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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Guide to Using Call Tracking for Local Search

phone-tracking-ga-iconI wanted to circle back to the call tracking issues in local. In my previous post, I wrote a great deal about where it doesn’t work. I also have wanted to cover where and how it does work. It made sense to me to ask someone in the industry to put it together so I asked Mark Sullivan, Director of Analytics, CallRail to write a guest post on the topic. Let me know what you think.

Mark Sullivan has directed online marketing at various companies since 2006. Most recently he worked at Yodle on the team in charge of local SEO performance for multi-location & franchise businesses. He left Yodle in 2013 to start growth consulting firm Vasolo, where he learned the effectiveness of using call tracking data to better drive business growth for his clients. In 2014 he joined the CallRail team, where he is the Director of Analytics. Mark spends most of his time educating SMBs and marketing agencies on how to better analyze marketing metrics to extract meaningful insights. Feel free to reach out to him on Twitter @mpsulli.


As our appetite for better business data increases, so do the tools we use to capture that data. Call tracking technology is no different. Adoption among local businesses across North America is increasing. Many local search products now come out of the box with some form of call tracking. Whether it’s a visibility package tailored for dentists or a one-size-fits-all SMB automation package, it’s becoming more common for marketers to quantify lead generation through inbound calls.

When it comes to using call tracking for local search, there are special considerations to keep in mind. Adopt a call tracking strategy that doesn’t account for NAP consistency and you’re setting yourself up for a lot of citation cleanup at best, and utter failure at worst. Many of us have heard the nightmare stories about some company that used call tracking and rankings completely tanked. Or possibly worse, we’ve heard the story of a business losing access to a call tracking number that was used to represent their business all over the web. It’s understandable to be wary of call tracking numbers and local search.

However, there is one foolproof way to get the benefits of call tracking without sabotaging your local visibility. This guide aims to show you how to get your call tracking cake and eat it, too.

So Why Care About Call Tracking for Local Search?

  1. Accountability – One of the toughest parts of what we do in local SEO is communicating clearly, concisely, and convincingly the answer to this question from our clients: “What have you done for me lately?” Often we’re left educating our clients on NAP consistency, the importance of unique content, citations, and the invaluable nature of reviews on IYP’s. Fortunately for us, our clients aren’t really interested in learning how to become local search marketers. What they want is more accountability from their local SEO investments in the form of lower funnel metrics that directly impact their bottom line.

With call tracking enabled we can get deeper into the customer funnel and become more accountable search marketers. As a business owner, if my $500 per month local SEO campaign shows me inbound call volume reports alongside the other metrics, I’m able to better account for the ROI of my investment. Add in call recordings that can be reviewed to determine the quality of phone leads coming in, and you’ve introduced a level of accountability that business owners are craving from their local SEO efforts.

  1. Better KPI’s – KPI’s are a fancy way to say “metrics that matter”. For many of us working in local SEO, the Key Performance Indicators we’ve focused on for years have been based on rankings and traffic. Relying solely on these metrics nowadays, with the advent of personalized search and the rising importance of IYP’s like Google+ Local & Yelp, means you’re likely missing conversions that your local SEO efforts should get credit for. After all, when someone does a search on Google for a cosmetic dentist and calls directly from the SERP without ever visiting any business website, that valuable phone call isn’t fully being accounted for in a rankings/traffic only performance report.

With a better KPI like call volume, we as local search marketers can get a better picture of how well our work is paying off. There’s some guidelines on how to best use this data to prove performance. Later in this guide, we’ll get more into how to slice up aggregate call data to best avoid counting existing customers.

  1. Advanced Features – Modern call tracking platforms include much more “under the hood” than just attribution (i.e. tying calls back to a campaign.) Most platforms come out of the box with advanced features like call recording, advanced call routing/handling, interactive voice response menus, and customizable dashboards. When we surveyed CallRail clients about how they get the most value out of call tracking, an overwhelming number of them talk about how call recordings have helped them identify training opportunities for people answering the phones. Others have pointed out that by implementing a 15 second greeting at the beginning of the call they were able to significantly reduce the amount of time employees spent on the phone answering repetitive questions.

As the Swiss army knife is versatile, so are modern call tracking platforms. Combined with built in integrations with Google Analytics, CRM platforms, and open API’s, the permutations of what you can do with your inbound phone calls are numerous.

The Main Concern: NAP Consistency

By far, the number 1 most cited concern with using call tracking in local search campaigns has been the risk it poses to NAP Consistency. I share this concern and fall on the more conservative side of the fence. After spending countless hours, resources, and money to clean up bad citations, create new ones, and optimize existing ones the LAST thing any local SEO marketer wants to do is introduce a contradictory data point into the mix.

