Linking offline actions with online activities

Linking Offline Actions With Online Activities

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For our regular readers you’ll know that I’m an avid Google patent reader.  Heck, back in 2007 I spoke at Search Engine Strategies about personalization patents.  Turns out then that I wouldn’t be right for a few years but better early than late. 🙂

I recently read a fairly interesting patent that touches an a very important subject and that’s the issue of how to link online behavior with offline activities.  This has often been an ongoing challenge to Internet Marketers – how can the cost of paid search be justified when the value  can’t be displayed in Google Analtyics?  A serious question to be sure and one which Google is working on.  I have to say however, in this document I was disappointed in the limitations of the patent itself.   So let’s look at what they’re doing and then discuss likely extensions …

Google Patent 20150262221A1

Google patent 20150262221A1 essentially outlines “systems and methods” (what patent doesn’t?) for connecting online activities with offline purchases.  Below we’ll touch on what I believe it should be and was expecting it to include when I started the patent but for now let’s focus on what it is.  The abstract explains the core as:

“… transmitting a machine-readable image to a first user device for presentation at an offline location in conjunction with at least one offline action related to the user identifier, wherein the machine-readable image contains information related to the unique ID …”

I won’t bore you with all the details but what they essentially are meaning as they define the rest of the function is that they are patenting the method of using QR codes delivered to a mobile device or printable that are tied to the initial source of the traffic.  For example, a different QR code would appear in a BOGO offering if the user came form AdWords than from organic search giving the company additional information regarding their conversion cycle when someone used the code in the shop.  Of course, with additional conversion data comes the risk that people will discover that a specific source is not cost-effective.  To counter that the patent notes:

“… the method further includes determining a performance metric of the advertisement as a function of the association between the at least one offline action and the at least one online activity; determining a pricing value of the advertisement based on the performance metric; and determining a target bid for an advertising slot for the advertisement based on the pricing value of the advertisement.”

No secret there, if your ad performs well and delivers conversions, you’ll pay more.  There’s the additional revenue to make up for any lost campaigns.  To be fair, it also goes on to state:

“In some implementations, the method includes determining a ranking of the advertisement based on an effective cost of impressions that is a function of the at least one offline action.”

So to me this means that the ad’s Quality Score could be adjusted based on conversions which would lower the cost per click.  Either is a win for Google as they either earn more directly through clicks or more through increased click volumes.

Essentially …

This is a whole patent around the idea that a QR code and/or coupon can be used to track ad effectiveness.  What I find odd is that that’s where it ends.  We can easily see the shortcomings inherent in this system.  This assumes that the advertiser wants to offer an incentive for users to display or print a QR code and that said users are able.  Neither scenario is reliable so what I find curious is that the patent isn’t to connect profiles across devices and use that unified profile combined with localization via cell phone positioning to determine the conversion.  While this would be more akin to considering a time-on-site as opposed to a  full conversion as the metric it is far more flexible and applicable.  We can see that this would require the user to have an Android phone or compatible app installed on an iOS or other device but the flexibility beyond that would be far broader.

I don’t mention this to pretend I’m smarter than Google engineers.  I’m not and thus, I mention it to note a frustration I had with patent 20150262221A1 and to illustrate a patent that may well have been filed by now but not yet published.  Rest assured though, I’d bet that they’ve thought of it and I’d bet that within the next couple years you’ll be seeing these metrics in your AdWords campaigns and in Analytics.  And that’s the patent I look forward to reading but now you, our valued reader, know a bit more about what’s on the horizon.

If you have any thoughts about ways to track offline conversions from online sources please mention it in the comments below.  I’d love to hear them.

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