According to Accenture, more than a third of senior marketing professionals have, for the past few years believed that digital marketing will account for more than 50% of marketing spend by 2019.

It certainly looks like it's going that way, as 28% of marketers have already reduced their traditional advertising budgets to fund digital marketing activities. This resulted in a growth in UK digital adspend of 16.4% in 2015 to over £8.6 billion, as reported by the Internet Advertising Bureau. As advertisers continue to increase their spending on search however, they are increasingly looking for better ways to measure the return on their investment.

One area is to focus on the journey from ‘Online-to-Offline’. Specifically, this is where a customer researches a product on their mobile device or desktop, and then follows that up with an offline action, such as a click-to-call to set up an appointment or a store visit to actually make the purchase.

According to a Forester Research Report from 2014, this type of spending will have grown by 50% from 2012 to $1.7 trillion by 2017. The challenge, however, is, how to more accurately measure it.

A buyer’s journey will generally start with Google, rather than other forms of advertising. If you’re thinking of booking a holiday you will likely type into Google ‘best cruise holidays’. A list of articles and videos will appear, and you will start researching by reading comparison posts, reviews and watching videos. This is because you want to be as informed as you can possibly be before making a purchasing decision. Most customers, however, then make the actual reservation over the phone or go into a shop, with our research finding that 36% of people would be likely to call a travel company if the capacity was available in smartphone search results. It’s the same for many other industries and products too, as across the board our research revealed that 38% are likely to look elsewhere if a number isn’t available.

One way to measure offline action is by each distinct keyword. Marketers often optimise online actions (like a form fill) by keyword because they are highly trackable, but then mistakenly estimate the impact of an offline action (like the value of a phone call) and apply that estimate to every keyword. Many campaigns will optimise around a click-to-call (literally, the number of phone calls), assuming the likelihood of a phone call converting into a reservation is equal or nearly equal for every keyword. This is flawed logic, as any assumption of all keywords being equal will almost certainly lead to trouble.

The fact is, the percentage of phone calls that have purchase intent varies wildly across keywords, so much so that optimising an online action alone - clicking to call - as opposed to the offline action (the purchase intent of that call) will often lead to huge misallocations of budget. Search marketers make huge mistakes every day by treating each offline action as having the same likelihood to convert across all keywords.

A similar misallocation of budget can occur when one also assumes the same impact of an offline action from desktop or mobile. Calls from mobile can perform significantly better than calls from desktop for the same set of keywords or vice versa, depending on the industry sector. In the world of online-to-offline, therefore, each keyword should be treated distinctly.

Once brands have a handle on how consumers are reacting to different keywords, they can move on to understanding the types of calls that are being received by determining whether they are intended for sales or customer services, which is equally as important as keywords. This can include looking at whether customers looking at opening times are likely to want to go through to sales to make a booking, or whether those researching features, for example, might prefer customer services. On top of this call analytics (so using software to analyse the language used on calls) can help brands understand the kind of conversations they are having with consumers – how they talk about their brand, and where pain points occur in customer service, or indeed what prompts positive customer responses.

All this data can then be fed into paid search management and attribution so that brands have greater insight into what triggers conversion within their customer base, both online and offline. Ultimately, diligently measuring online-to-offline results from search can offer marketers new opportunities for optimisation, and therefore improved return on ad spend as we enter into 2017.


By Anna Forbes, managing director at Marchex

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