The Importance of Call Tracking in Online Advertising

If your business takes orders over the phone – and you’re advertising online – call tracking is a critical tool. With just a little bit of effort, call tracking can help you estimate the total impact of every advertising dollar.

Here’s how it works, how we address some common concerns, and how you can get started.
Why Call Tracking matters for online advertising

How Call Tracking Works

If you’re going to track phone calls back to a specific advertisement, you need two things:

  1. A specific call tracking number for each ad campaign you’re trying to measure
  2. A system for showing the tracking number to the right website visitors

The tracking number is pretty easy. First, you get some call tracking numbers for each ad or ad channel you want to track (more on this below). Then, you forward your tracking number(s) to your main number.

call tracking explanation

When someone calls your tracking number, the call is counted and forwarded. Your customer doesn’t experience any delay, and your staff doesn’t have to do anything special. All the tracking is done by the tracking number provider.

As for a system for showing the tracking number to the right people, you have some options. You can:

  • Use some javascript to change the displayed phone number on your website based on a URL parameter, which allows you to buy tracking numbers for cheap, but requires some programming*
  • Pay for a call tracking service that includes the tracking technology you need
  • If you’re only interested in tracking AdWords, you can use Google’s system for free

We don’t have any specific recommendations on which system to use (at least not currently). CallRail is affordable, as is calltrackingmetrics.com (the cost varies by use…some “cheap” systems get more expensive the more you use them).

*When you create your javascript, be sure to protect against XSS and to cookie the phone number whenever it’s included in a parameter. That way, you can show the tracking number for days/weeks/months after the initial click.

Common Call Tracking Concerns

Before implementing call tracking, it’s not unusual for people to have some concerns. Specifically:

Will a tracking number effect the call quality, wait time, etc? In a word, no. A tracking number is just a forward…it’s seamless.

I don’t need to track my calls – I can just ask people how they found us. Unfortunately, asking your customers about how they found you doesn’t work very well. Various studies have found this method of attribution to be highly inaccurate, not to mention that it won’t help you track people beyond a very general level.

Besides, is your current system:

  • Logging the time and duration of every call you’re getting, and then comparing that information per ad channel?
  • Is it easy to pull up a report of all the calls you got from a specific ad or ad campaign?
  • Can you compare the call logs from this month to last month, or the prior year, on a per ad or ad channel basis?

Call tracking systems allow you to do all of that. Tracking calls on your own does not (well, unless you’re incredibly organized).

What if my customers write down a tracking number? If you use call tracking on an ongoing basis, this isn’t a big deal. You probably will have control of the same numbers for as long as you use the service. However, if you cancel, the numbers will go away…so there is some risk here.

Of course, most of the people that write down your number will use it in a few days and then throw it away/move on. In our experience, very few people write down phone numbers these days…they either store them in their phone or just pull them up on the web as needed.

Call tracking seems like a waste of money. Tracking your calls will cost you a fraction of your ad budget, and the data it gives you will help you save money on advertising.

If, for example, you use call tracking to measure the impact of a print ad, you may find that your print ad didn’t generate enough calls to justify itself. That means that you stop buying that particular print ad, which saves you money.

Call tracking is a good investment – it pays for itself very quickly.

Will a tracking number hurt my site from an SEO standpoint? If you’re a local business, it may. If you’re a national parts retailer or manufacturer, it will not.

Local businesses need to be very careful about modifying their phone number, as Google and Bing pay very close attention to that data point. But if you’re a national company, your phone number is not something Google or Bing pay attention to.

Manage what you measure

Measuring your inbound calls helps you manage the performance of your advertising – and improve it.

Summing up, call tracking is powerful. Use it correctly and you can squeeze more performance out of your existing advertising dollar.

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