Google Ads is a fantastic platform for advertising. Since Google is such a vast presence, between their services (Search, YouTube, Maps) and their display network, you have access to massive reach when using it. Moreover, the immense wealth of data Google harvests allows for very robust targeting options for those ads, allowing you to be surprisingly narrow and precise with your audience.
There’s just one problem. It’s all online.
Many businesses process sales both online and offline. You might have a brick-and-mortar business and have customers stop in to make their purchases. You might have a phone number where you answer calls from leads and sell directly to them. You might use mass mailers to send flyers to neighborhoods to get sales.
Diversified sales methods can muddy the waters a lot. Imagine this scenario:
You’re a brick-and-mortar store. You run Google ads, geo-targeted for your local region, so local customers can see you when they search for what you sell. People search for your products, visit your ads, and decide to stop in since they’re nearby. They stop in, make a purchase, and everyone walks away happy.
Here’s a question: how do you associate the ad that led them to you with the purchase they made?
The easiest way to get that information is to ask the customer where they heard about you. But, that’s not always helpful information. Customers might not remember, or they might not be precise enough. There has to be a better way, right?
You’re right; there is. Depending on your customer tracking systems, Google offers “offline conversion tracking” with several possible methods to set it up.
Google’s offline conversion tracking is a way to track an individual from the moment they see your ad to the moment they make a conversion. It also works if you use ads with the phone call extension, leading to a telephone conversion rather than an in-person conversion.
The limitation here is user interaction. Offline conversion tracking works if the user clicks your ad or uses the Google transfer number to make a phone call to your business.
This technique even works if a user sees your ad but doesn’t click on it, which they implemented in 2016.
Most forms of offline conversion tracking rely on the GCLID system, which we’ll discuss in greater detail further down in the post. First, though, is a top-level overview of your options.
Google offers four different options for tracking offline conversions. Two of them require you to use specific CRM systems, one allows you to hook up nearly any third-party system, and the last one – which is the one we’ll mainly be covering today – is done entirely within Google’s ecosystem.
The first option applies to those using HubSpot to manage your ads. Using HubSpot as your CRM, you can sync data between it and Google Ads to track users using data from both tracking systems more accurately.
There are a couple of restrictions here. HubSpot won’t be able to track Google Smart Campaigns, so you’ll need to use Expert Campaigns instead. You also need to be using an Individual Google Ads account, not a Google Ads Manager account, which makes this a little less helpful for agencies.
If you’re using HubSpot and meet these criteria, you can read this page to get started on setting it up.
Salesforce is one of the largest sales platforms out there, so it stands to reason that Google would have some manner of syncing with it. Using the Salesforce Sales Cloud, you can set up data imports between the two platforms to aggregate your data in one place and track it across channels.
Google provides this help center page to help you get started with the import for Salesforce systems. This option uses the GCLID system, which we’ll talk about later. It’s not complex to set up, but it will impact the metrics and measurements you need to interpret.
Many different platforms on the web have data you would want to import into other systems but have no official way to manage the syncing. It’s too much overhead for any company to offer the thousands of different data streams necessary to connect to all these other platforms.
That’s where companies like Zapier come in. Zapier is, essentially, a middleman between APIs. They can take data from a thousand different platforms, tweak and format it as necessary, and import it into any other platform in their roster.
With Google Ads tracking, you can pull data from any CRM Zapier supports, shuffle it through Zapier to format it for Google and import it into Google Ads to track it there. It also requires the GCLID system to function correctly, though. On the plus side, Zapier supports over 650 different CRMs, so whatever you use will be available.
Google’s default system offers two options; one for tracking phone calls generated by ads and one for monitoring clicks that result in offline conversions. The latter uses GCLID as well. Don’t worry; we’re almost ready to talk about it.
Phone call tracking is interesting. When you run a Google ad with a phone call as your intended conversion, you can use a call extension to display a number for users to call, with a button they can click on their mobile devices to start up that call.
That number is a Google Forwarding Number, which passes through Google’s system and redirects to your phone number. This way, Google can track data about who is calling from what ad. Here’s how to set it up.
