How to track in-store visits in Google Ads


Physical retail is not dead, on the contrary, the high street is living its Renaissance and in-store visits are on the rise. Tracking in-store visits coming from online campaigns helps advertisers measure the real results from their online efforts. Online to offline is one of the biggest topics in digital marketing since almost 90% of sales are still happening in stores.

When setting up conversion tracking there are few possibilities to track offline conversions. You can track sales in store if you collect customers data via loyalty schemes, emailed receipts and other ways to collect first party data. You can upload this data in Google and connect clicks on your ads to in-store transactions. Other way is to connect incoming telephone calls to ad clicks by importing the phone numbers and the time and duration of the calls. Eventually you can connect your CRM to Google ads and see how ads influence your offline conversions.

Tracking in-store visits

This is one of the most interesting innovations from Google which is possible due to the company’s excellent platform coverage. This is statistical aggregated data which shows how many of the people who have clicked your ads have actually visited your physical store location. I know it sounds mind blowing, but hold on – there is nothing to be scared.

If you are are more of a visual learner, watch my video explaining how store visit tracking works.

Google My Business and in-store tracking

The first step for you to be able to track in-store visits is to claim and verify all your store locations on Google My Business. To do this takes just a few clicks. You will then receive a verification code to prove that you are the real occupant of this location. This can done via a physical postcard in the mail, so make sure the address you provide is allowing you to receive mail. The code might be sent via an SMS or phone call, too. Once you have your code, you must enter it and you become owner of this location on Google Maps. This allows you to edit pictures, posts, respond to reviews and also link it to your ads account.

Linking Google My Business to Google Ads

You must have a Google ads account which you already advertise in. This is required, because the must be enough recorded clicks and impressions to be mapped to in-store visits. You can link the Google My Business account you have created to Google Ads in a very simple way. In Google Ads go to Ads and Extensions, then choose Location extension. Enter your domain to find an existing Google My Business Account and select the country you are based in. If you use the same email to manage Google Ads and Google my business, the it will show as a suggestion in “Link to an account I know” You can also send a request to the Google My Business account which you have to approve.

See the full set up here:

Make sure all your store locations are active and in the same Google My Business account. You must have 90% of them approved in order to be able to apply for in-store tracking.

Finally let your Google Ads generate enough data. You must have thousands of clicks and viewable impressions for the tracking to take place. You must also check with your account manager from Google if they have enough store walk in data to match to your advertising activity.

How do in-store visits work?

There are several Google-owned properties and technology which make in-store visits tracking possible. The Google My Business account you created and verified pins your business to a geo location visible on Google Maps. More than 80% of smartphone users have devices with Android operating system(owned by Google). When these devices have GPS location enabled, it is possible to locate the physical location of the mobile device.  One million Android users have opted in sharing their location data with Google.

Other signals used are the Wifi strength in a physical store. Millions stores and business geo coordinates and borders were mapped by Google in a fascinating effort.  With improved technology, they can now determine with with very high certainty if a device is inside a particular store. Even if the store is inside a building with hundreds of shops next to each other the mapping works. To ensure the data is correct Google surveyed five million users asking if they have actually been in that store. Results were 99% accurate. Some small locations received beacons from Google as part of a pilot to get more data of in-store visits.

There is something very important to mention before you start the conversation about privacy. Google does not share users’ personal information with advertisers. The data used for tracking store visit is aggregated and anonymised to hide any personal identification signs. It is used in a statistical model to measure what percent of the people seeing your ad statistically tend to visit your store locations. In cases when there is little data Google will not provide information in order to protect the identity of individuals.

In-store locations are not a means of tracking people, but to measure advertising impact. It is a way for advertisers to understand how their ads influence human behaviour. When enabled in-store conversions can be included in the Conversion column in your Google Ads account. This means that you can optimise for more store visits, allowing Google’s smart bidding technology to adjust your campaigns so that you get even more people visiting your store.

Are in-store visits incremental?

You might say: Well, these people who saw my ad went in the store – that’s great. But wouldn’t they have gone to the store anyway? How can I be sure that my online ads drove visits which otherwise would not have happened, i.e. “incremental” visits?

Google did a survey with some of the top US retailers and discovered that, on average, the number of incremental store visits driven by mobile search ads actually exceeded their number of online purchase conversions. The study found that these store visits otherwise never would have happened, if not for the influence of mobile search ads.

As a conclusion, in-store visits is an actionable conversion action which can now be tracked and optimised towards in Google Ads, provided the advertiser has a verified Google My Business location, enough impressions and clicks, as well as enough volume of store visits. Google protects the identity of shoppers and does not allow linking any personal identifiers to the actual store visit, click or any other online metric.