Today the Inside AdWords blog announced that the AdWords team has completed their beta test for audio ads. They are now in the process of rolling out access to all AdWords accounts. I was pleasantly surprised that my own personal AdWords account now has audio ads. Look out America!
Anyway, this got me thinking. What measurement capabilities have been built into the system? I haven’t done any audio ad analysis, but how different can this be from tracking other offline advertising using web analytics? It turns out that Google has integrated a call reporting system that can be used to measure the volume and geographic density of customer response to an audio ad. From the audio ads support docs:
Call reporting is an easy, free way to track customer responses to your audio ads campaigns. With call reporting you add a special phone number to your audio ads. When a listener calls the number Google records the time and location of the caller and forwards them on to your main business number.
This is all very good, but in today’s world of multi-channel business you need to combine the call data with web data. Not everyone is going to remember your phone number (unless you have a catchy jingle and repeat it over, and over, and over… Red Sox fans know what I’m talking about… 1-800-54-GIANT!) Luckily almost every analytics package on the market can help you identify the impact an audio ad has on your online traffic.
Segmentation is the Key
What better way to measure the impact of geo-targeted advertising than through the use of geo-segmented web data? Most analytics tools, including one that I have a soft spot for, lets you to segment your web data based on geographic location.
Obviously you should see a good bump in web traffic coming from the geographic areas where your audio ads are running. Make sure you segment the data by date/time to appropriately isolate the dates/times that your ads ran. Don’t just segmenting using geo-segmentation. You must continue to drill into the data using other segments.
If you can segment your geo-data by referral source you will gain even more insight into the effectiveness of the advertising. If your geo-data contains a large number of direct visits then it is probable that the visitor remembered the URL from your ad and typed it into the browser.
If your geo-data had a high percentage of organic search engine visits (probably using branded keywords) then it the visitors probably forgot the contact information from your ad but remembered your company name, or some other aspect of your brand, and used a search engine to locate your site.
It may be useful to analyze the non-branded keywords originating from the geographic region where your audio ads are running. This can provide insight into the overall message that your ad is generating among listeners.
Don’t forget to analyze the outcomes from this data. How many conversions occurred from the geo-segemented direct traffic or branded search traffic? Conversions are crucial to measuring the return for your audio ads.
You can also compare your web data with the call reporting data from Google to get a good picture of the overall impact of your audio ads. You could even create some cool KPIs for audio ads using the combined data set. For example, an audio response rate could be calculated using the following metrics:
Audio Response Rate = ( the number of web visits + the number of calls ) / impressions
Just for your reference, Google estimates the number of impressions using data from Arbitron.
Don’t forget to segment the above KPI using time, date and geographic location :) Then you can fine tune your audio ad buys.
A Better Way to Track
The one thing that bothers me about the above process is that it is fuzzy. Sure, the quality of web data stinks, but inferring that all traffic from a geographic region during a specific time, even if you know exactly when the audio ads were running, is a bit too loose for me. There is a more reliable way to link the offline world of audio ads with online tracking.
Using a vanity URL in offline advertising, including audio ads, is a better way to link offline advertising to online traffic. This technique is very common in print advertising. Vanity URLs are easier for people to remember and can be more indicative of your offer. I wrote a small blog post about offline campaign tracking which is a good primer. A better resource is Google’s Conversion University, which has a very good piece on tracking offline campaigns.
The concept of tracking an offline vanity URL is simple. When the visitor enters the URL into the browser they are redirected to a new landing page. During the redirect special query string parameters are added to the URL that indicate which ad the visitor is responding to. This method provides a more reliable way of linking an offline ad to a customer response. No more inferring that direct traffic to your site, from Mountain View, on a Thursday between 8 AM and 12 PM, was from a radio ad.
My Vision for the Future
Finally, how long will it take for Google to integrate audio ads with Google Analytics? I’m 99% sure it’s on the radar (just like integrating DoubleClick and FeedBurner with Analytics), but here’s how I would do it.
First, when you create an audio ad the system it will ask you if you want to activate call reporting (which is available now), web reporting (aka Google Analytics) or both. If you choose web reporting, the system will ask you for two pieces of information:
- A vanity URL that will be used in the ad
- The actual landing page that you want the visitor to see when they type in the vanity URL
After you submit the information the system will check the availability of the vanity URL. If it is already registered, and you own it, Google will confirm your request. If the vanity URL is not registered Google will register it for you. Then the system will check the actual landing page to make sure it is tagged with the Google Analytics tracking code. If it is not, then it will warn you that the page is not tagged and verify if this is ok. Who knows, maybe you want to use another analytics application to track your audio ads. If it is tagged then Google will confirm that the tracking is in place. That’s it. No other setup would be needed for tracking.
