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The print-to-online challenge

An advertising challenge that has never been overcome is managing and measuring people who see something in print and then follow it up online. Some website visitors will have come from print, but not as directly or as predictably as we might think.

We’ve experienced 25 years or more of businesses having a call to action on their print adverts along the lines of ‘find out more at’ and failing miserably to get any significant number of clickthroughs. Indeed, the only reason it still goes on is because most print advertisers don’t measure the response and therefore don’t know how small the response is.

The print media (e.g. magazines) realised this many years ago. Go back to 1997 and they were all putting unique URLs on their adverts so they could demonstrate to advertisers how many clickthroughs they got (trust me, I was there). To their horror, the response was minimal.

I’ve never seen good research into why people won’t type in URLs. But anyone who’s worked out a way of measuring this knows they don’t. I suspect that the majority of responders have always just bashed the company name into a search engine, which is fine, but it doesn’t get them to the page we want them to go to. That’s why it’s critical that if we’re running a print advert, a recognisable corresponding offer must be on the home page.

QR codes were once seen as the answer, but nobody knew how to use them, and they almost died for this purpose. Then the pandemic rescued the idea from the technology bin, and they’re back, even appearing on our TV screens. However, they’re of questionable value in a B2B environment, where we’re not usually primarily targeting mobile device users.

The best way I’ve found is to capture top place in search results, and then say in the print advert “search for ‘blue widget offer'” or whatever. It’s still not ideal, and hard to measure.

A URL is essential though, so it at least needs to be as short and easy to read as possible. Obviously get rid of the ‘http://’ and the ‘www.’ but even better, if the URL can possibly be made simpler, do this through a redirect. So if the page being advertised is:

…then set up a nicer redirection that you can quote, for example:

This can be measured, which is a big advantage. And if the company domain is unwieldy, there’s no reason why we can’t have a shorter domain name registered just for redirected print links. There are even subscription services to manage this sort of thing, such as Rebrandly.