It is great to make sales. But you really need to know where these sales are coming from to optimise your marketing. A simple and effective way to do this is through cookie tracking. The basic process is:
- A visitor arrives at a web page on your site.
- A script on your web page stores a small file (cookie) on their computer with some tracking details, e.g. the web page they came from, the date they arrived and the page they arrived at.
- When (if) the visitor makes a purchase, the contents of the cookie are sent through to your payment provider.
- Your payment provider sends back the cookie data with all the other information about the sale.
From the referrer you can find out what your customer typed into a search engine to find you. For example if the referrer is:
You can infer that the purchaser found you by typing “backup software” into Google. This is incredibly useful information. Once you have amassed enough of it you can find out which keywords are most effective at selling your product. For example, whether “back-up software” makes more sales than “backup software” or “back-up programs”. This can be very helpful for fine-tuning your marketing message, SEO and PPC campaigns. You can also find out which websites purchasers are being referred from, and even how long purchasers take to make a sale after first arriving at your site.
You can get a lot of this information from Google Adwords conversion tracking. But you will only get data on sales through Adwords. I want data on all my sales. You can also get some of this information through Google Analytics. But you can only get the information in the form that Analytics wants you to have it and the price is allowing Google to see all this data as well. So I think it is well worth doing your own tracking, even if you are using Adwords conversion tracking and Analytics.
If you do use tracking cookies you will find that there is no cookie data for many transactions or the cookie data is unreliable. Reasons for this include:
- The cookie has expired before the customer made the purchase.
- The cookie has been pushed out of the cache by other cookies. Browsers only have a limited cookie cache, and your cookie might be pushed out of the cache by others long before any expiration date you set.
- A different person is buying the software to the person who first arrived at your site.
- A different computer or browser is used to buy the software to the one use to find the site.
- The customer clicked a button in your desktop software (not a browser) to go to your site, so there is no referrer information.
- A firewall or other software is blocking cookies.
So cookie tracking data is never going to be particularly reliable. My own data shows that about 30% of sales don’t return cookie data. But it is likely to be considerably worse for B2B sales due to the longer sales cycles and the increased likelihood of the buyer not be being the person who first found the product.
to the end of the ‘Buy now’ button URL e-junkie gives you. The cookie data then comes back to me in the ‘custom:’ field of the e-junkie sale confirmation email (I believe all the major e-commerce providers support something similar). I then store the cookie data along with all the other sales data. I can use this data to generate various graphs and reports, including top-selling keywords and a graph of the time-taken to purchase. Unlike much of the data you get from Analytics this is data you can really use, e.g. for the top selling keywords:
- Make sure they are in your Adwords campaign.
- Write additional content pages based around these keywords to attract targeted traffic.
- Consider including these keywords in the strapline on your home page.
Knowing a bit about cookies can also help you as a consumer. A while back I was interested in buying a large VDU from Dell. I browsed around their site and found a good deal. I went back some time later to buy the monitor after I had bought a new PC, but the price had gone up considerably. On a hunch I deleted Dell’s cookie and refreshed the page. The price dropped back to the original price. I believe that Dell knew from a cookie that:
- I had logged in as a business user; and
- Had just purchased a new PC from Dell.
Consequently they expected me to be less price sensitive than a consumer shopping for just a VDU and upped the price. I can’t prove this. It is also possible (but unlikely) that they just happened to drop the price in the few seconds before I did a refresh. Anyway, try it next time you want to buy something expensive online. Note that it might be easier to use another browser (e.g. Opera or Safari) than to delete cookies. Let me know if you get a similar result.