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Mar 19, 2008 | 3 minute read

Tips for Tracking Offline Orders: PPC & Catalog

written by Linda Bustos

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?