After reading Telmetrics’ response to his Search Engine Land article, which was highly critical of call tracking, David Mihm asked if he could respond to the Telmetrics post. The following is David Mihm’s unedited response (the opinions expressed are his exclusively):
As I said in last month’s Search Engine Land column, the idea of call-tracking in Local Search is terrific. The fragmentation of the space and the ability to provide easy-to-understand, real metrics for small business owners should make call tracking a natural evolution in Local search marketing. It’s just not a good idea yet.
In his response, Telmetrics president Bill Dinan strongly defended the use of call tracking, but personal experience with actual small businesses has left me unconvinced of his points. The local search ecosystem simply has not evolved as fast as Telmetrics’ (and other providers’) technology.
Dinan assets that “all of the Local Search feeds have room to accept both the main business number and the tracking number.”
First of all, I’m not sure this is true. There’s certainly a place for an 800-number in the submission process for Localeze and infoUSA/Acxiom/Universal Business Listing, but I’ve not seen the column in these submission areas for a secondary local tracking number. Perhaps there are special arrangements for providers as large as Telmetrics but my column was written from my perspective as the owner of a small SEO agency.
Some local listing aggregators may be “working feverishly” as Bill says to accommodate local tracking numbers, but the fact is not everyone is there yet, on either the aggregator or the call tracking provider side. For instance, infoUSA’s phone verification process may not be compatible with all companies’ offerings, even if it works with Telmetrics. And Localeze’s Gib Olander has stated at more than one industry conference that “listings are not the place for advertising.”
Secondly, and I think this is a key point, not all information in the Local ecosystem comes via a feed. Jonathan Cohn of Acxiom mentioned in August on a Search Marketing Now webinar (27:00 onwards) that YellowPages ads are “keyed and scanned every year” by Acxiom. He also showed this slide showing even more places from which Acxiom pulls business data.
From personal client experience—if you use a tracking number in the YellowPages, it’s highly likely to get picked up by Acxiom (or another aggregator) and into Google’s index as a unique listing. And every time Google gets a fresh data feed, I have to help clients who use tracking numbers claim and attempt to consolidate each of those call-tracked listings. It requires constant attention.
In fact, just this month, a “new” listing popped into Google Maps for a friend whose website I helped with over the summer. Here is the search for his company in Tualatin, Oregon. Note that even though both listings contain the word “Creekside” in the business title and use the exact same address, Google Maps has not merged the two. Which, yes, is somewhat surprising—we’ve seen them merge with much less matching information in the past.
I asked my friend Brent via email earlier this week if he was still including that business name and phone number in any of his ads with AT&T, Verizon, or Dex; here was his response:
“[I] might have listed with all three (above), but no longer advertizing there…we do advertize on Nickel Ads locally …… but I can’t imagine that would reach to cyberspace.”
The ecosystem is amazingly complex, and as Brent’s example proves, you just never know where one number is going to end up, or how long it’s going to stay there. Not only does this situation affect visibility in Google Maps, but it significantly undermines the granularity of analytics data that call tracking is supposed to provide. If a phone book number or an Internet Yellow Pages number is getting picked up by Google, the supposed volume of calls from those destinations is going to be exaggerated.
Thus, consistency of business information throughout the Local ecosystem should still remain a best practice.
As far as which is more important to a small business owner, getting traffic to their business via Google, or knowing “which advertising is producing the highest-value calls,” I find it a stretch to think that any revenue-oriented SMB is going to opt for tracking. Business owners call me every day asking “how do I rank my business next to the map,” not “can you help me figure out where my calls are coming from?”
Regardless of whether Google has explicitly confirmed that mentions of primary business information help with ranking in Google Maps, according to Google Maps’ patent, local search experts, and a quantitative study of Google Maps they do.
Yes, the algorithm will continue to evolve and take into account richer data signals like link graph data, reviews, and other user-generated content. But for millions of small businesses without any website, or a poorly-optimized one, the phone number IS their identity. Phone numbers (and addresses) are as fundamental for Google Maps’ business index as the link graph is to its organic index. Google wants a direct representation of real-life business information, and a call-tracking number doesn’t satisfy that criterion.
As to the notion of number recycling, I agree with Bill that it might not occur “often.” It sounds like Telmetrics tries to act in its clients’ best interests if they end their contract, but that doesn’t prevent less scrupulous companies from switching numbers instantly.
It is a short-sighted strategy to counsel small business owners to “focus on what you can control, and that is paid advertising.” What happens when prices skyrocket or inventory becomes limited? Ignoring organic optimization and social media—neither of which you can control—is just as foolhardy as ignoring paid search options in a successful online campaign.
There may indeed be a double-standard with Google’s integration of Voice with Local Listing Ads—especially since I’ve seen a handful of examples of Made-for-Adsense sites getting indexed and counting as citations! But I fully agree with Mike Blumenthal, who responded this week:
“[While] the goal is worthwhile, until such time as Google, working together with other industry leaders, develops a system not to penalize businesses using call tracking then it should not be used.”
Online-based call tracking is not the only method of tracking leads. As I pointed out in my original article, traditional offline methods like Excel spreadsheets and post-it notes can work just fine—and they do, for my clients for whom tracking is of central importance.