Why Phone Call Tracking is Risky in Local SEO.

(When done incorrectly)

Local Phone Call Tracking Online

Tracking numbers can be a fantastic marketing tool. Understanding where your phone enquiries are coming from can help determine ROI on marketing investments & also give you useful insights about your customers. However, there are some critical things you’ll need to understand before considering using tracking numbers online.


If call tracking is done incorrectly, your local Google rankings can seriously suffer.


Quote from industry leading Local Search expert Mike Blumenthal:

“Google+ Local is a no brainer in not being good for a call tracking number.”


Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP) Consistency

Here is a snapshot of the top 5 foundational local search ranking factors in David Mihm’s 2013 Local Search Ranking Factors survey. This is an annual survey of all the top dogs in local SEO who give their expert opinion on which factors affect Google’s local search rankings. Note that the 3rd and 5th most important factors are related to NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) consistency on a business’ Google Places (or now Google+ Local) page and also in HTML on your website. Consistent business data is key. Improper call tracking causes inconsistencies in business data. A prime example of improper call tracking is using a metered phone number on an online directory such as Yellow Pages or Yelp for instance.

Top 5 Local SERP Ranking Factors 2013


That fifth point – HTML NAP Matching Place Page NAP – Is the ranking factor that can cripple your local SEO efforts if you’re doing call tracking incorrectly.

For example, if your actual business Name, Address & Phone Number is this:

ABC Lawyers Pty Ltd
Unit 1/11A Johnson Rd SYDNEY NSW 2000
(02) 9046 9000

Then you need to have those EXACT details listed on each page of your website (Learn how here) AND anywhere else your business listing appears across the web. i.e. Online review sites, Yellow Pages online, business chamber websites etc.

The below example variations (although slight) could screw up your NAP consistency & local rankings on Google:

ABC Lawyers <– Slight variation of business name
1/11 Johnson Rd SYDNEY NSW 2000 <– Slightly varied address format
(02) 9046 8010 <– Demo tracking number

Ideally, you want all the business listing details exactly the same. If the same address format isn’t possible across all directories, that’s ok. The phone number is the most important.

How an Inconsistent NAP can affect your rankings

When your business listing information is different across multiple web properties, Google’s spiders will find it hard to identify which listings / profiles are actually about your business. This can cause you to lose credibility, rankings, traffic, leads, customers & revenue.

The article below gives a good explanation of the technical risks of using call tracking numbers incorrectly.

Why Call Tracking Numbers in Local SEO Make Me Angry by Will Scott at Search Influence.

That article is more focused on the US market, where they have a few main business data aggregators which feed listing data out to a massive database of web properties – but still, similar business data issues can occur here in Australia.

In Australia, the most common online tracking number issue I see is using metered phone number programs provided by directories like Sensis’ Yellow Pages online. In many cases, they’ll actually assign the exact same tracking number to an advertiser’s print directory ad as is published on their online Yellow Pages ad, so the business has no idea which ad is actually driving them calls. That’s another story though. The focus of this article is to outline why these online metered numbers are risky for local SEO.

The Issue with Yellow Pages online tracking numbers in Australia

Sensis pushes out business listing information to a multitude of online sources like YellowPages.com.au, WhitePages.com.au, Yelp, Whereis, FindLocal & even raw data to Google+. This means that when you place a metered phone number on your Yellow Pages listing, that same tracking number can be found across a range of business directories & sites. Not only can this inflate an advertisers’ perception of value reported for their Yellow Pages investment, it can also result in a completely messed up portfolio of business citations across the web. Imagine half of your listings displaying your correct phone number, the other half displaying a new tracking number. A disaster for NAP consistency and a huge risk for your local search rankings.

There’s also a great article explaining this issue by Orange Digital here:


When is it OK to use tracking numbers online?

Don’t get me wrong here – I absolutely see the value in using tracking numbers to help determine a business’ ROI from paid marketing efforts. And having worked in the Yellow Pages business previously, I completely get their desire to prove value to their advertisers wherever they can. In my opinion though, the benefits of running online tracking numbers are not worth the Local SEO risks. That being said, there are some instances where using tracking numbers online can possibly be OK.

Here’s a quick rundown of a few options:

– Placing a tracking number in an image file, in a prominent position on your site.

This could work since Google doesn’t necessarily crawl the number in your image. You’ll still need to include your real NAP across all pages on your site (maybe just down in the footer). To me, this still isn’t a great option because it kind of misleads users doesn’t it? Google are also getting better at reading images (Check out reverse image search here – pretty cool), so this technique may become risky for NAP consistency too in future. Another limitation of using images for tracking numbers is that it’s harder to determine the referral source of your phone call leads. i.e. How do you know whether the tracked phone calls have come from organic search, paid search, social, or other?

– Using tracking numbers for Pay Per Click advertising campaigns only.

If you’re primarily concerned about tracking the effectiveness of a Google AdWords campaign or other paid advertising campaign, then this can be done quite easily.

One way to track phone calls from PPC campaigns is to direct your paid traffic to specific landing pages that are not indexed by the search engines. On these landing pages, you could display various tracking numbers that are only shown to your paid search visitors. You can then evaluate your phone enquiry data accordingly.

At ReachLocal, we send paid search traffic to a different version of a clients’ website through reverse proxy technology so we can display the original website to the user as is, except their phone numbers are switched out and replaced with local landline or 1300 tracking numbers. When the user calls a tracking number on the proxy site, they’re auto-diverted to the clients’ original phone line and we can monitor call data & even voice recordings of the phone enquiries. This method does not adversely affect NAP consistency for Local SEO because this proxy version of the site is not indexed by search engines. Their is no actual modification to the clients’ organically indexed website. For those of you wondering, no this is not a mirror site. – Here’s an explanation of why mirror sites cause issues.

– Tracking Mobile Click-to-Call events in Google Analytics

Setting up goals for click-to-call events in Google Analytics & conversion tracking in AdWords will allow you to track phone calls from your mobile visitors. Since the mobile web is such a significant traffic source these days, your mobile click to call data should provide a pretty significant indication of your overall click-to-call conversion rates and phone call lead sources. You (or your web developer) can learn more about how to set this up here.

– Dynamic Number Insertion (DNI)

This one is my favourite solution for online call tracking. By provisioning some clever javascript code, marketers are able to dynamically display tracking numbers to website users based on various dimensions such as traffic referral source (i.e. AdWords, Google Organic, Facebook etc), marketing medium (i.e. Social, Search etc). This means that you can still display your ‘real’ phone number to search engines – consistent with all your other NAP citations across the web.

I hope this article gives you some clarity on the possible risks associated with online phone call tracking if not done correctly. Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me if you have any questions around call tracking.

If you’re really keen to learn more about WHY consistent business citation data is so important for local search rankings, you can check out the paid video recording of Darren Shaw’s presentation at SearchLove 2013 via the link below. (It’s focussed on North Amercia, but still very relevant for Australian businesses)