Call Tracking Controversy?

The emerging conventional wisdom is that call tracking should be uniformly included in search and other online marketing campaigns. However in a column today at Search Engine Land, David Mihm strongly argues that call tracking is not a good idea:

To maximize your rankings on Google Maps, Yahoo Local, and Bing Local, your business’s Name, Address and Phone number (“NAP,” to borrow a Localeze-inspired acronym) should broadcast the same rock-solid signal on every platform.  Think of them as your business’s thumbprint.  As Gib Olander of Localeze  says, they are “not the place for advertising.”

Remember, as Brownbook’s Marc Lyne pointed out, that “you don’t own your business information.” For instance, what happens if you give your business a unique tracking phone number at a directory that Acxiom happens to spider for its own index? That number is now considered authoritative by Acxiom, and gets pushed out to every partner that’s leasing Acxiom’s data. Meanwhile, infoUSA and Localeze probably still have your main line. You now have two different thumbprints.

In a perfect world, Google, Yahoo, and Bing would be smart enough to see that the business name and address information matches, even though the phone numbers differ. They’d “count” all of them as citations for the same business, but continue to display the Local number you’ve given them in the Local Business Center. But given some of the issues with Google’s merging algorithm, do you really want to take that chance?

I’m not an SEO expert so I’m not able to dispute or speak to these issues. I wonder if anyone wants to read what David has said and comment or address his points?

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10 Responses to “Call Tracking Controversy?”

  1. SEOservicesAtlanta.com Says:

    I just read his report and I believe that there could be serious consequences that will effect the ranking of local sites. This is especially important because we can venture to guess that many of these local sites are not utilizing the citations or web communities fully to begin with – so the prospect of changing or updating a phone number in 50 or more directories and websites is unrealistic.

    I love the idea of call tracking, but hate the idea that all my hard work optimizing local businesses for high search engine placement would get diluted so quickly. I compare it to changing email addresses frequently. Its a great way to loose contacts and confuse customers.

    Jan Riley

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Thanks. I’m also interested if anyone has response to David’s article.

  3. Taylor Cimala Says:

    I left a comment last night about the issue on that article and based on the implementation that we use, I would have to disagree with parts of the argument. Changing the face of your company from an outbound presence is definitely bad, but if you can change your phone number on your website from an inbound perspective based on the source of medium of the referrer then it’s a win/win. Granted you will lose xx% of tracking for those that call directly from the Google SERP’s or from a IYP site, but a large percentage click through to the actual website.

  4. Stever Says:

    I’m facing those problems with some of my clients. Various listings for the same business using different tracking numbers across multiple IYP websites. It’s leading to Google creating multiple listings for that business in Maps. Some of these IYP sites are review sites too, so the duplicate listings being created in Maps each have different sets of reviews associated with them.

    For the client the ideal situation, in my mind, should be for Google to merge all those duplicates into one where the combined power of all those reviews and other citations across the web help to boost rankings in Maps for the one listing for that business.

    Under the current system those tracking numbers make merging those Maps listings impossible. If I was the business owner I would sooner forgo being able to track calls, vs. not being able to get the calls in the first place because I can’t get a listing in maps to rank in the top 10 (now top 7).

    The canonical phone tag suggested by Chris Silver Smith is a great idea, but one I don’t see being implemented by both Google and the IYP sites anytime soon. I also suspect this problem will be getting worse as more IYP sites start using tracking numbers in order to continue to show the value of their traffic to the businesses listed in them.

  5. Taylor Cimala Says:

    To be fair, the IYP sites don’t have to take the first step. If Google implements the canonical phone tag, the rest will follow pretty quickly.

    Another thought, and possible value add, for the IYP’s is to maybe take a look at user-agents and display different phone numbers based on spiders vs. actual browser requests. I’m not sure if that approaches on that gray area for cloaking, but serving the proper content to the proper channels in that fashion could be an alternative as well.

  6. Chris Silver Smith Says:

    I’m all for increased ability to analyze and assess the effectiveness of promotion through various channels.

    I’m hearing that IYPs and similar biz directories are intending to provide increased usage of call-tracking, which is a good initiative on their part.

    I just perceive that there’s a few potentially negative consequences involved. There appears to be some level of listing duplication caused in part by a business having mulitple phone numbers in various channels. If all these local sites didn’t trade content around, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue, but most everyone benefits some from the content distributions.

    Also, the sometimes ephemeral nature of the tracking numbers is also a problem. If a consumer writes down a number, and that number is repurposed soon after to another business or it’s defunct, then the promotional value is eroded some.

    Industry leaders need to come together to discuss possible solutions to these issues soon, before call-tracking increases even more.

  7. Rodrigo Landerdahl Says:

    Taylor, no need to parse user agents; this can be easily implemented with javascript. If javascript is disabled (bots), the actual phone number is displayed. Else,it is dynamically replaced by the tracked phone number ( small javascript code). I’m actually doing this, so I don’t see what’s the big deal.

  8. Localeze Parent, Telmetrics Offer Cross-Platform Call Tracking « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] have been raised about the potential SEO impact of phone number substitution on core business data. I’m hoping [...]

  9. Telmetrics Responds to Call Tracking, SEO Issues « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] Q&A interview I conducted in email with Telmetrics president Bill Dinan about some of the issues raised in a recent article by David Mihm that ran on Search Engine Land (”Be Wary Of Call Tracking [...]

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