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. Call tracking (along with call recording) can tell you:

  • What traffic sources are generating the most calls
  • What questions consumers have that make them want to call
  • How your sales/customer support team is performing
  • How important calls may (or may not) be in terms of revenue

This article explains how call tracking works and why it’s such a useful tool.

First, Here’s How Call Tracking Works

In essence, call tracking is call forwarding:

  1. Create a tracking number (or a group of tracking numbers)
  2. Connect the tracking to Google Analytics (or another system that can collect stats)
  3. Forward every tracked call to your existing phone number
call tracking explanation

While the basic concept is simple, there are lots of cool things you can do:

  • If you have a large enough pool of numbers, you can track every individual pay-per-click advertising click down to the keyword
  • You can also track print advertising, coupons, TV ads, YouTube ads, etc. – just use a custom tracking number for each ad
  • Using tools like CallRail, you can record every call to hear the calls
  • Using tools like Invoca, call outcomes can be measured, frequently asked questions can be identified, and more

Depending on the tool you use and the size of your company, call tracking can be a $50-$5,000 per month expense.

How To Setup Call Tracking

In the “old days” of digital marketing, call tracking was a bit of a technical challenge…you had to create your own system for dynamically swapping out phone numbers, embed numbers into ad URL parameters, and then carefully test everything.

Today, call tracking is brutally simple:

  • Sign up for a call tracking service (we like CallRail, but there are several companies that offer this service)
  • Install some javascript on your site
  • Wait for the calls

All you have to do is decide on the size of your call tracking “pool” – the larger the pool, the more granular your tracking.

NOTE: For some of our larger volume clients, staff at CallRail has recommended we have enough numbers to support 1/4th the number of website visitors in the busiest hour of the day. However, in our experience you can get by with a smaller number of tracking numbers at the expense of some fidelity.

Call Tracking Isn’t Just About Calls!

A lot of people think of call tracking in very literal terms, eg “how many calls did we get?” But call tracking can tell you so much more:

  • Which landing pages generate the most calls, and which the fewest? You might have some landing pages that are missing important information.
  • Which keywords generate the most calls, and what does that tell you about customers? Keywords that generate calls can be really good (if calls help you make money) and really bad (if calls are usually a waste of time). Figuring out which keywords are generating which calls can be a great way to make ad spend more efficient.
  • How long are customers waiting to speak to someone? Are customers waiting a few minutes before getting frustrated and hanging up? Or are they getting an answer right away?
  • What questions are consumers always asking? All call tracking tools offer call recording – if you can listen to all the calls (or at least a large sample of the calls), odds are good you’ll hear some questions are repeated regularly. These questions should be part of the content on your website, but can also help you identify problems with your offering and/or landing pages.
  • How is your staff performing? Unless they’re being managed closely, phone answering staff may be rude or short with customers, act put out when answering questions, and will frequently direct customers back to the website (despite the fact the customer is calling after viewing the website). Phone staff perform much better when they know someone is listening to their performance.
  • How much money is your company leaving on the table because of poor call performance? This is a biggie – a lot of companies don’t realize that they’re missing out on major revenue because of understaffing, poorly trained staff, or bad processes.

If your company gets more than a handful of calls each month, it’s a great idea to set up call tracking and see what you can learn.

Why Most Companies Don’t Use Call Tracking

Call tracking is relatively affordable, easy to setup, and gives you a ton of amazing data. And yet, a lot of companies don’t use it…

“We Already Ask Callers How They Found Us”

That’s great, but it’s notoriously inaccurate. It also doesn’t tell you what ads the customer saw that caused them to click, what page they landed on, whether or not they tried calling you and hung up because no one answered, how the staff that answered the call behaved, etc.

“Call Tracking Is Too Expensive”

Call tracking costs are usually just a fraction of your ad budget – a few percentage points. If your company really can’t afford call tracking, you probably shouldn’t be advertising.

