Call tracking & local SEO: have your cake and eat it too

Given the value of an incoming call from a potential client, call tracking is one of the most cost-effective and powerful ways to measure the performance of your online marketing. There are some misconceptions circling around online that call tracking numbers should be avoided because they can negatively impact local search engine rankings. In reality, all evidence indicates that when used properly call tracking numbers have no impact on local search rankings.

Before we get into proper use, let’s review the benefits of call tracking and how it works.

What is call tracking?

Call tracking is the use of different local or toll free numbers for different marketing channels – both online & offline.   Unique call tracking numbers are placed on the website, landing page or ad and seamlessly forwards inbound calls to the primary business phone number.  As the call is forwarded, information about the call, including source, time of day, duration, whether the call is answered or not and often, caller ID, is captured and made accessible in reports and typically in an online dashboard.

Benefits of call tracking: 

  • Know which channels are driving quality calls so you can invest more in those channels –  and less in others
  • Measure the true return-on-investment from your marketing
  • Quickly assess quality and value of calls based on duration and how many were answered
  • In some cases, capture caller ID information

A quick case study: 

Ohio-based search marketing agency, PPI thought its search campaigns for its small business clients were not performing until they implemented call tracking and learned that 70% of leads were calls vs. only 30% from email/forms.  They shifted budget from other marketing and increased inbound calls by 100%.


Who uses call tracking?

Literally millions of businesses of all sizes use call tracking directly and through companies like:

  • Zillow:  Provides call tracking numbers to its tens of thousands of agents and brokers
  • ADP:  Uses call tracking on websites and advertising for 60+% of auto dealers in North America
  • Google:  Provides call tracking numbers to AdWords advertisers

NAP, SEO, and call tracking:

Google uses a combination of business Name, Address and Phone Number to verify business listings for Google Maps and Google Places.  To do so, it checks the listing across multiple sources on the web, including major local listing providers such as InfoUSA and Localeze.  The theory is that Google’s algorithm doesn’t like it if your business listing has different phone numbers or addresses in different places and therefore penalizes in local rankings in the same manner that a website with bad code can get penalized.

Fortunately, if you implement call tracking properly, you can get all the benefits it provides while preserving “NAP consistency” for your practice.

Here are 4 simple steps:

  1. When completing a Google+ or Places profile, establish your actual business phone number as your Primary ID.  In addition, Google, as well as most other major local listing providers, accept multiple additional phone numbers associated with the Primary ID. Google’s guidance regarding phone numbers in Google profiles: Do not provide phone numbers or URLs that redirect or “refer” users to landing pages or phone numbers other than those of the actual business. So, to avoid potential issues, the phone numbers provided should redirect to the number of the actual business (the Primary ID).
  2. Use Dynamic Number Insertion (DNI), also known as java script re-write, to track calls from websites.  With DNI, call tracking numbers are displayed based on rules you can define while still listing a consistent default phone number for search engine spiders to index. This is done using a small piece of java script code within the code on your website. The java script detects website visitor information like referring website, channel or keyword and determines which phone number to display. Just before the page is displayed it seamlessly swaps out your primary number with a unique call tracking number for the channel, ad or website that the caller came from.Google understands java script rewrites, which marketers also use for many other testing purposes, and does not “read” the call tracking numbers associated with the re-writes.
  3. Display your primary number in the footer on your Websites. Google’s bots will “read” this number and associate with your business and profile on Google.
  4. Use as few call tracking numbers as needed to get the information you want.  For example, instead of having a tracking number for every social media network, only use one for the primary site, such as Avvo or Facebook and use a single call tracking for all other social media outlets.