Pros and cons of call tracking numbers

12 July, 2012

Call tracking phone numbers can be great for your marketing campaigns, but it’s important to know the possible downside for local SEO.

Tracking ROI from all your marketing efforts is critical and some promotional channels make it easier than others. In comparison to traditional advertising, SEO and PPC can be incredibly easy to track – you can monitor the keywords sending traffic, the increased traffic to your site, the way visitors navigate your pages and, of course, see the number of online enquiries or sales.

Call Tracking Numbers Another way of tracking phone enquiries – click to view/call

But in search marketing, like most marketing efforts, it can still be tricky to track the source of enquiries that come via phone call. For this reason some businesses utilise tracking phone numbers (unique phone numbers for specific marketing efforts). For example you may use a 1300 number on your Yellow Pages ad, another different number on your website and yet another number in advertising. Call tracking numbers are especially popular with search engine ad campaigns, after all, they make it easy to demonstrate the number of leads generated directly by the campaign.

Tracking numbers make perfect sense – they allow you to easily track enquiries and give you great ROI feedback. But unfortunately these tracking numbers can have a profoundly negative impact on your organic search rankings – especially in regards to Google+ Local Results (formerly Google Places).

Google uses ‘citations’ as a critical factor for ranking local search results. Citations are essentially a mention of your business information (name, address, phone) anywhere on the web. The consistency of these citations is extremely important – because Google considers both consistency and quality of these citations as an indicator of reliability for your business information. David Mihm’s annual industry survey again highlights the importance of citations as a ranking factor.

This quote from Mike Ramsay summarises well:

Citations will always be a major factor and can help or seriously hurt a listing if the data is incorrect across the ecosystem. If your citations have bad information, you have set yourself up for duplicate listings and will ultimately divide your ranking power substantially.

Google wants to display credible and reliable search results, so it uses appearances of your business phone number as ‘evidence’ that you fit that description. If you are using multiple phone numbers for the purpose of tracking leads, it simply dilutes your local ranking strength.

There are some ways to use tracking phone numbers and limit the damage they do to your SEO campaign:

  • Display the phone number as an image, with no alt text, rather than use text – ensuring search engines can’t read the number
  • Set up landing pages so they won’t be crawled by search engines
  • Using tracking numbers within the ad text (eg Google Adwords)

Don’t get me wrong, there are some incredible benefits of using tracking phone numbers and that’s why they are so popular, in particular they help agencies to justify the dollar spend on the campaigns. But if you are a local business (ie your customer base is limited to where you are geographically) – it’s just important to be aware of the downsides from a local search point of view so you can make the best decision and implement the safe guards.

By Scott Evans
As co-founder and Director of Gorilla 360, Scott has spent the last 12 years helping businesses grow through smart digital marketing.
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