At ad:tech San Francisco, Google's senior manager John Nicoletti shared insights on how businesses can invest smarter and maximize return on their internet marketing spend.

Even as marketers invest more in web campaigns (internet marketing spend is expected to hit $40 billion in 2012!), most businesses struggle to understand their return on web investments, said John Nicoletti, senior manager at Google. In his ad:tech San Francisco session, Nicoletti offered three steps to make the web work for businesses, with plenty of takeaways for marketers looking to drive conversions with digital marketing.

Uncovering the “secrets to internet marketing success” is essential because the web is changing the way Americans shop. Nicoletti shared data indicating that the average American spends two months of their annual waking hours online. Moreover, consumers consult an average of 10 web sources before making a purchase – a figure that has doubled in the past year alone.

Nicoletti explained that business owners who want to put the web to work for them need to get at the “zero moment” of truth when shoppers decide to buy. Of course, a lot of strategic planning goes into reaching buyers at that precise moment – and because of the myriad channels across the internet, it’s a moment that may be unique to different segments of shoppers.

Here are Google’s three steps to internet marketing success:

1. Win all the moments that matter.

In order to win all the moments that matter, marketers need to be conscious of the value of multichannel marketing efforts. It can be tricky to attribute sales to specific channels, but Google insiders have spoken in the past about how integrated marketing efforts offer economic value that goes beyond the average website’s 2 percent conversion rate. As Brafton reported, Google’s Avinash Kaushik explained at SES New York that the impact of exposure across various channels can make or break consumers’ purchase decisions. “Even if organic phrases don’t seem to convert, the generic to brand search behavior is proven to be huge,” he said.

Nicoletti agreed. “Ninety-six percent of visitors don’t make purchases on their first visit,” he said.

It’s important to build multiple touch points and be present in valuable ways wherever consumers are looking for product information. He encouraged marketers target specific audiences based on location and clustered interests, and to think about the content formats that will deliver the most impact. He referenced Orabrush as an example of a business that sucessfully found the right content type for its audience. The company increased its online sales 500 percent by adding video content to its marketing mix.

Video is rapidly rising, but Nicoletti also reminded businesses that mobile marketing is an important way to reach the growing segment of on-the-go internet users. “In spite of the fact that mobile web usage is rising, eight out of 10 companies don’t have a mobile website,” he said.

Content marketing campaigns accessible via mobile devices are essential to reaching multitasking shoppers. Nicoletti referenced data indicating that 35 percent of Android and iPhone owners check apps on their phones before they even get out of bed, and 70 percent of tablet owners surf the web on their devices while watching television.

Of course, as a Googler, he also reminded marketers that some of the more traditional web marketing channels are still essential to reaching prospects – namely search. “Search is still the ‘first moment that matters’ when it comes to engaging prospects,” he said. Nicoletti used search as an example of how marketers need to go a step beyond building a presence to focus on how they can make their presence count. He cited the case of a company that added user ratings, photos and social integration (via the +1 button on ad spots) to its search ads. These value add-ons increased click-through rates by 20 percent.

2. Make better decisions, faster.

Setting up appropriate metrics is essential to making better decisions faster. This can be broken into two main tasks: First, attributing success where it belongs, and second, inputting the right data in media mix models. Measuring the right data and using it to reinvest in top performing platforms is key to building returns: He shared the example of PC City, which grew its overall revenue by 6 percent through finding the optimal media mix.

Nicoletti said one of the major problems in current marketing analysis is that businesses give too much credit (or all the credit) to last-click attribution. It’s important to understand the top-of-the-funnel exposure that drives sales. Notably, Google Analytics’ Mutlichannel Funnel reports can offer insights on this via the “Top Conversions Path” feature. Similarly, Brafton reported that Google announced new Social Assisted Conversions reports that are rolling out to Analytics users to help them better understand how social marketing (which generally has top-of-funnel impact) boosts their bottom line.

Nicoletti shared an example of a “conversion influence” model for marketers to consider (see image below).

Setting up the right attribution models can also help marketers understand the offline value of online campaigns. Nicoletti suggested using geo-data to understand how web traffic drives foot traffic. For instance, he said marketers can offer mobile coupons to nearby shoppers, and then measure in-store redemption rates. He cited the case of Lowe’s, which targeted search ads down to the zip code, then used local data to discover that every $1 invested in local search drove $15 in store sales.

3. Go bigger, faster.

To capitalize on the ever-expanding digital shopping space, Nicoletti said marketers need to be ready to build campaigns fast. This is dependent on their ability to accurately track and measure campaigns and make informed decisions, but he encouraged them to consider automation options and find end-to-end services and platforms that can help them move quickly in the fast-paced web space.

Although he didn’t spend as much time explaining the best ways marketers can build automation into their marketing processes, he articulated that moving quickly is key to staying ahead of the web marketing curve.

One of the biggest trends for maintaining an edge is investing in content marketing for cross-platform campaigns. According to the 2012 CMI Benchmark report, 60 percent of B2B businesses are allocating more funds to digital content this year.

Katherine Griwert is Brafton's Marketing Director. She's practiced content marketing, SEO and social marketing for over five years, and her enthusiasm for new media has even deeper roots. Katherine holds a degree in American Studies from Boston College, and her writing is featured in a number of web publications.