Get the Benefits of Call Tracking without Changing Your Local Number

Editor’s Note:

Darren Shaw's avatar

I had a chat with Mark at Mozcon 2015 and he blew my mind when he told me you could turn your existing phone number into a call tracking number. Just imagine: all the benefits of call tracking with none of the negative NAP consistency consequences. I asked Mark if he’d write up a post for our blog, and here it is.


Call tracking makes search marketing simpler, more cost-effective, and more efficient for large firms, new businesses, and marketing veterans alike. With call tracking, you don’t have to wonder which of your marketing efforts are working. You can delve into the conversion funnel to see hard data that demonstrates where your efforts are paying off (and where they aren’t).

While the call tracking industry has a lot to offer, some local marketers are still reluctant to jump on board with call tracking due to concerns over changing their local phone number.  I recently wrote a guide to call tracking for local search for Mike Blumenthal’s blog addressing this very issue.

Ghosts of Call Tracking Past

When you hear the horror stories about companies who’ve tried call tracking only to see rankings tank after the switch, or who lost access to the number when they tried to switch vendors, it’s natural to write it off. The good news is, however, you can get started with call tracking without having to worry about losing your existing phone number or affecting your NAP (Name Address Phone number) consistency.

As with anything, call tracking can be implemented well or implemented poorly. Those call tracking horror stories you’ve heard about arise from poor implementations, often built into the products of local marketing solutions providers.

Unfortunately, some of these solutions vendors claim ownership over the local numbers they give to their customers. If a customer wants to cancel the service or switch providers, they often have to forfeit the right to the call tracking number that came with the package they bought – a number that’s now all over the internet associated with their business. Some local businesses end up sticking with a service provider they don’t like simply because the time and effort involved in switching vendors and cleaning up NAP data is just too much of a headache. Let me warn you, if any marketing solutions provider includes local SEO call tracking and tries to tell you they own the number you’ll use, walk away.


Call Tracking in 2015

NAP consistency isn’t the only worry about using call tracking in local search marketing. I hear all the time from marketers whose clients are worried that customers will become confused over which telephone number is the right number to call when a different call tracking number is listed online. Just the thought of having their web presence appear messy, with multiple telephone numbers, can turn these small businesses off of the very idea of call tracking.

I know firsthand how time consuming it is to clean up bad citations, create new citations, and optimize existing citations. Why introduce a new data point into the mix and confuse things for your customers? Even if the likelihood is small that a call tracking number might affect business, why risk it especially when you don’t have to?

There are a few ways to use call tracking while remaining consistent with NAP. The safest, smartest technique is to adopt call tracking without changing your (or your client’s) local business number. This way, the NAP consistency is always maintained and your biggest hurdle is seamlessly overcome.


Protecting Your NAP Consistency Through Porting Numbers

Many call tracking services allow you to port your existing business number into the call tracking system, giving you the benefits of call tracking without changing your phone number. (At CallRail porting numbers in and out is free of charge.)

Before you get too excited, know that you will have to provision a new line at your business for these calls. And you’ll need to plan ahead: It can take a few weeks to port a number over to a call tracking provider. Once your number is set up as a tracking number, you can then take advantage of all the great call tracking features.

Porting is a great workaround if you want to explore call tracking, have already spent a lot of time and effort on NAP consistency, and don’t want anything to sabotage your hard work.

It’s FCC-mandated that you be able to switch service providers and maintain the same number. If you’re using a call tracking service and you don’t like it, you have the right to port your number out of the system when you switch providers.

Even if you haven’t given NAP consistency much thought, porting can be a convenient and easy way to embrace call tracking. Since you’ll just initiate the port request and wait for things to happen, you won’t have to spend time setting up new tracking numbers for your existing campaigns.

With call tracking enabled, you can see all calls received in your activity dashboard. Track calls, record calls, review caller ID information, or analyze other data points to get the most actionable insights. To ensure consistency, you can even set up a call flow to dial specific numbers at specific times, making sure you don’t miss a mark. While it can take time to adjust the settings, you can assign the same settings to multiple different tracking numbers. Not only does this streamline your workflow, it creates a more consistent experience for callers.


How To Port Your Number

While the porting option does take time to step up, which can frustrate you if you’re feeling like you need to move ahead with call tracking right now, ultimately it’s a safe, easy, and secure way to get call tracking without giving anything up.

Getting started with porting is as easy as completing a Letter of Authorization, gathering your phone number data (and a recent bill) and discussing your specific needs with a reputable call tracking provider that takes local SEO seriously.

