Analytics & Data

Ecommerce Know-How: Four Ways to Measure Print Advertising Effectiveness

Print advertising is a waning media vehicle. It has become less effective in the post-interruption era. However, in spite of this decline, printed display advertising and classifieds can still provide a solid return on investment (ROI) for some ecommerce merchants willing and able to measure and optimize their print campaigns.

I must confess a certain affinity for printed media. As someone who spends many hours each day working and reading on a computer, I find a sort of nostalgic comfort in flipping through the glossy pages of a magazine, or in feeling the inky lightness of newsprint. Yet I also understand that it has become increasing difficult to be heard in a marketplace where print advertisers tout seemingly unending tag lines to what seems to be disinterested shoppers.

The yin and yang, if you will, of printed ads is that on the one hand fewer consumers respond to interruptive messages, but on the other hand some customers still do—and for certain markets printed advertising may yet be very effective. So what is an ecommerce marketer to do? Measure.

In this edition of “eCommerce Know-How,” I’ll discuss four basic tactics for measuring print advertising effectiveness.

No. 1 Use Ad-specific Sub-domains

A sub-domain is a section or small portion of a domain identified by a name or number before the main domain in a URL. In an address bar a sub-domain would look like:
Sub-domains are one of my favorite ways to measure the effectiveness of print advertising campaigns. Simply include the sub-domain in the ad, give your target customers a reason to use that sub-domain URL, and track traffic and conversions with your web analytics software.

For example, let’s imagine that I sell baseball gloves in my online store. I place an ad promoting a new brand of gloves called “Atlanta Tim’s Ball Gloves” in a few magazines. While the ad still has my main URL in it, it tells potential customers that they can get a 10-percent discount by visiting—a sub-domain that I only promote in my printed ad. Whenever traffic enters the sub-domain arriving at my landing page, I know that traffic could have only come from my print advertising campaign, giving me a very effective way to measure ROI.

Furthermore, if I want to compare several magazines’ relative effectiveness, I can include different sub-domains in each publication. So publication one has an ad that promotes the sub-domain _ AtlantaTims.PracticalBallGloves.com_. A second publication might have the same ad with a slightly different sub-domain, A third publication could run an ad brandishing the sub-domain In this way, I can compare one publications performance to another and optimize my print advertising based on ROI.

No. 2 Use Coupon Codes

Evidence from Google Insights for Search, COM Score surveys, and others indicate that more consumers are seeking out bargains and looking for valid online coupon codes. So why not provide coupon codes in you’re printed advertising? Add a message like, “Get 10-percent off when you enter the code ‘AtlantaTim’ at checkout” to your display ad.
You could be giving your potential customers a compelling reason (a discount) to visit your online store and embedding an easy to tracking code that will measure your printed advertising’s effectiveness. If a customer enters the code, you’ll know that they responded to the print ad.

As with sub-domains, you can apply unique coupon codes to particular magazines to measure the publications’ response-generating prowess individually.

No. 3 Ask Your Customers

This may seem a bit obvious, but it is alright to ask your customers how they heard about your online store. I would suggest sending a post-sale email to direct traffic customers asking them how they learned about your store.

This will take a little filtering on your part, and could be a lot easier if you have an effective analytics tool. Look for direct traffic customers (those who typed your store’s URL into their browser’s address bar), who are not repeat customers. Send them an email offering a discount on their next order for answering your question. With a statistically significant sample, you can determine just what sort of ROI your print efforts are creating.

No. 4 Monitor Sales and Promotional Mix

Perhaps the oldest method for measuring print ad effectiveness, just watch and see if your sales improve. For example, if I sold 100 Atlanta Tim’s Ball Gloves in my first month, then placed an ad, and saw sales rise to 200 orders, I would know that my printed campaign was likely working. If however, my sales were unmoved, I would know that my ad was less than effective. This will work even if I use other forms of marketing promotion, as long as I track my advertising mix.


Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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