B2B Marketing Blog

Does Call Tracking Work for Small Businesses?

By Alex Kilby
Mar 22, 2013

Recently I found myself searching for a solution to track clients more effectively. Naturally I tried call tracking.  In doing so I realized that, although call tracking may be a great for some, it just doesn’t make sense for small and medium sized businesses.  Especially those business who are service based and targeting a local clientele.  I realized that whenever I was asked about call tracking, I would generally hit on 5 major pitfalls for small business – I’ve decided to share them here:

Does Call Tracking Work for Small Businesses

1)     The number:

One of the most common objections I hear from small business owners, when I approach them about call tracking, is the fact that the number will never be truly theirs.  If, for some reason, they want to cancel, the number is immediately thrown into a pool of numbers up for grabs to the next highest bidder.  The thought of potential customers storing a random phone number in their cell phone is scary to them and something I happen to completely sympathize with. 

2)     The price:

Although most call tracking services advertise a relatively low cost per number, in order to get real, meaningful data – I mean, KEYWORD level data, a minimum of 20 phone numbers is required (depending on site traffic).  Basically, you will need an amount of phone numbers that match the number of possible simultaneous site visitors.  If the goal in starting a call tracking campaign is to be forensic, the cost may be daunting.

3)     No multiple attribution – only last click attribution:

The call tracking concept, although technically complex, is really quite understandable.  It works by dynamically changing the phone number on your website based on the different ways visitors find your site or landing page i.e. Google search ads.  Often times, companies taking advantage of paid search have more than one campaign running at once.  When it comes to call tracking, the last ad a customer clicks on before they actually pick up the phone and call is technically responsible for that conversion, or last click attribution. 

As evolved internet marketers, it shouldn’t be news that there are many steps in the journey from interest to decision-to-buy.  A last click model just isn’t cutting it.  Think about it... That’s like assuming paintbrushes alone were responsible for painting your house last summer, when in fact it was the painter, and probably not even just the one painter but the entire team painters, even the painter’s boss who was ultimately responsible for delivering the finished product.

4)     The random dials, ghost rings, and pimps:

Call tracking numbers are like public bathrooms.  Do I know people have used them before? Sure. But I like to pretend I’m the first.  It was 8 months ago when I started a call tracking campaign with one of my most loyal customers, a local company serving the Seattle area. Much like myself, he was interested in going beyond clicks and impressions with a more conversion driven approach.  Almost immediately after setting up call tracking he began to receive calls from potential customers.  SUCCESS! Not quite.  He was getting calls from potential customers from the last business that used the same number.  Maybe even calls from the business before that, who knows.  We ended up halting the campaign after two months.  When I reviewed the data I examined a couple different variables.

  1. Lead phone numbers (which are entered into his CRM) to the call tracking data
  2. Length of tracked conversations
  3. Area codes of influence (area codes greater than 30 miles away from Seattle were considered illegitimate)

After all was said and done we came to the conclusion that approximately 30% of tracked calls were NOT legitimate. 

For a lighter example, when we tested call tracking for our own agency, we received an undocumented amount of calls, late into the evening, from all sorts of “colorful” characters.  We humorously concluded that someone had previously been using our call tracking number to track conversions for an escort service.  Hence the title of this section.

5)     The local SEO implications:

Local SEO isn’t as uncharted as it was a couple years ago.  If you look, you can find a bunch of information out there on how to succeed in the space, what to do – what not to do, etc…  And if your RSS inbox is as inundated as mine, you’ll notice some reoccurring themes.  Some of which, directly contradict with what call tracking seems to do.

Consistency is KEY:  It is very important that businesses be represented in multiple places on the web in an identical fashion in relation to their NAP (name, address, and phone number).  With call tracking, businesses must have a multitude of different phone numbers thus breaking one of the golden rules.

You can’t track organic SEO:  Call tracking works the best when measuring the effectiveness of paid search campaigns.  This is done by directing potential customers to a unique landing page dependent on each ad campaign.  But what if someone finds your website organically through search or a referral like Facebook or Yelp?  There is no way to differentiate between those visitors.

It only works when they call:  There is a variety of different scenarios where customers may choose to convert.  If someone fills out a form or walks into the business, call tracking is rendered useless.  In the grand scheme of things, a prospect calling a tracked number is a pretty small percentage of total leads and doesn’t represent real lead behavior accurately.

The closing:

Call tracking can give businesses a more insightful look into their online marketing efforts, but at what cost?  After all, I don't recall seeing a chapter on call tracking in Local Online Advertising For Dummies.

I’m very interested in your thoughts and stories.  Please leave a comment below. 

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Topics: roi, small business marketing, small business, tools, Marketing Analytics, SEO, call tracking for small business

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