The question of call tracking keeps coming up in local search. Should it be used? Why or why not? The answer is often posed in stark terms of either you should or you shouldn’t use call tracking.
The reality is, as is usual, more nuanced and subtle than that. It is a technology that has incredible power but that is easy to use improperly and when done so it can cause on-going problems in local and a great deal of damage. All too often it is suggested as a tactic to unsuspecting businesses by companies that offer little of real value and use the technique to take credit for calls that the business would have received any ways. Often these businesses are not made aware of the disasters that can possibly ensue.
Given that the first dictum of search optimization is (or should be) do no harm it is easiest, when given 3 minutes to answer the question, to say that call tracking should not be used.
What harm can come of using call tracking numbers? There are actually several situations that can lead to long term problems.
The first is that Google assembles all local listings via a machine. That machine looks to match name, address and phone number of information it finds across the internet with a cluster of similar data about a business. If the match is made with data that Google finds across the net and the cluster, that business is credited with that citation. If it is not possible for the machine to make the match due to the fact that a call tracking number is being used then it is possible that Google will create a new cluster for the data. Not only is a given listing NOT given credit for a citation but it is possible that dupes will appear that will “steal” strength from the main listing. Effectively phone number is the glue that holds the cluster together. If the cluster becomes unglued your listing will very likely rank poorly at Google and it could take months to do the recovery work necessary to make it whole again.
Secondly, call tracking numbers are frequently “loaned” to a business for the duration of the contract and then put back into use for a different business. Unfortunately these numbers are very persistent in the online local ecosystem and may stay at various sites attached to your listing. If the number is no longer in your control it means that the customer attempting to call you will be getting through to some business but not yours! The solution to this issue is simple: NEVER use call tracking numbers if the numbers can not be transferred to you at the end of the contract.
The subtler answer to whether call tracking numbers can be used is that they can be in some very limited ways but the guidelines to proper use are complicated and they need to be implemented in such a way as to not cause damage. If the guidelines can not be followed to a T then it is far better to not use call tracking at all as the damage will far outweigh any benefits.
There are four places that a call tracking number can be used: