The 6.5 Commandments of Displaying Phone Numbers


moses_smallADOTAS – David Mihm started an interesting conversation about the pros and cons of using call measurement numbers on an advertiser’s website, ultimately suggesting that maybe the advantages aren’t worth the risk of jeopardizing the advertiser’s organic search rankings.

This is a valid concern, but a properly-constructed dynamic website tracking number will not have any negative affects on a company’s Local Search rankings. The javascript will know to make itself invisible when a search bot is crawling through, the advertiser’s anchor phone number will be recognized by the machines, and life goes on.

How an advertiser chooses to display his contact information is a far more important topic. Since we’ve witnessed (and measured, of course) every approach imaginable when it comes to showing a phone number on a website, we’re ready to come down from this digital Mount Sinai and share the following commandments.

1. You Shall Properly Choose Between a Toll Free and a Local Phone Number

This is a simple choice. If your business is looking to attract out-of-market callers, use a toll-free number. Examples: car dealer, pet supply company, resort hotel. If you’re trying to attract local customers to your local business, use a local phone number.

If you’re not sure which category you fall under, then just pick one and don’t worry about it. Most people are calling you from their cell phones anyway and don’t care what your number is.

2. Remember That No One Knows What Number You’ve Been Using for the Past __ Years

We’ve heard people say, “Everyone in town knows my number. I don’t want to use something new on my website because it’ll confuse people.” My response to that is, “What are the last 5 businesses you’ve called? From memory, what are their phone numbers?” No one ever knows. I don’t even know my own phone number, much less Paul’s Plumbing.

3.You Shall Not List Multiple Phone Numbers for Multiple Departments

It’s a lot easier to contact a business when there’s only one choice to dial. We’ve worked with plenty of companies who listed multiple numbers, and they tried every trick possible to get people to call the right number. It never worked; inevitably callers dialed the first number listed (or the biggest font).

If you don’t have an operator to answer and route calls that come in to a single phone number, then use a bridge greeting to efficiently route callers. We’ve studied these results exhaustively, and we’re very confident about recommending this approach to our clients.

4. You Shall Not Use a Vanity Phone Number on a Website

Vanities (phone numbers that spell words) should only be used for ads that allow a short window of exposure to the viewer. I’ll begrudgingly admit that vanities can be helpful during 15-second TV ads, billboards and radio commercials. That’s it, though. If your message isn’t going to be yanked away from the viewer, don’t force the caller to spell out your phone number.

5. A Website Shall Display a Prominent Phone Number at the Top of Every Page

If your website’s primary goal is to generate a phone call, then don’t make the visitor search for your number. Best practice is an 18-point heavyweight font in the top right corner of each page. Besides being easy to find, this placement also conveys the message that you actually want the visitor to pick up the phone and talk to you.

6. Fear the Consequences of a Phone Number Embedded in an Image

The alternative idea would be Love Thy HTML. If you stick your phone number inside a graphic file, you’re causing two main problems. First of all, guys like me can’t access the number to do a dynamic replacement with a tracking phone number.

Second (and more important), the search engine machines can’t read your business’s phone number. All they see is the image file, but they’re unable to parse out the phone number listed as part of the picture.

As the search engines become increasingly more intelligent about discovering a company’s contact information, you’d be needlessly penalizing yourself by making your phone number invisible to non-humans. Display the phone number in basic HTML.

6.5. You Shall Not Settle For Simply Displaying the Phone Number in Basic HTML

As an extension to Commandment #6, you should ask your web designer to provide intuitive labels around your phone number in the HTML code. Enclose the phone number within a span tag and then give the element a label like “phone-number.”

This will allow tracking programs to interact with your phone number without messing up videos or other scripts on your site. It will also help the search engines get the lay of the land as they crawl through your site. (Are you picking up a theme here?)


  1. Great article. #5 is even more important when you consider mobile search. If your site isn’t exactly mobile friendly, a cellphone search engine is going to start displaying from the top. With a prominent phone number showing up quickly, you’re more likely to have people click to call. It’s faster and easier than waiting for a heavy page to load on a tiny screen.

  2. Hi,

    I appreciate your constant update on the telecom trends.

    I represent PBX Plus ( which is based on the award winning (Best of Show for SMB at IT Expo, LA 2009) platform – InVox (

    We would like to see you signup and review PBX Plus. I would be happy to add a FREE US or UK number with unlimited minutes to your account.

    Your number would greet your callers with “Thanks for calling… Please say the name of the person or department you are trying to reach.” Caller can just say your name “…“and call will be forwarded to your mobile, landline or Skype account. It works with my Skype, offers free speech recognition, voicemail and voicemail transcription, eFAX (Fax In), Fax Out, Outbound FAX, Fax on Demand,unlimited extensions and sub-extensions etc.

    The drag and drop designer (visio-like) can be used to configure PBX in just 15 mins. Wizard configures the PBX based on the answers to each question about your business.

    In fact, show attendees at IT Expo walked out “This is the best I have seen till day for telephony era!”

    I look forward to hearing from you.


    Adam Smith

  3. Great article! I found #5 to be particularly useful. We are in the process of updating the property details pages on our upscale rentals website, and were struggling to determine the best phone number display. You’ve convinced us to try 18-point font in the upper right hand corner. Our clients will certainly appreciate the increase in inbound calls.

  4. Interesting. I wasn’t aware the search bots could actually still read the anchor phone number (this had been my hangup). The cost/benefit may be tipping toward trying out the dynamic number pool.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here