Bringing digital accountability to your offline marketing with call tracking

illustrated telescope with an eye peering through the lens

John Wanamaker once famously said that “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.”

He’d have no excuse for saying that in 2020. Digital marketing leaves next to no room for uncertainty about what works and what doesn’t. Conversion tracking makes it possible to track leads and sales down to the channel, campaign, keyword, and ad copy. Virtually any data point can be scrutinized down to the cent.

Traditional offline media like TV, radio, and print, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish.

For many marketers, tracking the return on ad spend from their offline media is a constant headache and many fall back on judging these efforts solely through the lens of ‘branding’ rather than a way to drive consistent new business. As I’ve discovered, however, this doesn’t have to be the case and call tracking offers a powerful way to apply the same level of scrutiny to your offline media as your digital media.

Removing tracking blindspots with call tracking

My digital marketing agency, Pathfinder Alliance, works with a variety of clients, many with little-to-no experience in digital marketing. Clients that in many cases have built their businesses on the back of radio, print, TV, and the Yellow Pages.

One of our earliest clients, a water tank manufacturing business, was one such example.

While they were initially skeptical of many aspects of digital marketing, through sustained growth in lead numbers, they slowly gained confidence in what we, and digital marketing, could offer their business.

Following an end of quarter review with the client, it became apparent, however, that the click-to-call conversion numbers we had been reporting to the client were significantly lower than the total volume of phone inquiries that they were actually receiving.

The client had assumed that these additional phone calls were coming from their offline activities (radio /TV/newspaper ads) and had been using this data to justify their media spend in those channels. We weren’t so convinced this was the case and, after some investigation, realized that we had been reporting to them with a massive blindspot.

While we could track the number of people clicking on the phone number, we were missing the many people who saw the number and manually dialed the number on their mobile or landline. Not to mention the users who accidentally clicked the phone number and didn’t complete a phone call.

After researching different options to resolve this reporting issue, we came across CallRail call tracking as the perfect solution. It would enable us to not only track all phone inquiries from the website down to the channel and even keyword, but it could also be used to measure results for offline channels like TV.

We pitched it to the client and secured a trial to validate our theory.

Putting The Theory To The Test Online and Offline.

Within 30 minutes we had set up a pool of dynamic tracking numbers on the client’s website to report on phone inquiries from digital channels and an additional number to be displayed on an upcoming TV commercial.

This way we could track any phone inquiries that the TV commercial had directly generated.

Using the call tracking software, 1,204 calls were recorded across the two months from all channels - online and offline. However, the data painted a starkly different picture of what the client expected and even took us by surprise.

Most surprising was the gap between clicks-to-call and actual phone calls.

Our click-to-call reporting had recorded an average of 6 calls per day from the website, with CallRail call tracking implemented, we learned this was in reality 21 calls per day. We had been under-reporting phone calls on the website by a whopping 70%!

No wonder the client thought that offline advertising had been making the phone ring…

While the additional conversion data demonstrated a far higher return on investment from digital marketing than we or the client had expected, it also provided a great opportunity to optimize their digital marketing further - we started to see the top performers shift, along with our choices on how best to optimize their campaign.

  • Google Ads cost per lead numbers was 47.3% lower than previously thought.
  • Cost per lead in a major geographic market was 87.5% lower than reported.
  • Conversion rates for the 65+ demographic were 42% higher (clearly older people prefer to pick up the phone than fill out forms).

As for the client’s $15,000 national TV campaign, according to the data for the offline tracking number, it had produced only 3 phone calls over its two-month run. On the surface, this is a damning statistic.

But it’s certainly not entirely fair to judge TV, typically a branding channel, by purely direct response metrics. It’s not unheard of for someone to watch a TV ad, later search for the brand, and then call the business from the website.

In this situation, the lead would be attributed to search, when TV was the main contributor to generating the lead. With this in mind, we also measured the uplift in branded search and direct traffic and attributed this to the TV campaign’s effectiveness - just to make sure we weren’t missing anything.

In our client’s case, the TV campaign had indeed generated an uplift in these traffic sources of approximately 15%. Based on our estimates, we could add another 12 leads to the 3 directly attributed to the TV campaign. All said and done, the results of our trial were stark. Digital marketing had generated new sales inquiries at a rate 20 times cheaper than that of the TV campaign.


Blindspots in marketing tracking create significant handicaps in optimizing your marketing mix. You can only optimize on what you measure, and as we’ve learned, it’s important to never make any assumptions about marketing that aren’t based on hard data.

While offline marketing throws up a number of challenges to measuring return on investment, call tracking can go a long way to overcoming these. Armed with a more holistic view of your marketing performance, you’ll be in a far better position to allocate marketing dollars to where they are most likely to generate a return on investment for your clients.