Unfortunately, many call tracking proponents have largely dismissed this concern, stating that the easy solution to this is using JavaScript code to swap out phone numbers. For those of you who aren’t aware, this technique requires a pool of tracking numbers that are dynamically inserted on a website and tied to a visitor’s website session. This is a brilliant technique that has a perfect use case: paid advertising campaigns. It’s also great to use as an SEO tactic for businesses (like many ecommerce sites) that aren’t concerned with NAP consistency. While I have seen this technique (Dynamic Number Insertion) used in conjunction with local SEO campaigns, it is not one I’m willing to fully endorse quite yet. The margin for error when using DNI for local SEO is large. Also, until we have an explicit statement from major search engines that this technique is completely kosher for local businesses to track calls from organic visits, it’s better to go the foolproof route outlined below.

Other Concerns: Number Portability, Vanity Numbers, Dirty Numbers & Taking Credit Where Credit Isn’t Due

NAP Consistency isn’t the only concern that’s been brought up by detractors. Another concern many people have relates to using a phone number that businesses don’t “own”. If a business incorporates a call tracking number into their local SEO campaign, then who owns that number? This is a valid concern. Some marketing companies that do local SEO campaigns on behalf of businesses have the awful policy of “owning” the call tracking number they use for that business, refusing to give it up if the business wants to part ways with that marketing company. We’ll get into this concern below in the guide as well.

Vanity numbers were considerably more valuable when people actually remembered phone numbers. While that’s not the case for most people nowadays, it’s still a concern for businesses that have been using the same phone number for many years. Luckily for businesses with this concern, there’s a way to keep that vanity phone number and still get all the benefits of call tracking described above.

Another issue some have had with call tracking numbers is what getting what I call “dirty” numbers. A dirty number is one that is associated, whether published online or in someone’s phone book, with another entity or person. Imagine getting a shiny new call tracking number to use for your local search campaign only to find out it was previously used by a drug dealer (Yes, I’ve heard of this happening before.) Regardless of the previous use of that number, having a significant amount of inbound calls that are wrong numbers can affect your reporting and waste your time. While this is a larger concern if you’re using free phone number providers, it can happen with any call tracking provider. There are a few ways to manage this concern effectively and neutralize its impact on any business using call tracking.

Lastly, there are some marketers out there who are eager to take credit for campaign performance where credit is not due. With call tracking set up to track local SEO success, many marketers aim to take credit for every single call that comes in through the call tracking optimized line, instead of taking into account that many existing customers of that business will be finding the business in the same way as new customers will—by searching. If an existing customer calls in through the call tracking number, how much credit should any local SEO effort get for that call? Not very much, in my humble opinion, and by using this guide you’ll mostly avoid that situation.

The Foolproof Way to Use Call Tracking for Local Search

Step 1. Get a call tracking enabled phone number.

    • Option A. Port your existing business phone number over to a call tracking provider. This option is great for established businesses that have done a lot of work already on NAP consistency across the web. It’s also a great option if you have a vanity phone number or simply do not want to go through the hassle of updating your citations across the web with a new phone number, then this is the option for you. Porting a number over to a call tracking provider can take up to 6 weeks since many of the big telecoms you’ll be porting away from operate a bit slower than their newer, call-tracking enabled counterparts. Also note, that when you port over your number you will also need to provision a new line at your business that will receive the calls.
    • Option B. Choose a phone number with a local area code from a call tracking provider. This is a fantastic option for new businesses, or for businesses that already have messy NAP data across the web. Using this option you will need to do a full citation update campaign. It’s important to choose a phone number with a local area code in the area where the business is located. There’s some indication that this is an important geographic data point used as a signal by search engines.
      To avoid the “dirty number” scenario described above, be proactive. Do a search for this number on Google to make sure it’s not tied to another entity on any business citation or publicly available dataset. If you find the number listed as belonging to any entity then get another one and repeat the search. For the extra conservative among us, I recommend having this number enabled for 2 weeks before using it to see if you get wrong number calls. Many call tracking providers have an internal process to keep their numbers clean, but it’s best to double check. Keep in mind that the longer you have any number, the fewer problems you’ll have with wrong numbers.

**Important Note for Businesses working with Marketing Companies – Make sure you either “own” the call tracking number you’re going to use, or have a specific clause in your agreement with the company that you can take ownership of the number upon termination of your agreement. This is critical to avoid a scenario where you have business information all over the web pointing to a phone number that doesn’t ring at your business. If the company will not agree to transfer ownership of the phone number, then find another company to do your local SEO.

Step 2. Forward all calls from your call tracking number to your business line.

    • The receiving line is often called the “destination number” in call tracking. This means that any time someone calls the tracking number, the call will be passed to the destination number, which should be your business line.
    • Since you’re now using a phone number with a lot of new features, there are many different configurations to consider. Start with the basics: add your destination number and enable call recording**.