Here are step-by-step instructions* for porting U.S. and Canadian phone numbers:

  1. Provision a new phone line to take the place of your existing one you’ll be porting away. This is the destination number line that will receive the forwarded calls. For example, if this is a business line with AT&T or Rogers then you will want to set up a new AT&T/Rogers line at your business location to receive the forwarded calls.
  2. Set up the call forwarding and call flow settings. Input the destination number and any other call flow settings within your call tracking account so that when your existing number is ported, it rings exactly where you want it. No down time.
  3. Request, fill out, and return the Letter of Authorization provided by your call tracking vendor. While porting often only takes a few days, it can take a few weeks depending on the carrier you’re porting away from.
  4. Watch the data flow in and get to analyzing!

*Note: Number porting varies by country since there is a patchwork of regulations that govern telecommunications in each country. The above mentioned method is relevant for U.S. and Canada based businesses. The process for other countries varies based on regulations and in some cases fees are charged by current carriers to release a number. Be sure to research best practices for your specific country.


Mark Sullivan

Mark Sullivan has directed online marketing at various companies since 2006. Most recently he worked at Yodle on the team in charge of local SEO performance for multi-location & franchise businesses. He left Yodle in 2013 to start growth consulting firm Vasolo, where he learned the effectiveness of using call tracking data to better drive business growth for his clients. In 2014 he joined the CallRail team, where he is the Director of Analytics. Mark spends most of his time educating SMBs and marketing agencies on how to better analyze marketing metrics to extract meaningful insights.

Follow Me on Twitter
  • John Biundo

    Hi Mark,

    Maybe I’m missing the point, but I’m not sure how this helps me with the number one thing I would like to get, and can’t, via call tracking: how many calls came in through an impression from a specific channel. This would plug a BIG hole in my attribution modeling. However, to know where the prospect found me, I need them to call a unique number that is exposed only in that channel. Don’t I? I sure hope I’m missing something, because NAP consistency and call tracking really WOULD be nirvana in my mind!

  • Mark,

    Very, very cool. Love Callrail and we have been using the service successfully. I was unaware of the ability to port numbers into your system. BRILLIANT! XOXO Cailrail. My teenage crush with you continues.

  • @cody – You’re cracking me up. Thanks for the kind words. So glad you’re teenage crushing on CallRail! 🙂 Our team loves to hear this feedback so I’m going to share with them.

    @John B. – Fantastic question. This is a really common question I get when recommending call tracking/analytics for local SEO, and I hear the concern. Here’s my take.

    Call tracking is so much more than granular attribution to which listing/citation/web property drove a phone call. Attribution is just one data point among others that an unshackled local phone number can give you. And let’s be clear here: call tracking with your existing phone number does give you attribution data: how many calls are coming in from local SEO efforts. While it doesn’t tell you how many came in from work on Yelp or YP or Google Local, it provides way more info on the leads that are coming from those sources than you’re getting without it.

    If you’ve got your ducks in a row when it comes to NAP consistency, then a call tracking enabled phone number will give you the following data points that you simply can’t easily get without it:

    – aggregate call volume: the simplest data point call tracking can give you is often difficult data to acquire for us as marketers. Think of it in the same way you’d think about web traffic that you may not know exactly where it’s coming from (e.g. organic search traffic from “not provided”). It can give you an understanding of trends, seasonality, problems, etc.

    – first time caller: the single most important data point you can extract from local SEO call tracking. Aggregate call volume isn’t always the best indicator of the fruits of our local search labor, but first-time callers gives us a metric that is much closer to our clients bottom line’s–how many new customers are calling in from my organic campaigns.

    – call recordings: I can’t say enough about the treasure trove of insights that are hidden underneath the phone calls that happen everyday. From customer service to training opportunities to determining quality of organic phone call leads, call recordings have made my job as a local search marketer so much easier and more valuable to my clients. As a marketer I’m not responsible for the way our client’s staff answers the phone but if the staff throws away solid leads that are coming in through organic work I’m doing, then the business owner is not going to keep paying me.

  • Also, another point that Chris B. just brought up on G+ is the annoyance of verifying listings with a traditional local phone number. With a call tracking enabled phone number, verifying listings is super quick and easy–and requires no involvement from the business owner. You just temporarily change the destination number to your own to verify the listing and then change it back.

  • John Biundo

    Hey Mark,

    Thanks for the response. Definitely don’t disagree with the great info you can get from call tracking. I should have mentioned that (for one large retailer I work with), all of these benefits are currently happening through their call center. The (next/additional) big thing the SEO team would like is to improve attribution modeling to measure local SEO campaigns.

