This started off as a reply to a comment from Sara Andersson (of search-input.com) concerning my post about the accuracy limitations of web analytics and the difficulty of aligning data from disparate sources: 2008/02/16/accuracy-whitepaper/#comment-2153

However, the subject is broad enough to warrant a separate post, and probably subsequent ones too! To start off, I paraphrase Sara:

Most sites are not conducting e-commerce and we [marketers] need to spend our resources analysing the lead generations through a combination of the online traffic to the other trend tools available. In your opinion, how would you best go about to study a trend when you have to aggregate additional resources of information from various tools – all with their accuracy problems?

As I said in my initial reply, this is a very good and difficult question and it got me thinking…

Huge sums of money have been invested by many a corporation in trying to achieve this, but the fact is, its difficult. For example, how can you compare a TV audience that is passively digesting your ad which mentions your web site (with an unquantifiable number of viewers reading a newspaper, checking emails, making a cup of coffee, taking a bathroom break, putting the children to bed or any other activity that takes place during an advertisement break), with a pro-active person that has connected to the web, conducted a search engine query with specific keywords, and landed on your web site?

Assuming some TV viewers remember your brand or web URL and later visit your web site, are these two types of visitors comparable? The simple answer is NO.

Marketers still need to analyse and compare data from disparate sources

So what can be accomplished? First, lets set up some examples:

Example 1: You are a non-eCommerce web site and you are using and ad serving platform (e.g. DART from DoubleClick) to display banners on a selection of related portal sites in order to drive enquiries to your web site. Your web site’s call to action is to generate a telephone call to your call centre to complete the transaction. You use an internal tool to track how many calls are being made as a result of this.

Example 2: In addition you are running a print campaign (magazine) driving brand recognition by directing visitors to your web site and you wish to measure its impact. All you have from the magazine publishers, is a monthly distribution figure of 50,000 readers.

How to integrate data

The key to be able to make comparisons is to ensure you have an integrated approach to your marketing That is, don’t treat different channels as silos. Keeping web analytics at the heart of your strategy gives you the best possible chance of success – consider Figure 1. Put simply, the web is the most accurate form of marketing measurement. Therefore use it to your advantage.

Using Example 1, integration could be achieved by the use of a unique telephone number on your web site landing pages. Ensuring your specific DART landing pages are not accessible by non-DART referred campaigns (not linked to within your web site or visible to the search engines), your call centre could then identify these calls as originating from a particular banner advertisement.

In fact, a clever CRM system can dynamically assign the page’s unique telephone number on-the-fly depending on the referring source. For example, if from a DART banner use: 1234-5678, if not use: 4321-09876. By this method, you are able to directly measure, and differentiate, how many visitors and how many telephone enquires are received from your DART campaign.

For Example 2, integration could be achieved by the use coded URLs in your print campaign e.g. www.mysite.com/offer_codeX. As long as this URL is not accessible elsewhere (not linked to within your web site or visible to the search engines), visitors must have come from your print ad and so this becomes measurable.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the visitor will only remember your domain (mysite.com) and not the specific landing page (offer_codeX) required to distinguish them from direct visitors; this is common for strong brands. It is therefore important that your print campaign provides a compelling reason for the visitor to remember your specific URL. This can be the promotion of special offer bundles, voucher codes, reduced pricing, free gifts, competitions, unique or personalized products, and so on.

How to compare data

Care has to be exercised here as for the examples presented, you are comparing to two very different objectives – a call to action campaign (telephone enquiries) and a branding campaign (via print). However, in this case visitor volumes are the key metrics. As you will know the total cost of your campaigns it is therefore an easy calculation to obtain the cost per visitor KPI originating from each campaign (total cost divided by total number of visits per campaign). Beyond this however, it is difficult to make comparisons – the reasons the visitors arrived on your web site are very different for each campaign.

But what if there is a third example? In addition you run a radio campaign also driving visitors to your web site that you hope will also lead to a telephone enquiry. Can this be compared to the DART campaign? Yes, so long as you use the same KPIs and goals for each of your marketing channels. The key is being able to isolate your data from each campaign.

Are you trying to compare data from disparate sources? I would be interested in your comments on how you have done this.