How to Track your Inbound Tourism Campaign 101

Greg Lane

The following guide is designed as a resource for our customers in the inbound tourism market in Japan, but most of the principles are universal and can be applied to any online advertising.

Inbound tourist gateway Narita Airport | Photo by Chris Kirkland

Set your goals

Brand building, direct response sales or both?

Whether your objective is sales, brand building or both depends on both the timing and nature of the transaction.

Advertising for Brand Building

What is branding and why is it important?

According to a survey by industry news site eMarketer, in 2015, 42% of US advertisers digital spend was on branding activities.

If the transaction is large and complex, with a long lead time between need and purchase, then brand building may be more valuable than trying to get an instant sale.  Examples of this include vehicle purchases, house purchases, education, health and large travel packages such as ship cruises. If the consumer recognizes and trusts your brand, then you are at a big advantage to your competitors.

Brand building is also important when brand is an important part of the decision process.  If your competitors have strong brands, you need a strong brand too.  Examples here include luxury goods, fashion, credit cards, hotel chains, airlines.

To clarify, the value of a brand can be measured in either or both of the following two ways:

  1. The extra amount consumers will pay for your product/service over competitor offerings
  2. The increased likelihood that they will choose your product/service given a selection of similar offerings

Brand value = higher profit and/or higher market share.

“When marketers don’t do brand advertising, they lose sales.”

Branding Goals

Goals for brand building may include:

  • Increased awareness among a target market
  • A more favourable impression of the product or service with the target market
  • Generation of more word of mouth referrals
  • Increased market share within a carefully defined segment

Measuring these goals requires methodically surveying your customers, potential customers and the customers of your competitors.  To further complicate measurement, good brand building uses multiple media channels, so attributing success to one channel or source may be challenging.

Advertising for Direct Response Sales

The objective for direct sales advertising is simple.  Present an offer to an audience with a need.  If they respond to your offer, then you have success.

A conversion funnel in Google Analytics

Besides the message itself, there are a number of factors that affect the success of the campaign.

  1. Ability for the consumer to act quickly
  2. Your brand (reputation)
  3. Your funnel – how your handle the consumer once they are on your web site or at the place where the sale/service takes place

A Combination of Brand Building and Direct Sales

Usually, brand building with a direct sales component is difficult, but brand building elements can be built into your direct sales advertising.

Some examples include:

  • Consistent imaging – using consistent logos, color palettes and copy
  • Promotions that emphasize an aspect of your brand
  • The channel through which you advertise (eg. a trusted authority or a generic listing mag)

Measuring Results

How you measure your results will depend on how your goals are set. Possible metrics are:

  1. Tracked transactions
  2. New leads (sign-ups to newsletters or account creation)
  4. Engagement
  5. Clicks
  6. Awareness of brand or brand characteristics

Tracking transactions

Online transactions

If the transaction is taking place on your web site, you can track the transaction using goals in Google Analytics.  Set the goal to the URL of your “transaction complete” page.  For example:

With all your ads, make sure to use UTM tags.  UTM tags allow you to track the source of traffic.  The URL looks something like this.

To break this down, the URL is tracking 4 different variables.

Source: The site or service (could be an app for example) where the ad is running

Medium: The type of advertising you are doing. For example, inline, display, video

Campaign: The name of the campaign you’re running. Could include product, market, season etc.

Content: The specific piece of content that got the click.  For example, if you booked display advertising with three different banners, each banner would have a different label.

You can generate a UTM campaign URL by going here.

Offline Transactions

Not everything can happen online. Almost all dining at restaurants and drinking at bars is transacted in the offline world.  Additionally, most fashion shopping, souvenir shopping, electronics and large purchases are transacted offline.  Measuring the online to offline funnel is as difficult as measuring the connection between print or TV advertising and the resulting transactions, so similar methods have to be used.


  1. Advertise specific, easy to remember offers. Subsequent transactions can be recorded at point of sale
  2. If there is both an online and offline component to a transaction, collect leads instead then track the sales offline
  3. Do surveys (with suitable rewards) to find out where they get their information. This is not completely reliable as customers may not recall specific ads or channels. Many transactions may be misattributed as ‘word of mouth’ or ‘search’

Using “code words” or “mention this at purchase” for tracking is generally not effective.  If two people mention an offer from an ad, another 10 may have seen the ad but not mentioned the offer.

Measuring new leads

This is the same principle as tracking transactions.  If you calculate the number of leads on average required for one transaction (customer life-time value is a better measure), you can then calculate how much one lead is worth and consequently the effectiveness of your advertising.

In Google Analytics, set the goal to the completion page for the lead collection.  Typically this is the “thank you” page for signing up to the newsletter or for registering as a new user and might look something like this.

As with tracking transactions, use UTM tags to track results (see above).

Measuring views

When doing CPM display advertising, the most basic measurement is how many people saw the ad.

Keep in mind that not all views are not created equal.  One person viewing a video or reading a sponsored content article will be considerably more engaged than someone viewing a display ad unit.

Views is not something that you can measure through Google Analytics on your site.  Typically, the media site that you have contracted with will run an ad server for controlling campaigns.  Popular servers include DFP for Publishers (a Google product) and OpenX.  These servers can generate accurate reports that are usually provided by the publisher.