    So we can currently tell who’s coming into funnel through the web from local SEO (map pack clicks, etc.), but can’t tell if other people are picking up the phone and calling because they got a map pack impression. That leaves full attribution (and therefore ROI analysis and fine grained channel optimization) an open loop with respect to local SEO.

    Of course there’s also walk in traffic that remains open loop as well, but closing the loop on phone leads would be a big step!

    So I guess I’m (still) waiting for that nirvana solution that lets us attribute a phone call to specific impression but without compromising NAP!

    Thanks for the detailed info and response!

  • It’s a work around where none seemed to exist before – thanks for sharing Mark/Darren 🙂

  • Great blog post about Local SEO! Very clear list of things to do and now I’m interested of your services too! Thanks for sharing this article.

  • Jeff C

    I’m unclear on the advantage here. The #1 reason for tracking (not the only reason) is to determine ROI on advertising/marketing expenditure. You need a separate phone number to do that accurately, except if the user uses the Call button appearing in an ad on a mobile device that registers the conversion on the ad platform yet places the call to the normal number.

    As you pointed out in one of your follow up comments “… it doesn’t tell you how many came in from work on Yelp or YP or Google Local, it provides way more info on the leads that are coming from those sources than you’re getting without it.”

    Maybe I skimmed your article or the comments too quickly but could you provide more detail on specifically what this “way more info” is beyond the callers phone number, and caller ID name?

  • I agree with some of the concerns here about not seeing which online mediums are producing the most ROI for the client. We have implemented dynamic number insertion on a few clients and have seen zero evidence that it negative effects rankings. The clients love to see what is producing the most calls, we track Google organic, Google paid, Yelp, etc.

    Just my $.02….

  • @John B, Makes sense if the call center software already provides easy access to call meta data, call volume, and call recordings that the client wouldn’t benefit from duplicating that with a CallRail setup like the one I’m referring to. Regarding attribution modeling for local SEO campaigns: the best attribution for local SEO campaigns involve using a source tracking number like I’ve mentioned above for all citations and hard coded on the website and DNI layered on top of that number. Not perfect because you can’t tell which citation produced a phone call (unless you could somehow get timestamp data from the citation and match that up to a phone call, which also wouldn’t always be 100% accurate.)

    @Andy, thanks for the feedback. I’m glad it was useful!

    @Jeff C, The benefit is 2 fold. 1. knowing which calls were driven by citation work and which came from your website (assuming you have a local organic tracking-enabled line as your main business number and DNI on your website to swap out that number); and 2. Getting call meta data, call volume, and call recordings are invaluable for many businesses that don’t already have access to that. With a call-tracking enabled line, you can get that extra data.

    @Chris P, I’m glad you brought up your experience with DNI. I’ve also never seen, after more than a year working with CallRail, any negative effects of DNI. I used to think it was risky to use DNI on a website for a business I was also doing work on citations for. However, I now would use CallRail’s DNI over simple source tracking with just an organic line. We actually use some specific new rules with our CDN (content delivery network) that allow our javascript to reliably determine what phone number to serve search engine crawlers like Googlebot. To be clear, the most powerful implementation of call tracking and analytics for Local SEO is to port in an existing phone number to make it call-tracking capable and have DNI on the website to get more granularity of attribution for phone calls that come from website visitors. Until Google and Co. drop their focus on NAP consistency as a strong ranking factor, we’re going to have a tough time attributing phone calls back to a specific citation that didn’t involve a website visit. For that reason I always asked my clients to have receptionists ask how a customer heard about the business.

  • Great article for local marketers, thanks alot

  • Convincing a business owner to use a call tracking number is difficult but once you do they always love being able to see the monthly reports. It’s also a great tool for sales training.

  • Mark, hi. Mary Bowling point me at your article. Here, I’m curious. How do you prevent the new number to end up being listed online? Thanks.

  • @Adrien, I’m guessing you’re referring to the newly provisioned destination number, not the existing business number that is ported over.

    In my experience the newly provisioned destination number that will be receiving calls from the now ported existing business phone number doesn’t end up online without someone putting it there. Just avoid publishing that number anywhere online and you shouldn’t see it popping up anywhere.

    Regardless, it’s always a good idea to be monitoring citations around the web for NAP consistency. Sometimes local maps application databases can be “refreshed” with old data they’ve licensed from big data providers (or other data sources). This is just part of our job as local marketers to be on the lookout for this! 🙂

  • Lots of hidden gems in this article! Thanks for the info Mark!