A lot of businesses realize that they need better website ROI, but most don't know where to start. In fact, many don't even have a way to track their website ROI – how can you improve something you can't even measure? This month, companies all over the world will throw away a collective hundreds of thousands of dollars on pay-per-click advertising campaigns that bring in zero leads, zero purchases, and zero return buyers. Could your company be one of them?

Current research universally agrees that search engines now play a large role in the buying process for consumers and businesses alike, and smart companies are investing in search engine marketing campaigns to ensure that they get a piece of this rising market share. This often includes the launch of an organic SEO campaign as well as a large scale pay-per-click campaign, both of which can be extremely effective tactics. And, while statistically organic SEO traffic results in a better website ROI than pay-per-click campaigns, judicious use of the two in tandem is often the most successful way to better website ROI.

However, many companies who employ both of these methods fail in one critical area – they neglect to track the real ROI of each. This is important because, given the appropriate tracking methods for a pay-per-click campaign, companies may find that the ROI falls short of the expected results. Studies have shown that often organic SEO traffic converts better than that from paid ads, but without tracking the results, how would you know if this is the case for you? Most companies know that implementing a search engine marketing campaign should result in better website ROI, but without knowing the details of their marketing efforts, they may be wasting money.

It is possible to track ROI on pay-per-click campaigns to a limited degree from the reports available on your paid inclusion service of choice. However, these reports only show you how many people clicked on your ad for each keyphrase – they can't follow visitors through your website. A very popular phrase like "web hosting" is likely to generate a great deal of click-throughs to your site, but do you know how many of those click-throughs turned into a purchase or a repeat visit? These types of metrics are the key to better website ROI.

Tracking your pay-per-click campaigns is particularly important when organic SEO and pay-per-click are combined, because without appropriate tracking mechanisms in place, visitors from both types of campaigns all appear as search-referred traffic. It is crucial to be able to differentiate your visitors in order to determine the direction you should take your marketing budget to achieve better website ROI – should you abandon pay-per-click completely in favor of organic SEO, limit pay-per-click to a few targeted phrases, or expand the entire pay-per-click campaign? The easiest way to make sure that you can separate your organic search traffic from your paid search traffic is with URL striping on your pay-per-click ads.

What Is URL Striping, Anyway?

URL striping is easy to do, and the most popular paid inclusion services can do this for you if you have a large portfolio of terms. Most companies that use pay-per-click just enter the home page URL in the "Destination URL" field for their ads. So, an ad for ABC Inc. might have a destination URL of:


This means that someone who clicked on the pay-per-click ad and someone who clicked on the organic listing would appear to have been referred to the site in the same way. To stripe your URLs for your pay-per-click campaigns, you need to add a parameter to the end of the destination URL for your ad. For example, if ABC Inc. wanted to place an ad on Google for the keyphrase "search," we could enter the following as the destination URL:


Your server will ignore the question mark when it pulls up the page, so this URL is for the same page as the first URL. However, the addition of "?src=google" allows you to analyze your log files and determine how many people were referred to your site from a PPC ad and how many clicked on an organic listing. This way, you can separate the two types of traffic and determine what percentage of each type of traffic resulted in better website ROI.

You can also add more than one parameter to a URL in order to collect data on keyphrases that result in better website ROI. For the same pay-per-click ad, we could also make the destination URL:


Using both parameters allows you not only to sort your traffic by organic and pay-per-click, but also to sort your pay-per-click traffic by the targeted keyphrases. Many companies have hundreds of keyphrases in their pay-per-click campaigns, but they never track the visitors who come from each phrase on their site individually. You might find that the money you are spending for more expensive terms could be better allocated, whether to new keyphrases or simply to other marketing initiatives.

Why You Should Implement This - Yesterday

There are two primary benefits of measuring the ROI for particular phrases, and both are critical for achieving better website ROI. Often, the most expensive terms that drive the most traffic are also the most general. An analysis of traffic from these terms might show that visitors from these ads almost never take a significant action on your site, while most visitors from more specific and less expensive terms do (and our research shows us that this is usually the case). A phrase that generates a lot of traffic but very little revenue is probably not worth paying for, and, armed with this information, you could save your company a lot of wasted money by reallocating this money to phrases and initiatives like organic SEO that provide better website ROI.

Conducting this type of analysis can also help you get better website ROI out of your organic SEO campaign. If a particular type of phrase seems to result in a significantly better website ROI, then these are probably also valuable phrases to target in your organic campaign. The effects won't be as immediate as those from your pay-per-click campaign, but once you achieve good rankings for these positions, they will last even if your pay-per-click budget runs out. Alternatively, if it is important to you to show up in searches for certain phrases, but those phrases have not historically brought in targeted buyers, you can focus on ranking well in the organic listings for those terms instead of spending money on pay-per-click ads for them.


Having the ability to track ROI is a critical element of any marketing campaign, and URL striping is an easy way to make sure that you are really getting a better website ROI from your online initiatives. While it is particularly important for pay-per-click ads that can get lumped in with organic search traffic, it can also be used to track the website ROI of banner ads, newsletters, e-mail campaigns, and anything else that includes a link to your website. Why should you waste one more penny on a pay-per-click term that isn't bringing in the right types of website visitors when you could be spending it elsewhere?

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

April 3, 2007

Erin Walker is the Director of Conversion at Medium Blue, a search engine optimization company.

Search Engine Guide > Erin Walker > Visitor Tracking: Your Ticket to Better Website ROI