Everything You Wanted to Know About Call Tracking (But Were Afraid to Ask)


confused_smallADOTAS – With so much in the mediascape about what marketing tools are now at your disposal, I thought it’d be fun to take a minute to pick one and wax tactical about how best to use it.

Specifically, I deal in the world of call tracking, which means daily conversations with direct-response and media measurement practitioners. I’m on the front lines of receiving feedback from the market while simultaneously pushing and testing development realities in-house to find the optimal balance.

Point being, there’s lots of innovation and compromise I live and die by everyday. Enough, at least, to have perspective on what will move the needle versus what’s yet another meaningless feature.

ADOTAS readers are entrepreneurs. We don’t get out bed for broad strokes, but rather to strive toward delivering actionable data for our clients. As such, I put together this list of topics whereby, if you bump into a client on an elevator, you’d have their attention before the last bell rings.

1. Can I put a tracking number in my Google Places (Maps, Local Listings, 7-pack, whatever your name for it is) entry?

You absolutely can. SEO bloggers publish theories to the contrary, but I’ve never seen a local merchant displeased with using a tracking number in Google Places. Let’s think about the big picture; if a meaningful amount of calls are coming from a particular listing site, you need to know about it.

And it’s not just Google — Yelp, AutoTrader, SuperMedia etc are all asking for a greater percentage of your budget. Some of these are, in fact, worthy of upgrading to the premium package. Know which ones you should be serious about.

2. What’s the deal with keyword-level tracking? Wait, organic too?

Yes, you can see search queries from callers who clicked on an organic link as well. The “keyword-level call tracking” service most commonly offered by call tracking vendors shows a unique phone number just for paid click visits. While this is useful, the preferred way to track calls from your website is to capture every referring source (PPC, organic, listing site referral, email and display). Intellectually, it’s more honest to take a holistic approach to call tracking rather than isolate and over-spotlight one particular lead source.

3. Can I get my own numbers? I’m tired of people who are trying to sell me stuff owning the numbers.

All things being equal, the publisher (directory site, website company, newspaper etc.) will own the numbers and use it as a churn reduction tool. Hey, they introduced you to the idea of call tracking, right? While this is part of doing business, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can have access to your own inventory of tracking lines, to add / cancel as you wish. It’s just a matter of opening your own account with a call tracking service provider.

4. Is VOIP the answer?

VOIP is inexpensive and vendors such as Twilio have a cult-like following in the developer community. Call quality and reliability are the criticisms of VOIP technology, however. You have to ask yourself, how important is the caller experience? Will there be any consulting, upselling or “closing” taking place? If so, you’ll need landline quality.

Troubleshooting will also be a problem with VOIP. If, for some reason, a number isn’t connecting to your business, there’s no way to go in and inspect the issue. You’ll just have to provision a new phone number, so calls during that discovery period may be lost. That said, VOIP scales very nicely there’s no doubt about it.

5. Can I get call data to integrate with Application X?

I saved the most commonly asked question for last, “Do you integrate with Google Analytics?” For better or worse, Google doesn’t have an inbound API, so the integration is crude and less than ideal. Call counts are the extent of it, which is why I would suggest you choose the call tracking provider with a robust analytics package. Get the most out of what call tracking specialists can offer first, and then decide if a third-party integration will provide the missing piece (if there even is a missing piece).

There are providers who can break out phone calls from web sessions in a compelling fashion. However, if you are set on an AdWords integration, your best bet will be via a PPC management platform like Marin, Clickable or Acquisio, each of whom integrates call data.

Right about now, the client should be searching her Inbox looking for your email address. Here’s to a prosperous 2011 for everyone in the ADOTAS community!


  1. I would love to get a clear idea of when it is financially feasible for very small businesses to use call tracking and when it is cost-prohibitive.

    That would probably require another guest post here or elsewhere.

  2. Great article. I would like to add a few things from an SEO & PPC specialist.

    On the issue of call tracking for Google Places – Using call tracking for Google Places really depends on what is more important to you. Evidence has shown Google rewards data integrity with higher rankings. Using tracking numbers can effect this data integrity (Having the same information about your business across the web). It may also have an effect on the number of citations Google registers, which can also have a negative effect. On the other hand, call tracking may be more valuable than higher rankings. In my opinion, call tracking is far more important for paid forms of advertisement where having the knowledge can help you take action. So on platforms like yelp, if you have a free account, stick with your regular number. If you decide to go paid, you better be tracking it.

    For keyword level tracking, it can get relatively expensive for small business. We have been using Mongoose metrics for sometime, but are currently testing avidtrak which may be more affordable for small business users.

    For small business, it is financially feasible for you to invest in call tracking to some degree as soon as you are spending money on advertising. Dynamic level call tracking for pay per click advertising makes sense when the gains in cost reduction your can get from using call tracking become larger than the expense of the tracking itself combined with the cost of a consultant to setup and analyze the data. If you are planning on using it yourself, it gets financially feasible much faster. This is because a great call tracking analyst is worth paying good money for. Great post.


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