• Technology

Testing Bluetooth Beacons for Digital Marketing

Scott Snowden
Scott Snowden
Business & Technology Strategy
Write to Scott

We went to a tech conference and brought along Bluetooth beacons that we used to push out notifications to people nearby. Those notifications were links to a landing page on our website. The results we got were mixed. We did not get any leads, but we got clicks. Traffic to our landing page after the conference continued to be high, which we attribute to a remarketing campaign we were running at the same time.

So, did the experiment prove that Bluetooth beacons are useful? The short answer is yes. Let’s get into the details.


Marketers have touted Bluetooth beacons as a great way to advertise yourself to people nearby. The technology works by broadcasting your website to mobile phones that are within range. A beacon sends a signal using a special Bluetooth protocol to announce information. Any device that is capable of listening for those signals, such as your phone, will display the information.

As Progress Sitefinity partners, we attended Progress Next 2018 conference in Boston and decided to take the opportunity to test some Bluetooth beacons. The net result fell in line with what most people have learned about the effectiveness of this kind of marketing: it’s a bit gimmicky, but done properly, it can be a useful tool. Our data also showed there is a good opportunity to integrate this technology into an app.

The Results

Here’s what we came away with from this test:

Empirical Data

  • Direct traffic to our landing page shot up during the conference.

  • Running a remarketing campaign to target traffic brought in by the beacon and other sources is a good way to maintain mindshare with the people that did visit your site initially. Our paid traffic after the conference rose by 30%.

  • We got 30% more sessions from 20% more visitors in the 4 weeks after the conference as compared to the 4 weeks prior and including the conference.

Anecdotal Data

  • It was fun to play around with something new and gave us a little something extra to start a conversation about with other people at the conference.

  • Not needing a developer or an app to get this experiment going made the test possible. Everything was configured through the Kontakt.io website and app.

  • NFC turned out to be the biggest disappointment – we expected to be tapping cards to phones frequently, but people did not know what NFC was. Given that a lot of our friends and colleagues use Google / Apple Pay, we had figured most people we would meet at a technology conference would use NFC.

  • Needing to have the Google Nearby service turned on is a big hurdle. We were not overwhelmed with beacon clicks. We figure that being at a technology conference meant that the likelihood people had Nearby turned on was higher, but it was still not huge.

That’s the short version. Now to replicate those results or just conduct your own test, read on into the technical weeds...

What are Bluetooth beacons?

Beacons have a very practical application in supply chain management and various manufacturing processes to help track parts and inventory. Other companies are using the proximity detection available with this technology to enhance retail experiences and other physical workflow situations.

There are two main protocols and most beacons support both formats:

  • Eddystone (Google’s beacon format)

  • iBeacon (Apple’s beacon format)

Both protocols work with iOS and Android Apps, but if you are developing exclusively for iOS then iBeacon will work best. The test we did used the Eddystone protocol that makes it possible to easily broadcast a website link. By using Google’s Nearby service, Android phones also have a built-in capability to display notifications with URLs broadcast in the Eddystone format. iOS cannot do anything with a Bluetooth beacon without an app. For the purposes of our test, we were okay only reaching Android devices.

If you want a more detailed explanation of Bluetooth beacons, read the material published by Google.

How do you send Google Nearby notifications?

On an Android phone, there is an extra step required to enable the detection of a URL sent by a Bluetooth beacons - you need to turn on the “Nearby” service. In our office, we found that most people had the toggle switched off by default. To make that setting available, you need to customize the buttons available from your Quick Settings dropdown menu. If you were building beacon detection into an app, it allows you to avoid these settings, but again, we were just testing.

Knowing that our beacons are only available to people who have Nearby turned on, it already felt like the chips were stacked against us.

Where do you buy a Bluetooth beacon?

A quick web search of “Bluetooth beacon” will bring by up a long list of places to buy these things. It can be hard to quickly understand the differences and use cases of each product. However, there is a useful table of manufacturers provided by Google that includes a high-level breakdown of the capabilities each provide.

After a little bit of research, we settled on buying our beacons from Kontakt.io. The benefits we found with Kontakt.io were:

  • Eddystone and iBeacon support

  • Good knowledge base of information about using beacons

  • Several different types of beacons to choose from

  • In particular, they have a “Card Beacon” which looked like the perfect thing for using at a conference. You can also order these beacons with an NFC or RFID tag.

We ordered three beacons and three card beacons with NFC.

How do you activate your Bluetooth beacons?

