This is a question that often seems to be lurking in the background of any discussion that compares different marketing tactics.  Whenever you read about using “big data” for online marketing, there it is in the background.  The implication is that a marketing campaign is like shooting a basketball through a hoop: you set up, take the shot, and then go look to see if you hit the target.

In practice, however, a better metaphor would be a triple-combo shot in a game of pool. You hit one ball, which hits another, which hits another, which tips the final one into the pocket.  Much more complicated geometry than the dunk-swish of making a basket. What I mean is that pay per click, display advertising and a firm plan involving social media and quality content will attract considerable traffic to a site if it has been built correctly. But then it is the purpose of the website to turn that traffic into leads, and then it’s the business’s job to take care of turning those leads into sales.

Defining What “Works” Means

If they’re done correctly, all online marketing tactics can “work”. However, what “works” means is often ill-defined or unclear due to unrealistic goals. On the other hand, if marketers set more realistic goals they will see that customers seek them out.  But for many types of products and services, it can take longer to get them on board than just that first click. Effective Internet marketing is a joint endeavor between the marketing tactic and the business. Usually, all of the responsibility is heaped onto the marketing, but a campaign that fails to generate sales may still have been a good campaign.

Measuring the Hand-off

Here’s an example: say that someone has a pay per click operation bringing in lots of traffic for a highly relevant keyword set. The text in the ad does a good job of portraying the value proposition and someone clicks on it. The campaign has served its purpose. After that, the person clicking on the ad ends up at the target website but leaves because it didn’t fulfill their expectations, or because the layout was too confusing for them to find what they were looking for. Similarly, the site may perform as intended and the person emails, calls or fills out a form, but the business doesn’t reply or otherwise handled things badly. Was it the marketing tactic that didn’t work, or was it the business or site that failed?

Closing Requires a Joint Effort

Sometimes, a business owner pays for many clicks within a month and then gets the impression that the campaign didn’t do its job when they can’t see an obvious increase in business.  But all along it may be that the fault was on the site design or the way the leads were handled. It’s really a joint effort. This is especially true with display advertising. Because the conversion isn’t immediate, its effectiveness is not always captured well with reporting metrics such as click-thru-rates. Instead, the potential customer later visits the site directly and the advertising gets no credit.

Final Thoughts

It’s often hard to know if a marketing method will succeed, a problem that is even faced by large and successful companies. Fortunately, tools are available that can show how much of a site’s traffic was exposed to display advertising, even if the ads weren’t clicked. A great example is the engagement tracking provided by local display ad specialists Vantage Local.  Other ideas to try are to incorporate less complex methods of testing marketing methods like using different phone numbers or promotional offers and giving out discount codes.  Whatever you use, measurements need to be matched to the activity that show whether that step in the chain is working or not.


Originally posted on iMediaConnection Blog.