The Truth about Call Tracking Numbers and Local Search Placement

It has recently come to our attention that there is more than one vendor out there in our Industry “Offering Call Tracking Numbers” to Innkeepers to help identify and prove the “Worth” of their wares.

What Exactly is Call Tracking?

Call Tracking is based on a telephone server solution. Advertisers are provided a multitude of service numbers for customer feedback, where land line numbers can also be used. This enables each print ad, each online banner and any number of other advertising media to communicate an individual phone number as a response element. When an interested party phones one of the service numbers provided, the call is transferred through the telephone server to the company and it is measured via the call number, which advertising medium brought about the target customer contact. [Source]

It All Sounds Really, Really Good, Right?

Call Tracking Sinking Ship for Local PlacementWouldn’t it be GREAT to be able to prove if the money you are paying out to directories and other advertising services were really getting you bookings?

Think back to May 31, 1911 when no one thought that the Titanic could sink. Just as many Innkeepers today would never imagine that using “Call Tracking Numbers” could SINK their Local Search Placement.

But it Can! It Really Can Sink Your Placement!

On March 8, 2013, I attended the Local U Advanced Session in Baltimore, Maryland, where many Local Experts spoke on a variety of topics. If you are one of our Acorn University Students, or simply follow the different Local Expert Gurus who continually write on this subject, the following three names should ring a bell. Mike Blumenthal, David Mihm and Will Scott.

Will Scott was asked a question during his session, and when he was done with his rant on the use of “Call Tracking Numbers”, the first thing that came to my mind was “Tell us how you REALLY feel!” I felt for the guy in the audience who was trying to explain how he was using “Call Tracking Numbers” to know what advertising was best for his ROI. Wow! Will Scott feels very passionately about NOT USING CALL TRACKING NUMBERS.

Will ScottWill Scott: Is it OK to use Call Tracking for Local SEO? NEVER… [Read Full Article]

“At a recent event I found myself ranting – yes, really, ranting and I understand there’s video – about what I think is a very big deal for SMBs and those who market for them. The topic at hand was call tracking and local search.

When is It OK to Use Call Tracking for Local SEO? NEVER! Ok, maybe not never.

I think it’s OK to use call tracking with PPC and other online ads as long as one takes precautions against those numbers being seen with other referral sources. And, for national accounts (preferably with ads) I don’t feel as strongly given the lower, perhaps negligible impact of maps. But I realize that’s not Local SEO.

For local / maps SEO, I want to state clearly that tracking numbers in local search should be avoided at all costs.”

The discussion of “Call Tracking Numbers” has been a rare topic in our Industry, until now.  And as I listened to what Will Scott had to say, it made perfect sense. Having multiple phone numbers out there for any one business will totally mess with the consistency of your *NAP and potentially drive your Local search placement down.

Mike Blumenthal also spoke at the Local U Advanced Session and he has a very interesting post from May of this year on this very subject.

Mike BlumenthalMike Blumenthal – DO NO HARM! [Read Full Article]

“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.

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 cannot 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.”

Finally, David Mihm has been writing on this topic since 2009, and much of what he shared in his 2009 post, is still the basis of many studies regarding “Call Tracking Numbers” and Local Placement Issues.

David MihmDavid Mihm – *NAP Consistency is KEY! [Read Full Article]

“Extreme care should be taken during implementation of a call-tracking campaign to ensure a healthy long-term local presence. It may not be worth the risk of polluting your business’s signal or confusing the primary search engines.

Bottom Line (A Re-Cap if you don’t have the Time to Read these 3 Articles in Detail)

  • “Phone numbers may even be seen as a stronger confidence indicator than addresses.” This can affect the strength of your *NAP in the Local search ecosystem. Which in turn can lower your placement in the Local listings (A, B, C Red Bubble or Local Carousel Listings) driving less and less business to your Inn.
  • “Multiple Phone numbers will split your ‘citation equity’ across multiple listings and confuse customers about how they should actually contact you.” It also can confuse Google, which in turn can drop your placement in Local search, driving less and less business to your Inn.
  • “When you cancel your contract from the provider through whom you’re running the tracking number, it can take months to get a new phone number flowing through the Local search ecosystem.” That is assuming you can really ever get it fixed. Many of these numbers simply are passed on to the next user. 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! And you could be getting calls for the business that used your number before it was given to you. And all of this contributes to confusing Google as to who you really are in the Local listings, potentially dropping your Local placement, driving less and less business to your Inn.

