In search of footfall attribution

David Murphy talks to Dan Peden, strategy director at Journey Further, about the best Google business tool no one seems to have heard of.

It was the 19th century Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker who famously (allegedly) said that half the money he spent on advertising was wasted, the trouble was he didn’t know which half.

Online advertising, of course, doesn’t suffer from the same issue. Every click can be measured and, if it leads to a sale, attributed. The problem for advertisers comes when people who have seen their ads, or maybe searched for a product online, clicked through to the company’s website, then subsequently completed the purchase in store. How is the brand supposed to know that, even though the consumer didn’t convert online, they subsequently did so in one of the company’s physical stores?

Attempts to resolve the problem – or at least to establish whether consumers who searched for something online actually visited one of the company’s stores – usually focus on in-store surveys. This is an old-fashioned, and not particularly sophisticated, solution to a very modern problem.

Google Store Visits
In fact, there’s a much better Google solution out there called Google Store Visits, but as Dan Peden, strategy director for Journey Further, who has used it for companies including Matalan and Claire’s Accessories, explains, it’s one that few brands or agencies seem to know about.

“It’s odd” says Peden. “The product has been around for some time, but when we meet clients who should be using it, it’s usually because their agency did not know about it, or did not know how to turn it on in Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords).”

In essence, Google Store Visits enables a brand to tie its PPC activity to in-store visits to see how many people who searched on any given keyword ended up in one of the company’s stores. Armed with this information, they can upweight spend on the keywords that are working, at the expense of those that aren’t.

The anonymised location data comes from the consumer’s phone, and to verify its accuracy, Google runs Google Opinion Rewards surveys among a panel of 5m consumers to check that its location data is accurate. As a result, it claims a 95 per cent degree of confidence in the accuracy of Google Store Visits data.

“Google Store Visits is really useful for products where people research online and then buy offline,” says Peden. “So think cars or other high-ticket items. And switching it on can make a massive difference to a campaign.

When I worked at Matalan, we ran a PPC campaign for luggage that delivered an ROI of 1:15 for online conversions. When you factor in returns, warehousing costs, shipping and everything else, that’s a really poor ROI that looked like we were making a loss. But when we added Google Store Visits into the equation to track the number of people who visited a Matalan store after searching on the same keywords, even applying a very pessimistic conversion rate, the ROI went from 1:15 to 1:42, which made it one of our best campaigns ever.”

Statistically valid
Not anyone can run Google Store Visits campaigns. “You need to be whitelisted for it,” Peden explains. “Google will only turn it on if you are statistically valid, with enough footfall to your stores and a big enough spend on Google Ads for the data to be statistically accurate. You also need up-to-date location data and you need to have Location Extensions turned on within Google Ads.”

But this, says Peden, is the easiest part of the process. “Where Google Store Visits really starts to make a difference is when you can interpret the numbers and act on them,” he says. “Out of the box, you won’t see results for 30 days, which is too long in reality, so we have built a model for our clients that allows us to see what’s happening within 10 days and act on it. This is essential, because if you have to wait 30 days to make a decision, you’ve missed the opportunity. Tied to this, you also, obviously, need a robust PPC structure that allows you to adjust your keyword spend dynamically, and, for a multiple retailer with stores all over the country, regionally too.”

And Peden’s advice for anyone not using Google Store Visits who wants greater insight into the impact their PPC activity is having on footfall to their physical stores? “Talk to your agency and switch it on. Today.”