When a visitor types in the vanity URL Google will automatically redirect the visitor to the actual landing page. During the redirect the system will automatically tag the URL with the appropriate link tags to identify that the visitor originated from an audio ad. The system will embed critical information about the audio ad in the link tags such as:
- when the ad aired
- which market it aired in
- which station it was on
- the version of the ad
Essentially, this integration would be very similar to the AdWords auto-tagging feature that currently exists. It’s flexible enough to simplify the tracking setup for GA users and still lets non-GA users track their audio ads with other analytics applications. Obviously this is pretty vague, but it could be done.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what analytics tool you’re using. As long as you have some plan to track the performance of your audio ads.
So, what do you guys think? I’d love to hear from anyone out there that is actively tracking audio ads.
We are beta testing Google audio ads and have had great success. We reduced our media costs, while improve conversions.
We were quoted for a Boston campaign $22k for 36 spots, with Google Audio Ads: $4k and 231 spots. Costs reduced by 500% and spots increased 640%. Conversions (people attending event) 251%!
There is a function they just began offering where you can add a 1-800 # to track your radio ad. So you could in a effect have the number sync into your analytics account and monitor the response.
We suggested they allow for vanity numbers so your audience can remember the number better.
The reporting from your ads is good, but some stations still chose not to list their call letters so you get a report that says n/a. Google reports this is Arbitron’s agreement with the stations but it is a little annoying showing an executive a report without call letters for his ads.
One key for advertisers is that you do not get a schedule of your ads until the morning of the day. So if you need to advertise on a set station at a set time this WILL not do that for you.
I believe this will improve radio analytics tremendously as advertisers demand improved reporting to justify the spend.
Thank you so much for taking the time and sharing your experience! A 251% increase in conversions sounds like a ringing endorsement of Audio Ads :)
Did you use any analytics package to measure the online impact that the audio ads may have had? I’d be interested to learn of any direct conversions or brand impact that may have happened.
Thanks again for the comment and congratulations on the success!
Yes we could actually see the traffic increase in market using Google Analytics.
Justin, terrific article! You put together some good prospective ideas.
I DO have a bone with one statement you made, however, albeit a friendly one (ie. I’m not really being serious). You said:
“Luckily almost every analytics package on the market can help you identify the impact an audio ad has on your online traffic.”
Okay, so I don’t have a bone with that actual statement. I’m going to move sideways here a bit; bear with me, if you will.
If we were to replace one word in that statement, it becomes completely false:
“Luckily almost every analytics package on the market can help you identify the impact an audio POST (replaced for ‘ad’) has on your online traffic.”
Let’s think about that for a minute. When I say “post”, I’m referring to any embedded audio ad, which usually come in the form of flash-driven mp3 players/widgets, or full-page ads with flash-driven audio in a normal container (you know, those ads that run for 10-30 seconds when navigating between pages, with a “skip” link if their producers have any kind of soul).
I would surmise to say that this type of advertising has gained traction in the last 5 years. It’s corporate america’s answer to television advertising on the web.
Yet, with any in-roads it’s made onto the information superhighway, I’m still stumped to find more than a couple of solutions out there for actually tracking user behavior with this type of advertising. I imagine it’s a challenge to create said solutions for reasons two-fold:
1) Technically, it presents a challenge to track, say, how long a person listened to a given audio clip, or whether a user actually rewound the playhead to hear a particular segment over again. These audio clips aren’t passed through a url; instead, they’re usually embedded into a flash container. Anybody who knows anything about developing with Flash and ActionScript will tell you that building in a tracking mechanism would be tricky.
2) Morally, it’s frowned upon to natively track any kind of podcast or audio presentation, as the sole intended uses for said items is downloading, distributing and consuming.
Of course, will all of this being said, I will concede that I may simply not know of any analytical solutions that exist for this type of advertising. It sure seems like there isn’t much out there.
What are your thoughts? Can you point me in a direction I may not be considering?
Thank you for taking the time to endulge my query.
Thanks for that great comment. I appreciate the time you took to think of a response to my post.
I think tracking embeded audio, and more accurately all widget based advertising, is going to get very big in the future. And, thanks to some new announcements from Google, the tracking just got easier. Using Events you’ll be able to track visitor interactions with almost any media player, as long as you have access to the source code.
I’m a big fan of widgets. They really encourage interaction and, because you get to create then, you can add all sorts of tracking. Of course there will be limitations, but you have more control over a widget than you do some other forms of advertising.