Google can now follow you from the computer to the store

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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Silicon Valley giant Google has developed a way to match the ads you view online to the purchases you make offline by developing a program that tracks you all the way to the store.

The In-Store Attribution Transaction Reporting in AdWorks pilot program lets Google tell online advertisers — which spend the majority of their budgets on Google — which digital ad views convert to direct in-store sales.

“Clicks are just the beginning, and everyone knows that there’s more value to tying ads to purchases,” advertising-technology company myThings CEO Benny Arbel said in a Wall Street Journal report. “If Google can demonstrate that people did not just click on an ad but that they actually bought something, that is the Holy Grail.”

Traditionally Google’s AdWorks program places advertiser links next to Internet-search results. If a user clicks on a link to the advertiser’s website, Google gets paid, and effectively allows the company to translate ad effectiveness to online sales.

Now Google and its advertisers have developed a method of tracking those clicks to offline sales by matching the tracking cookies — pieces of data automatically sent from websites and stored on users’ browsers — to in-store transaction information like the use of loyalty cards and other identifying marketing membership programs.

In the first step of the new program Google records every click on an ad link with a unique “click ID” and sends it to the advertiser. Second, the advertiser matches the click ID to the cookies sent to and saved in the user’s browser from the advertiser’s website.

If the user buys the product in a store afterward, data companies like Acxiom and DataLogix, which collect the loyalty and marketing membership data, can then match the retailer’s transaction information to the cookie on the user’s browser and the Google click ID.

In effect the process allows Google to tell advertisers which ads generated sales and how much — a huge boon to the company that in 2013 took in $50.5 billion of the $117 billion spent in online advertising annually, all courtesy of the free private data Americans give away daily just by searching the Web.

“The world of impressions, clicks and conversions doesn’t necessarily apply to what they are looking to accomplish,” Google advertising executive Neal Mohan told a conference earlier this year while explaining that brands spend more on TV because they don’t know how to track the usefulness of digital ads “That’s the $200 billion nut that is sitting out there, basically ready to come into the digital sphere.”

While Google would only confirm that they’re running tests to measure the effectiveness of ads, “people familiar with the test” told the Journal that six advertisers including arts and crafts chain Michaels have already signed on along with data companies Acxiom, DataLogix, LiveRamp Inc. and Alliance Data Systems Inc.’s Epsilon unit.

None of the data companies confirmed they were working on the project, but Acxiom and DataLogix confirmed they were working with companies to link online ads with in-store purchases.

The program is similar to one used by Facebook, which has been gathering in-store sales data since 2012 and working with DataLogix to match its information on $1 trillion in consumer transactions — including names, emails and purchased items — with the names, emails and viewed ads tracked by Facebook.

Both Google and Facebook claim they never view the completed match-ups to avoid violating privacy policies, and that the ID matches occur at the data and advertiser company levels.

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