I remember the excitement I felt when I first bought my towing business – soon I would be extremely wealthy and could afford to buy that island I had my eye on. Well I wasn’t quite that naive but I did expect to make a lot of money right out of the gate. I knew the importance of marketing and advertising and was ready to implement my plan as soon as I took over. I had experience helping other companies succeed and my specialty was online marketing, so I was confident that I could turn this business around.

So I jumped right in, but I made one critical error…it was a classic rookie mistake.

After months of marketing my business and getting inconsistent results, I decided to go back to the drawing board. Here’s where I found a big problem…I wasn’t properly tracking my offline advertising!

If you don’t track your marketing, how do you know what’s working and what’s not?

You probably spend hundreds of dollars per month on various ads. But how do you know when it’s time to stop one marketing campaign and invest more money in another? How do you test one ad versus another without tracking? You can’t.

But even if you do know that you should track ad performance, how do you do it? And once you have the information what should you do with it?

The unfortunate reality is that most advertising does not pay for itself. And it’s your job as a business owner to determine what’s working and what’s not.  Tracking online ads is much simpler (I’ll cover that in another article) but tracking the success or failure of offline ads can be much more challenging.

How To Track Offline Advertising (Business Directories like Yellow Pages, etc.):

To begin with, when it’s time for renewal, an account representative will bug you endlessly to meet and discuss the upcoming year’s ads.

  1. When scheduling an appointment play a little hard to get. Then, at the meeting, ask how you can track the effectiveness of an ad? Most likely they’ll produce data showing ad performance on their web directory. And if you have a tracking number in the paper directories, they will provide data for that as well. If you are not provided any data, that probably means they’re not tracking anything. Note: Your Account Rep. will almost always say that your ads are performing amazingly; Don’t fall for it!
  2. Insist on getting a tracking number. A tracking number is a unique phone number that, when called, is forwarded to your business phone number. Your Rep. should provide this for free. If not, ask them to include it at no cost. Be strong and insist that you have a tracking number.  If your Rep. wants to keep your business, you’ll get it.
  3. Get a separate tracking number for every ad. If you have multiple ads and/or ads for different services, typically in another section of the “phone book,” make sure that the tracking number for this ad is unique.  You’ll need to have a separate tracking number for each so that you can determine what’s working and what’s not.
  4. Get a tracking number for your online ads.If an online ad is included with the program being offered insist that you need a unique phone tracking number for it as well. Note: On several occasions I’ve had a Rep say that the online tracking number is the same as the one in the paper directory. That does you almost no good. Insist on different tracking numbers for everything.
  5. Request access to your numbers.The company should have a back-end dashboard on their website where you can login and look at your statistics. Be sure to get the login credentials and ask the rep to show you how to view the data. Note: Most of the time they will record all your calls. If not…ask that they record the calls. They should provide this for free.


Now what?

Now that you have access to the back-end dashboard, you need to set-up a process for regularly checking your data. Do this at least once per month for each ad vendor. I recommend creating a spreadsheet or document where you can track the data. Make sure you track each ad, and how many actions were manifested from the ad.

Know the difference between actions and impressions.

  • Actions are when someone calls the tracking number or clicks on the link to your website.
  • Impressions are when your ad is displayed somewhere on a web page, possibly as the result of a search, but no measurable action is taken. (If the ad rep brags about impressions, don’t be impressed, it’s almost useless data. Insist on knowing actions, not impressions.)

What to do with the information

  • Count the number of calls you get and put it on the spreadsheet
  • Listen to the recordings…..sorry but this will take a bit of time but you need to do it.
  • As you listen to the calls, count how many actually turned into paying customers. The number won’t be as high as the account rep will lead you to believe but make a note of how many paying customers called and how much they paid for the service. (Side note: this is a good time to think about the quality of your dispatcher or whomever answers the phone. You’ll learn how they interact with the lead and if they act in a way that convinces them to use your service).
  • Then add the number of paying customers up to determine exactly how much money you made from those calls per month.
  • Compare the money brought in from the ad against the monthly cost of the ad and make a decision if it’s worth it to keep paying for it. 

How do you make the decision?

After several months you will have a good average of how much money you’re making from the ad per month. Decide what kind of return on investment you want and if you’re not getting it, ditch the ad.  For me, I like to have at least 20-30% ROI from each ad. Some people believe that even a 5% ROI is fine but remember you are paying a lot of overhead and low ROI will actually mean you are losing money.

What if I don’t have a tracking number?

If you are in the middle of a bad contract or if you have ads in the newspaper or somewhere where tracking numbers aren’t possible, you have to work a bit harder. If you don’t have a tracking number you need to have your dispatcher or whomever answers the phone do a little more work. They won’t like it, but to get the results you want, they’ll have to do it. You need to have the person who answers the phone ask each and every person (at the end of the call) where they heard about you. Then keep a record of it. Make a sheet that has the day, time, and caller, along with where they heard about you, and if they agreed to use your services…..and if so how much they paid.

After several months of recording this information you will know which ads are making you money and which ones aren’t. Drop the non-money-makers as soon as possible and look at investing more in the money makers.

For the ads that are making you money, you might be able to get a better ad placement but it might cost you more. Try getting it for free at first.  This may be a good move, resulting in more conversions. And, don’t forget about the ad copy. Besides ad placement, superior ad copy will result in higher conversions….which is a topic I will cover in another post. Good luck and happy tracking! You are on your way to higher profits!

If you would like to learn more about how to properly track both online and offline ads and how you can increase leads, sales, and profits watch this video.