Track Correctly Or Die
Advertising on Google, Yahoo and the other paid search engines can't be done well without tracking and optimizing to granular, keyword-level impression/click/conversion data. Over the last several years, however, I cannot tell you the number of times I've run into organizations who either don't understand what that means or couldn't do anything with the data if they *did* track that way. What surprises me most, however, is the lack of articles on this topic - you would think with all the agencies and SEM-related firms in the fray that there would be myriad Tracking 101 articles, but I couldn't find any. So I'm writing a brief one, although keep in mind that I'm in Sales and not Client Services which doesn't make me the brightest bulb on the porch when it comes to this topic.
First off, here are some less-than-perfect ways advertisers track search ad buys, and what they'll say they can know about how their search campaigns are performing:
1)To the search engine level - "I know what the overall ROI is of my Google buy and my Yahoo buy." If you ask them how a particular keyword or adgroup/campaign is performing they'll reply with a statement that would be inadmissible as evidence in any court of law. To get to this high-level tracking, the advertiser will have one common tracking code for each search engine.
2)To the campaign level - "I know how each of my campaigns is performing on Yahoo. The cruise campaign has generated 345 bookings this month to date, at ~$75/booking." In this case the advertiser has unique tracking codes in place for each campaign.
3) To the keyword - "I know how each keyword is performing on each search engine. I know everything I possibly can and am tracking at the most granular level possible. I'm an expert and am speaking at the next major conference." Contrary to popular belief, this is NOT the most granular level of tracking and is therefore NOT the best way to track.
4) To the individual click - "I know not only how each keyword is performing but how each CLICK on each KEYWORD performs." This person gets it and is, in fact, tracking optimally. It's not enough to know how each keyword performs - you need to know how each click performs in order to know
a)what the impact of bid changes are
b)what time of day traffic converts best
c)what particular ad copy converts best
For many of you in the industry this may sound like common wisdom, but my own sneaking suspicion is that less than 10% of keyword buys are tracked this way today.