www.sonypictures.com/homevideo/hancock/?utm_source=Outdoor&utm_medium=Bus&utm_campaign=Hancock

Tracking reports can be accessed at Google Analytics under Traffic Sources > Campaigns. By the time our campaigns end, we are hopeful we know which method works and accordingly, we adjust budgets or tweak campaigns based on these findings.

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Elmer W. Cagape is an SEO consultant based in Hong Kong. Into Seinfeld, Toad the Wet Sprocket, space exploration, comedy films, digital marketing and travel. Follow him on Twitter (@elmercagape).

One thought on “How to Track Offline Campaigns for Local SEO

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