GCLID is the Google Click ID system. If you’re familiar with unique tracking parameters or affiliate marketing, you probably already know how some of this works.
“Google Click ID (GCLID) is a parameter passed in the URL with ad clicks to identify the campaign and other attributes of the click associated with the ad for ad tracking and campaign attribution. In Google Ads, this is enabled by turning on the auto-tagging setting. It’s required for Google Ads website conversion tracking and also used to link data between Google Ads and Google Analytics. It can also be used in conjunction with features like offline conversion tracking.” – Google.
When someone sees one of your ads, Google generates and assigns a unique ID to them for that interaction. That’s the GCLID, and the information is passed in the referral data to your website, where the code in your tracking system can pick it up.
It typically is a parameter appended to the end of the ad URL, so it looks like:
If the user then takes an action that you can track on your website, you can pass along the GCLID information. For example, if they fill out a lead generation form and sign up for a sales call, the GCLID can be passed along with their data. Then, later, when that customer makes a conversion, you can associate the GCLID with the conversion, report it back to Google Ads, and gain more refined data.
Before 2016, the GCLID was generated on click – this meant a user could click multiple ads in different sessions and generate multiple GCLIDs, which would cause problems when they finally converted and had several IDs tracking them. Now, it’s created on each new visitor impression and associated with the Google user rather than the session, so it’s easier to track more accurately.
It’s easy to pass an ID parameter to a CRM platform online. The code is referred to in the URL, tracked by your analytics, and added to your CRM alongside any information the user imports.
What about genuine offline conversions? If a user drives to your physical storefront and makes a conversion, they aren’t exactly going to be carrying their GCLID along with them. You can ask for it, but they’ll usually have no idea what you’re even talking about. Even the people who know what a GCLID is won’t have one on hand; it’s meant to be as close to invisible as possible.
Google does a little bit of tricky operation here to get the best data they can for you. It requires the user to be signed in to a Google account on a mobile device and have location sharing turned on.
When those criteria are met, Google can track the user’s geographic location. When the user visits your physical location – which Google knows – the GCLID-attached Google account becomes associated with a visit to your store.
Of course, data protection laws prohibit Google from tracking individuals with that much precision. So, Google adds the data to an anonymized pool of aggregate data, which they then use to draw statistical conclusions about user behavior. They then verify this data using a separate system. Here’s what they say about it:
“We connect the customer’s visit to the store to engagements with your ad in a privacy-safe way. Store visits use anonymous, aggregated statistics which are then extrapolated to represent the broader population of your customers.
When our systems detect that potential visits have occurred, we add an extra layer of verification by surveying select users about their store visits. Using a panel of over 5 million users who have volunteered to participate in Google Opinion Rewards, we directly ask them which locations they’ve visited, understand how this checks out against our predictions, and then use this data to fine-tune our machine learning models.”
Google Opinion Rewards is an app smartphone users can install that periodically asks them questions about locations they have visited recently and sometimes asks for a receipt photo as proof. It’s also used for some other forms of market research. Each survey only has 2-3 questions at most and pays the user anywhere between $0.07 and $1 for their answers in Google credit that you can spend on apps and through Google Pay.
If you aren’t using phone call extensions and you aren’t using one of the third-party CRM methods listed above, you can set up offline conversion tracking solely within Google Ads.
Every page that gets an ad click or has a lead generation form requires this code. (Obviously, customize the parameters to match your form, as necessary.)
<form action="" name="myForm"> Name: <input name="name" type="text" /> <input id="gclid_field" name="gclid_field" type="hidden" value="" /> <input name="btnSubmit" type="submit" value="Submit Form" /> </form>
This code must be pasted in your lead generation form as a hidden input. Also, you may want to check back on this page if you’re reading this in the future, just in case Google has changed how it works since the last time we updated this page.
Additionally, on that page, there is a script that you’ll want to add to every page of your site to enable tracking across the board. You can also use Google Tag Manager to implement this, if applicable.
Once that is live on your website, you should test it to verify that it works, and you’re done! Now all you need to do is get those conversions rolling in.
Any questions? Are you daunted by the prospect of setting up advanced tracking? Why not drop us a line? We can help with anything you need, so let us know.