Call tracking is a valuable tool for business. With the advent of VOIP it has become very low cost and its benefits are available to even the smallest business.
The problem is that in Local it can cause much more harm than benefit in the current ecosystem. The use of call tracking numbers at directory or IYP sites can destroy a local business’s primary tool for gaining customers, Google Maps ranking. The negative affects can persist for a very long time in the Maps index. Thus most Local SEO practitioners strongly advise against its use.
The New Landscape:
The evolving semantic web has finally hit escape velocity. Google, providing real world validation of the concept, has announced their of support of hCard and microformats as a means of understanding which business a given web page is about. In that, lies a solution to the nagging problem of using call tracking numbers in Local.
The idea of using hCard to clarify and categorize a business phone number is not new. Chris Silver Smith has already suggested it as a way to identify a canonical phone number using microformats that would work well.
A slight variation on the idea would be to add a specific definition to the hCard Standard to specify a number as a call tracking number. The hCard format has a property (tel) for telephone number to be defined as part of business listing. The standard also already supports a type product for further refining the type of phone number that is being referred to. Here are the current types of telephone numbers currently defined in the standard:
tel type: VOICE, home, msg, work, pref, fax, cell, video, pager, bbs, modem, car, isdn, pcs
It would seem that it should be a trivial task to indicate to Google and any other search engine scraping semantic content that a number is a call tracking number and not the main number and that it should be construed as such. The semantic markup could make it perfectly clear that the telephone number associated with a given business listing is not the canonical phone number and should not be used to categorize that particular listing. A simple additional type such as “ct” should do the trick.
<span class="tel"><span class="type">ct</span><span class="value"> +1.415.555.1212</span></span>
Regardless of the specific syntax, the difference now is that any solution suggested and agreed upon would be immediately able to be implemented and useful if Google buys into the idea. As Chris Silver Smith pointed out to me this does not solve all of the data integrity problems in Local:
One other aspect that this doesn’t solve is the issue of people using different tracking numbers for different directories which feed Google and other partners via delimited files — not HTML. So, it’d be cool to come up with an industry standard for that aspect of the issue as well.
Thus the use of a call tracking number in certain circumstances could still confuse Google. But one step at a time as they say.
The way forward:
According to Wikipedia the system for creating an add on type for the standard is very open:
Neither CommerceNet nor Microformats.org operates as a standards body. The microformats community functions through an open wiki, mailing list, and Internet relay chat (IRC) channel. Most of the existing microformats were created at the Microformats.org wiki and the associated mailing list, by a process of gathering examples of web publishing behaviour, then codifying it.
Realistically this means that 1)there needs to be some industry input from both Local SEOs and Call Tracking industry at the Wiki to define the specifics and 2) the standard needs to be implemented. Google never likes to “predict a market” but if there is general agreement and usage Google needs to publicly acknowledge that they would read, understand and support the new type.
This simple addition to the standard would allow the keepers of primary local information to keep the record straight, it would open up the world of call tracking to be used by more businesses and in a greater range of situations and it would encourage the Local call tracking industry to refine and develop useful products for even the smallest SMB.
Now that Google has finally adopted rich snippet standards, it is time to make it work for everybody.