**Call recording is legal in every state of the U.S. with some state-specific regulations. To comply with all of these different state recording laws, there’s only one thing you have to do: notify the caller that the call is being recorded. Many call tracking platforms have a pre-recorded message you can enable that plays at the beginning of the call saying exactly this. If you’re curious about state by state call recording laws and speak legalese, go here: By the way, I’m not a lawyer and you shouldn’t take any of my words as legal advice.

Step 3. Use this phone number everywhere online, except paid campaigns.

    • Anywhere your business information is listed online that can be indexed by a search engine should have this call tracking enabled phone number.
      • Your website
      • Online Directories: Google+ Local, Yelp, Bing, Yahoo, Facebook, IYP’s
      • Citations: anywhere your business information is listed.
    • Do not use this phone number for paid online campaigns. While it won’t affect your NAP consistency to use it with paid campaigns, you will be muddying the call data by including more than just your local SEO campaign. For paid online campaigns you should provision unique tracking numbers in order to measure the effectiveness separately from your organic campaign. Since these campaigns are not normally indexed by search engines, the numbers you use shouldn’t affect your NAP consistency.
    • If you’re doing paid offline campaigns like radio ads, billboard ads, mailers, and newspapers, I recommend using a unique phone number for each. This will allow you to measure the effectiveness of each advertising medium as it relates to inbound phone calls.
    • One important note about these supposedly “offline” campaigns: Some of the data you give them may end up online in some form. Business data in print directories, in particular, has a tendency to surface somewhere online because of how these directories license their data. This is called a “leak” and it’s actually possible for any offline campaign to leak data into the online world. Yellow Pages data ends up leaking into places all over the web, even if you’re just advertising in the printed book. Be aware that there is a trade-off if you decide to use different phone numbers in your offline paid campaigns. You may get more insight into what’s driving phone calls in exchange for more NAP consistency work on your part. If you don’t advertise in paid directories like Yellow Pages, then you have much less to worry about. If you do, in my experience the risk is best managed in 2 primary ways.
      • 1st – Constant NAP Monitoring: This is my go-to strategy for dealing with this issue. Monitor your IYP’s and big data provider citations regularly for incorrect data and make the corrections. (You should be doing this regardless of whether you use call tracking.)
      • 2nd – Use One Offline Number & Claim It: Another tactic is to use the same unique number for all of your offline campaigns that might leak data (mainly directories like YP and newspapers), and claim that phone number as a secondary line on your citations. That way you don’t end up with duplicate or false listings with different phone numbers. While this dilutes the attribution value of using call tracking, it can save you NAP cleanup work.

Step 4. Use the call data coming in to measure campaign performance.

    • Focus on one metric, above all else, as you begin to analyze the call data: First Time Callers. Because you’ll be using the call tracking enabled number for your main organic line, this particular metric will give you a more accurate idea of how many new callers are finding your business online.
    • Keep in mind that at the beginning of the campaign, most new calls coming in will be from First Time Callers. Until there is 3 to 6 months of call data, you won’t be able to use this metric. The longer you have been using call tracking numbers, however, the better your First Time Caller data becomes. If you’re using a company to track this data, make sure to give them any past call logs you have so that they can compare with their First Time Caller reports.
    • In an ideal world you would have a good idea of how many calls your business receives per day, and how many new callers are dialing in. In this ideal world you would use this data as a baseline for any local SEO campaign’s performance. Luckily, the sooner you incorporate call tracking in the way outlined here, the sooner you’ll be able to get the true ROI of your local search strategy.

Step 5. Go beyond simple call tracking to get the maximum benefit.

    • Call recordings are a rich source of information for your business. Companies are using these recordings to train staff, optimize answering scripts, and identify opportunities to save money on staff time. You would not believe how often I hear from call tracking customers the amounts of money they’ve “uncovered” from these recordings. Dive into them. Learn from your customers and treat the leads as the precious commodity that they are.
    • Advanced call routing can empower your business with a level of customization that large enterprises have been using for years. From auto-scheduling your calls to follow different call flows at different times of day, to creating interactive voice response menus that give your company a professional impression on the first call, these features come out of the box now with most call tracking platforms. One of my favorite ways to add even more data to phone calls is to use an interactive voice response menu that will auto-tag the call based on what menu item the caller selects. For example, I can add a menu that says, “Press 1 if you’re an existing patient, Press 2 if you’re a new patient, and press 3 for all other inquiries.” Provided I had set it up, each call where a person presses 2 would be auto-tagged “New Patient”, thereby giving me more data to analyze my local SEO campaign’s performance.

To wrap it all up: Call Tracking can be a valuable tool in your local SEO tool belt, provided you understand the risks, how to manage those risks, and how to best analyze the call data. Whether you do all the marketing for your business or use an agency, the tactics above should provide you a way to get started with an exciting new technology that is causing many of us rethink how our phones should operate.