The beacons that we ordered arrived promptly. The boxes included an order ID that you can use on the Kontakt.io website to register your beacons with your account. You can create a free account at www.kontakt.io and from there you can manage the list of devices you own, change settings, see battery status and manage workflow triggers and notifications.

By downloading the Kontakt.io app to your mobile device, you can synchronize the settings from your account with each physical device. The whole activation process was quite quick and worked for us without any issues in about 30 minutes from the time we opened the box to the time we had all six devices showing up in our account and on the app.

How do you use the NFC Tag?

Earlier we mentioned the card beacons we bought also have NFC tags in them. To write data to the NFC tag, you need a third-party tool such as NFC Tools. Of the three devices with NFC that we purchased, one of them had a faulty NFC chip and we were unable to write to it. We used the NFC tag to store a LinkedIn profile URL so that we could use the cards as digital business cards. Anyone we met at the conference with NFC on their phone could tap our card to instantly connect with us on LinkedIn.

The most surprising part of our whole experiment with these devices is that so few people we met had NFC enabled. In fact, most people didn’t even know what NFC was, or that they might have it on their phone.

How do you broadcast your URL with Bluetooth beacons?

It is quite easy to add the URL that the beacons will broadcast. You need to log into your account, go to the device list and select a particular beacon. From the properties of the beacon, simply add your URL to the “Eddystone URL” field and save your changes. If you do this change from the browser interface, there is a bulk edit mode that allows you to set the URL for several devices at once. The Bulk Edit feature in the app requires a subscription. To push the change to each device, you open the app, synchronize your settings, then scan for nearby devices and update each device. The only issues we found were that the final update to each device sometimes failed. In that case, it usually worked on the second attempt.

There are other settings available for each device to configure the broadcast power and broadcast interval. While at the conference, we cranked these settings up all the way to send a signal as far as possible, as often as possible. After the conference, we turned these settings right down to save battery power on the devices. It’s worth noting that the card beacon devices we got are garbage after the batteries run out, but the other devices had replaceable batteries.

How do you create your website link?

When we first started fiddling around with broadcasting a URL we quickly identified a few things that are important:

  • The allowed URL length is limited (36 Hex characters after encoding).

  • Tracking a click from a user will appear as a direct visit in Google Analytics (there’s no default way to know your click has come from a beacon).

  • The notification on your phone displays the Title tag from the page you’re linking to (you might need to change that for the notification to display something engaging on a phone).

How do you create short URLs?

The solution to needing short URLs is hopefully obvious: use a URL shortening service like bitly.com. We initially used Bit.ly because it was super quick to get a short URL. However, we changed services and ultimately went with Rebrandly for the following reasons:

  • You can register and use your own, custom short URL (we went with flyw.co).

  • You can modify your link destination after you create your shortened URL (useful if you publish a URL and then later want to modify where that link redirects people to).

  • The control panel has a simple editor for adding campaign tracking codes to your URL (UTM fields).

How do you track clicks from Bluetooth beacons?

When someone receives a Google Nearby notification on their phone and selects it, their browser opens to that link. In Google Analytics this looks like a direct visit and that traffic is not differentiated from any other direct visit. It’s as if the person clicking your beacon notification simply typed the link into their browser. There are two ways to add some insights here to help you understand how much traffic your beacon is generating:

  • Create a dedicated landing page that is only for your beacon, so that any hits to that page could only have come from a beacon.

  • Add UTM fields to your link. This allows you to link to an existing page, but with extra details that tag clicks from the beacon so they show up with their own campaign name in Google Analytics. As mentioned, the Rebrandly link-shortening platform has a nice, simple editor for adding these parameters to your links.

For the beacon situation, you may need to modify your page title to ensure that the notification on your screen clearly tells people what you are promoting and encourages a click. Having a good title for your page is going to be helpful in other scenarios anyway, including SEO.

So, should I buy a Bluetooth beacon and use it at a conference?

The results were mixed so the answer depends on your goals. We did notice at the conference that everyone was on their phones, everyone had a new-ish phone, and the potential for beacons to be used to enhance the experience at an event is big. Based on this test, we think Bluetooth beacons could be a great opportunity for:

  • Ticketless events

  • Proximity information about exhibits / trade show booths

  • Wayfinding

  • Sponsorship Opportunities

  • Contact sharing (with proper NFC adoption)

  • Push notifications for capturing feedback

  • Audience Polls

If you end up trying them out, let us know! We enjoyed this experiment and would love to hear how it worked for you.

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