Humans are trained to filter unimportant information, so as with print ads and TV ads, just because an ad was displayed to a user, it doesn’t mean that they read it or watched it.  Views can be a valid metric for measuring brand exposure, but there are no guarantees.  Best results come with good quality creative and a simple message.

Measuring Engagement

Engagement is an effective measure for online video and sponsored content type campaigns.  A single person reading an article about your product for 2 minutes may be more effective than displaying a 300 pixel by 250 pixel ad to 500 people because they are engaged. The information will be recalled at a later date and if the information is useful, they may share it both online and offline with friends and family.

Typical metrics for engagement are:

  • Reach (number of people who viewed)
  • Seconds of video watched
  • Time on page

By multiplying reach by the other metrics, we can get other effectiveness metrics such as “cost per second” or “cost per minute”.

Measuring Clicks

Although this is the most often cited metric for online advertising, it is one of the most misunderstood.

While no or very low clicks is a good indication that a direct sales campaign didn’t work (see the “Why didn’t my campaign work?” section below) getting a flood of clicks does not necessarily indicate success.

Rather than measure clicks, it’s better to measure other metrics such as transactions or leads.  If there are thousands of clicks, but only a handful of transactions/leads, this indicates one or more of the following:

  1. A problem with your funnel – you need to optimise
  2. A problem with your tracking – something may be messing up the tracking path to your success page
  3. Low quality clicks – the publisher may be pushing cheap, low quality traffic from facebook or other platforms onto your page to create the impression of a good campaign.

The other problem with clicks, is that they are too often used as a measure for the wrong goal.  If your business sell pints of ale, clicks to your company website is the wrong metric to measure.

Measuring Brand Characteristics

If the objective is brand awareness or measuring an aspect of the brand, then the only ways to measure are qualitative and quantitative surveying methods with surveys before and after running a campaign.

Specific Tracking Tools and Feedback Mechanisms

Google Analytics

  • Set goals
  • Use funnels
  • Turn on ecommerce functionality
  • Use campaign utm tags with all your different campaigns, channels and ad types

Google Optimize

  • A powerful free platform for A/B testing
  • Run experiments to improve conversion on your site

Yandex Metrica

  • A free analytics tool that shows click paths on your site
  • Review screen session recordings to eliminate problems with your site

Google Forms, Type Form

  • Make easy to fill out surveys and easily collect data for customer surveys

Why didn’t my campaign work?

The number one reason we see is that simply goals weren’t set and results weren’t measured, so the effectiveness of the campaign is a mystery to all.

Assuming you’ve got the goals and the measurement right, the effectiveness of advertising (all advertising) has always been a matter of the following:

  1. The right product
  2. With an effective funnel
  3. Advertised to the right audience
  4. With the right message
  5. At the right time

Getting any one of these factors wrong will doom a campaign to failure. Get them all right and it’s like hitting the jackpot.

Here’s a scenario of a badly conceived campaign for a pocket wi-fi unit for tourists.

Aimed at tourists, the advertiser takes out a half page ad in Japan’s biggest English language magazine. The magazine has been around for a while and is believed to be widely read by foreigners in Japan although there are only a limited number of distribution points – including the airport.  The ad touts the speed of the device – it’s the fastest available and tells people to go to the company website and enter a coupon code.

Q. Is this the right product?
A. If the target audience had been selected properly, yes. Tourists need internet, SIMs are complicated and the pocket wifi can be used by multiple people or on multiple devices. So it’s definitely the right product.

Q. Is the funnel effective?
A. This is a factor that is outside the advertising mix, but can nonetheless doom a campaign. Conversion rates for funnels differ significantly by product and audience. With users who have a strong buying intent who are directed to an effective funnel, conversion rates may be as high as 10%.  Things that might block your funnel include:

  • Not having a landing page
  • Having a mixed or confused message on the page
  • Not having a clear “call to action”
  • Requiring account creation/sign-up before purchase
  • Having errors or unnecessary fields in an order form (eg. form does not accept my country’s postal code, or it asks for too much personal information
  • Having too many steps
  • Using poor English or even Japanese on the form/pages
  • Using a clunky or unfamiliar payment processor
  • Transactions rejected by the payment processor

Q. Is this the right audience?
A. Probably not. People needing a pocket wi-fi will likely be outside of Japan and will be making their plans before their arrival. They can’t pick up the magazine before they arrive in Japan and they wouldn’t recognise the magazine if it was staring them in the face.  Research and ordering take place online, so this is the wrong audience.

Q. Is it the right message?
A. Only if speed is the thing that the audience holds most important.  Tourists generally look for the best combination of data volume, convenience and price.  Directing people to a website from a print ad is hard enough, but requiring a coupon code for tracking is even less effective. A vanity URL to a landing page would be more effective, but it’s still the wrong medium. So, overall, the wrong message.

Q. Is it the right time?
A. Given that the target is tourists, the earliest they could see the ad would be after arrival.  They may see the ad some time in their first week in Japan, but unless they are having immediate data issues and they hadn’t already ordered a device, they are not in the market anyway. The message is given at the wrong time.

The above example is extreme, failing 3 of the 4 criteria, but it only takes a fail on one of these to lead to an unsuccessful campaign.

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