How to Integrate your visitor data – both on and offline

This started off as a reply to a comment from Sara Andersson (of 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. 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 ( 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.

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  1. JasonMcIntyre

    Rather than requiring their audience to remember a coded URL, creating a unique site has benefits.

    For example – while on the Light Rail (in Sydney) I saw a poster for I hate Sarah Marshall and a URL but I forgot the URL so I googled using those keywords.

    This obviously has advantages but the difficulty arises when it we need to analyse the results, consolidating disparate web sites analytics (especially using Google Analytics).

  2. Brian Clifton

    Sara/Michael: Looks like you two are saying the same thing – namely, that it is the end result (an uplift in traffic, sales or enquiries) that is important rather than assigning a specific channel.

    Micheal: Good point on the viral aspect of incentivising a campaign. The campaign would have to be carefully planned to minimise this if any kind of accuracy of origin is required. Perhaps vanity URLs such as: or would work better than offer_codeX? I would love to hear any ancedotal experience of that – see Chris’s comment.

    Steve: Sounds like you would like a GA API? I can’t comment on product development directly, but yes it would make sense for Google to do that. Its a common feature request and it certainly fits with Google’s open source philosophy of making data accessible.

    Chris: You hit the nail perfectly on the head when it comes to tracking offline sales that result from online efforts. Staff coaching and training, in order to build a culture of marketing measurement, are key to getting that to work. Sara Andersson has experience of this, so I am going to ask her for a follow up comment/post.

  3. Chris Grant

    This is one of the most important and most frustrating topics I can think of.

    With so many factors affecting site traffic’s ups and downs (up to and possibly including phase of moon) it feels futile to try to infer a relationship between those ups and downs with known events like offline ads. That’s one of my problems with the idea of integrating data from all sources – once you have POS info next to site traffic info next to TV share info for a particular day, do you really want to rely on just an apparent co-variation? Perhaps over a long period of time a history of covariance will become statistically significant – but you’d have to have lots of data, enough to work out the daunting role of lag time. AND you’d have to have a stats program that is NOT the simple crosstabs that are the output of all the analytics vendors. Clementine by SPSS comes to mind. Or at least a regression analysis program.

    Anyway, one thing I like for measuring online effects on offline is a short-term initiative where store clerks have to ask customers if they’ve been to the web site recently. You’d have to use some kind of odds ratio calcs or other epidemiological analysis to figure out if online made a difference, but it can be done. However, it’s really really hard to get the store people (or call center people etc) to cooperate reliably.

  4. Ben Krull

    In my experience with large brands, coded URLs in offline advertising (TV, print, outdoor) are only used by 30-50% of consumers. The remaining 50-70% typically show up as increases in direct and brand search sources.

    The best solution I’ve come up with is to apply the Goal conversion rate(s) on the coded URLs to the overall increase in direct and brand search traffic. This gives a better indication to the true value generated by the media source.

  5. Steve Jackson

    Hi Brian,

    Good post which leads me to the question which was posed to me at a Web Analytics Wednesday I was speaking at in Helsinki.

    I was asked “what is the hardest thing about web analytics in terms of measuring traffic sources?” which I thought was a good question.

    My answer was “integrating the data”.

    If you have numerous sources of data as most businesses have it becomes a difficult and often manual job to integrate that data into one place in order to be able to compare it. No tool today does this well unless you’re prepared to pay for something like Visual Site, which is a six figure yearly fee at least. You usually have to use something like Excel to do the integration and then see what and how you can compare it intelligently.

    Now most systems have some sort of Excel functionality and GA is no exception having the export function to CSV.

    My question is are there plans to extend this to make it easier in Google Analytics?

    Currently it’s a manual job to integrate the data unlike in Omniture SC, or HBX where you can stream the data on demand into predefined excel spreadsheets. This for instance allows you to easily set-up KPis which include data from other sources. The idea is you press a button from inside excel and the data updates automatically with the latest weekly, monthly, quarterly (depending on your requirement) data streamed into excel.

    This is a huge time saver when it comes to data integration.


  6. Michael Feiner

    Hi Brian,

    Interesting post.

    I think the two methods you mentioned [unique telephone numbers and friendly URLs (aka FURLs) ] are the most obvious. However, it still surprises me how often they are not used by marketers.

    I’m in two minds regarding your suggestion to incentivise visitors to use the campaign URL in order to measure campaign response accurately.

    If incentivised then the campaign is no longer a branding exercise but a promotional. It could then turn viral resulting in visitors not exposed to the original campaign using the campaign URL.

    I would certainly view such an outcome as a positive externality. However, it could skew results if the goal is to accurately measure exposure to a specific campaign (especially if you are targeting a specific visitor segment).

    As for me, I will always prefer higher response rates over accurate measurement.



  7. Sara

    Thank you for detailed reply… happy to have inspired to a completely new post 🙂

    This is of course not an easy question to answer as there is so many ways and sources of data possible to compare. I think you are touching on the advertising side of this which is good but of course not all marketing is based around media. .. as we know for example word of mouth is one of the most efficient marketing channels for most companies.

    As I am such a fussy marketer; wanting results for all my search marketing and other marketing efforts I just want to stress the important part of what you are discussing in the end of your article. According to me: All marketing efforts not working for sales at the bottom line is a waste. I have also found that comparing all these sources is hard, so important thing is to find goals that are comparable both offline and online. Amount of visitors to the website can be compared with amount of visitors in the offline stores (if you can aggregate this information). % of sales increase on certain products online and offline can also be compare as well in come cases bounce rates. Increase or decrease comparisons and studying the common theme of some actions is what can deliver valuable trend-data worth taking into account when you make your decisions.

    If you can find a few of those key factors to measure trends and success, you are closer to knowing if your overall marketing works or not. If the media activities are working and/or are working together is interesting but becomes a second priority.


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