Now, if your company has an extremely tight marketing budget and you don’t want to spend a lot on call tracking, there are some things you can do:

  1. Turn call tracking it on for a month, get some data, then disable it. Repeat every few months.
  2. Limit call tracking to specific channels (like paid ads).
  3. Reduce the size of your number pool.

But call tracking is rarely more than 5% of your advertising expense (and typically just 2%).

“People Will Write Down The Tracking Number Instead of Our Number”

Most people don’t write down phone numbers anymore – smartphones make it too easy to just Google a company’s contact info anytime you need to call.

But, if your customers did happen to write down the call tracking number, there’s a simple solution:

  1. Stop actively using call tracking, but leave the tracking numbers active for a few weeks or months
  2. See who is calling your old tracking numbers, contact them, and ask them to write down a new phone number

And if no one is calling your old tracking numbers after a week or two (which is usually the case in our experience), you can be pretty certain the number was not saved.

“We Don’t Have Time To Manage The Call Staff”

Everyone knows how to professionally answer the phone – most of us have had several calls with call center staff at the bank, the credit card company, the phone company, and so on. We all know that it’s important to be courteous, repeat what the customer asks back to them to verify understanding, offer to help, etc.

We also know that we should never be rude or unwilling to help, and that awkward pauses are bad.

Which is to say, most people who answer the phone for a living already know what they should be doing. Managing them is playing a couple of bad calls for them, asking them what they think about the job they did, and then letting them know you’re going to be paying closer attention. The whole thing takes less than an hour.

“We Don’t Think The Phones Matter”

Of all the excuses for not tracking calls, this is the most common. And while it may be that your company sells a product or service that people don’t ever have any questions about (and therefore never call about), please understand that would be extraordinary from our perspective. We have worked with B2B and B2C companies that sell everything from Camaro stickers to remanufactured engines to industrial supplies, and every single client has found that phones are an important percentage of their sales.

Besides, if calls really don’t matter, call tracking will confirm as much, right? What’s the harm other than the tracking fees?

Call Tracking Tips and Tricks

Here are a few things to think about when implementing call tracking:

  1. How granular do you want your tracking to get? If you use a small pool of tracking numbers, you’ll keep your costs down but you won’t necessarily know which ads or landing pages are triggering calls.
  2. Does your staff know you’ll be recording them? In some states, employers need to inform staff that they’re being recorded. However, our recommendation would be to inform staff regardless. No one wants to be surprised by a recording.
  3. Set aside time to listen to calls every week. Consistency is critical, as it will help your staff perform better while also giving you more insights.
  4. Play one good call and one bad call in phone staff meetings. Also, the goal of playing bad calls is for everyone to learn, not to humiliate someone.
  5. Invest in training. Sometimes, training is just making sure staff knows how to answer questions. Sometimes, it’s giving them a sales track and then making them rehearse objection handling. Either way, it’s good to spend time with phone staff.
Manage what you measure
Measuring inbound calls helps you manage the performance of advertising – and improve it.

Common Questions About Call Tracking

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

Will a tracking number affect the call quality or increase wait time? Nope. A tracking number is just a forward. It’s seamless.

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 careful about modifying their phone number, as Google and Bing pay 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.

Is call tracking legal? For US and/or Canadian companies operating in the US or Canadian market, the answer is yes. If your company operates in European countries, call tracking javascript probably shouldn’t be loaded until you have the customer’s permission to track their personal info.

Summing Up

Call tracking with call recording is one of the best tools in any digital marketer’s arsenal, and it’s all but essential if your company receives more than a few dozen calls a month. All companies should consider setting up call tracking for at least a few months as a diagnostic, and larger companies should allocate funds to ongoing tracking.

Call recordings should be reviewed from time to time by management, and staff should be made aware that they’re being held accountable. Good calls should be celebrated, and bad calls should be a teaching tool.

Last but not least, while there are lots of great tools for call tracking, we’re big fans of CallRail because it’s affordable, the features are good, and implementation is easy. If you’ve never tested it before, there’s even a free trial you can use to see how it works.

What are you waiting for? Give it a try!

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