David Mihm said it perfectly when he wrote, “Maintaining absolute consistency with your business information is the key to a successful long-term Local SEO strategy.” So, in general, our advice to all Innkeepers has been and will continue to be: JUST SAY NO to “Call Tracking Numbers”. To quote Mike Blumenthal “If the guidelines cannot 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.”

You CANNOT control what these companies are doing with the numbers they are providing you for their Call Tracking programs, and your Local search placement is SO, SO much more important that any 3rd party advertiser proving to you their system is providing you bookings.

Finally, if you want to learn more about *NAP, the Local Search ecosystem, and “Call Tracking Numbers”, we invite you to attend our 3rd of 6 FREE FOR ALL Webinars this month presented as part of “Trick or Treat” Innkeeper Awareness Weeks … [Learn More / Register]

Webinar 3: NAP or Die

Date: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 — CLICK HERE to Register
Time: 9:00 Pacific, 10:00 Mountain, 11:00 Central, 12:00 Eastern

*NAP stands for Name, Address and Phone. Every Innkeeper’s online and offline NAP must be uniquely accurate or your local placement will truly “Die on the Vine”. We’ve proven this over and over when we’ve taught Innkeepers how to CLEAN up their NAP so it is accurate everywhere online and their placement always improves. Bottom line: If your NAP is not correct, your placement will suffer. Come to this session to learn how to identify if your business has NAP issues.

3 thoughts on “The Truth about Call Tracking Numbers and Local Search Placement

  1. SEO is a complex topic, and there are many misconceptions on what affects it. I would like to add a point of view on this topic.

    Use of one call tracking number on one site is not going to negatively affect your local search results.
    Google assigns value to each incoming link to a site (e.g., links from online directory sites, travel sites, community blogs, etc.). The link value is driven by such factors as the popularity of the originating site, type of link (text vs image), link anchor text, and link context.
    Google does use a combination of business Name, Address and Phone Number to verify business listings for Google Maps and Google Places and Google also likes consistent mentions of your business name, address, and phone number.
    As such, inconsistent mentions of your business won’t necessarily hurt your local SEO, but, most likely, the value of the incoming link could be lower than a consistent mention.

    Even a few call tracking mentions are not likely to significantly move the needle.

    A different situation would be to have several call tracking numbers on several sites: in this case I would probably recommend to evaluate whether the benefits of call tracking (more knowledge, driving more effective allocation of resources) outweigh the foregone benefits of the consistent number.

    In general: millions of businesses of all sizes use call tracking (directly and/or through companies as popular as Zillow, ADP, Google… ) and acknowledge the huge benefits that call tracking has to offer.
    In fact, call tracking is the most accurate tool to track incoming phone leads from a particular site and we strongly believe the marketing knowledge derived from a call tracking number far outweighs the minor risk from just one inconsistent phone number mention.

    However, if you are still concerned about call tracking and its impact on search results, I would recommend to research how the hosting site is implementing the call tracking numbers, as there are a number of white hat SEO techniques to completely tackle this potential issue. For example: the hosting site could replace the phone tracking numbers with images and assign an alt tag with the correct phone number. Search engines cannot read image content and will instead read the phone number in the alt tag, which will be consistent with your main website.

    Let me now take the chance to expand this discussion a little further by adding some of the most popular best practices to optimize your local results:
    • Claim your Google business listing and confirm your name, address, and phone with Google
    • Include your company name, address and phone number in the footer of your website;
    • Check that the major local listing providers such as InfoUSA and Localeze, have the same name, address and phone number for your business.

    I hope this helps. Let me know what you think.

    Best Regards,

    Nick
    nicola.marconato@internetbrands.com

  2. Nick,

    1) We don’t want any Innkeepers to risk moving the needle AT ALL.
    2) You say that one NAP inconsistency may not hurt, but we don’t want any Innkeepers risking it. Consistent NAP is way too important to their business.
    3) Image based call tracking numbers with correct ALT text are the only “safe” alternative.
    4) Nationally known Local Experts also support that the benefits of calling tracking numbers that affect NAP consistency CAN and DO outweigh the risk, as we reference in this blog post. So any Call Tracking Numbers provided in TEXT are NOT OK.
    5) The benefit of call tracking does NOT outweigh quality Booking Tracking options such as correctly installed ECommerce Tracking and Intell-a-Keeper, where Innkeepers can see all their bookings, whether they be by phone, email or through their online reservation systems.

    Lisa Kolb
    Acorn IS President and Co-Founder

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