How easy is it to track true ROI from PPC in 2021?

Rob Laver | 20th April 2021 |

PPC has historically been a straightforward channel to track return on investment. You pay for a click, that person visits the website, and provided you have tags set up to fire on your most important conversion points, you get end to end visibility on what people do once there, right? Well, for a B2C website with a low average order value (where people are likely to purchase straight away) that may very well still be the case. But for everyone else, the landscape has changed considerably over the past few years.

Here’s just a few of the considerations you need to make when assessing the impact of your campaigns in 2021.

The rise of multi-device behaviour

The vast majority of user journeys now start on a mobile device, but that doesn’t mean they always finish there. In a number of industries, desktop purchases/leads are still much stronger, particularly with high value items or where the website is asking for more than just basic personal info. The past year has further strengthened this behaviour with more people spending their breaks on laptops while working from home.

But it’s not just to do with security, let’s look at an (albeit slightly exaggerated) example of how someone might convert on a garden landscaping website:

First touchpoint:  Person A does a search on Google for ‘garden landscaping near me’ using their work laptop and clicks on an advert link

Second touchpoint: They decide to send it to their other half. This isn’t straightforward from a desktop, so they do it from their mobile phone using WhatsApp

Third touchpoint: Person B opens the website on their mobile later that day and asks Person A about it. Person A is now on their iPad, so searches the company name, this time clicking an organic link

Fourth touchpoint: Deciding to get a quote, Person B searches for the business name the next day on their work laptop, with their browser defaulting to Microsoft. They fill in a form.

The journey from original advert click to the final form completion has travelled across two people, five devices and four channels, making it very difficult to attribute ROI to the original advert click. Google Analytics has attempted to bridge this cross-device gap in recent years, with additional reports offering insight into typical user journeys, however they rely on people being logged into either the website or Google itself, so it’s by no means comprehensive.

GDPR / Cookie Policies

If you haven’t heard of GDPR by now, you’ve probably been living under a rock, but the new standard for digital privacy has been in place since May 2018. The percentage of users not being tracked has the potential to be huge, depending on how cookie policy notifications are implemented onsite. Here’s an example from the John Lewis website:

There is still a lot of variation in this, but user’s now have to give explicit consent to be tracked in the first place. If they choose not to be, their journey from advert click to purchase/lead may not be attributable at all, particularly if you are relying on data imported from Google Analytics. 

This is the new normal. Privacy is only heading in one direction at the moment, and while you can be smart with the usability of the cookie acceptance process, there also needs to be an acceptance that there is no such thing as 100% visibility anymore.

Apple Privacy Updates

One significant change to the way users are tracked via iOS devices is also on the way this year. Apple has stated that at some point over the next few months, they will roll out an update which asks users whether they want to share their data with apps such as Facebook, where it’s used for advertising. If they refuse, Apple will block certain data being shared to those platforms. It’s unclear at the moment exactly how much of the attribution process this will impact, but Facebook are concerned enough to be planning a counter-roll out message to encourage users to hit accept. Apple currently own over 50% of the mobile phone market in the UK, so the impact of a mass data exclusion could be significant.

Brand Awareness / The Value Of Impressions

This one is nothing new, but still very important to factor in when assessing your advertising ROI. How much value do you place on someone having just viewed your advert, as opposed to clicking on it? For those determined to prove ROI on every pound spent, you would steer away from YouTube videos, Spotify ads or Google Display, but there is definitely value in all of them with the right creative.

There are certain reports which show view-through conversions, but as with cross-device attribution, they rely on users being identifiable through logins, and therefore difficulties remain in understanding the true end to end impact of this type of awareness.Final Thoughts

If you build a campaign to be purely focused on 100% ROI visibility, it will create an artificial ceiling well below its true potential. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to ensure your PPC activity is effective, but being aware of the limitations in tracking all user movement ensures you keep your eyes open to the real value of your campaign.

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