The Truth about SEO and Call Tracking

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There has been a great deal of discussion about SEO and call tracking lately. Several local marketers have written articles decrying call tracking, saying that it hurts SEO. Other local marketing experts have written rebuttals, stating clearly that call tracking does not hurt SEO when it is deployed correctly.

We even wrote this 33-page treatise to clear the air on call tracking and SEO. 

Our goal is this article is to summarize a few of the arguments.

What is Call Tracking?

Call tracking is a way for online marketers to track which sources, campaigns, and keywords generate phone calls. Hundreds of thousands of marketers across the U.S. and Canada use call tracking to close the loop on their marketing ROI calculations. Some of the biggest companies in the world use call tracking to measure the effectiveness of their PPC campaigns, SEO efforts, and retargeting. These companies value call data significantly. They spend a lot of money on it.

Marketing agencies also use call tracking. They use it as a way to prove their worth to their clients. It is especially popular among agencies that do PPC and SEO work.

Call tracking is, right now, a $1B industry. It is mainstream.

call tracking

What is the Truth?

Call tracking, when used correctly does not hurt SEO. That’s the truth. Even most ardent call tracking opponents admit that.

The correct way to use call tracking is to use call tracking DNI. This doesn’t hurt SEO. We’ll discuss more about this later in the article.

The problem is that the call tracking industry has traditionally done a very poor job of educating marketers about what correct use of call tracking actually is.

Why Do Some Say Call Tracking Hurts SEO?

Because of NAP.

Google makes it very clear that Name Address and Phone number (NAP) have to be consistent across all online directories. Having different phone numbers in a ton of different places confuses Google’s algorithms and will hurt your SEO. This is why a few local marketers have written articles criticizing call tracking.

They’re right about one thing. Call tracking numbers should not be used in various directory listings across the web. That will hurt your SEO. This is common knowledge (or should be).

However, far too often articles attacking call tracking will lump all uses of call tracking (on-site Dynamic Number Insertion, primarily) together with erroneous use of call tracking in directories.

And, admittedly, some call tracking companies have not operated with care in this area. They have placed call tracking numbers all over directories without worrying about the consequences for their clients. This is bad business and bad for the industry.

Experts That Warn of Call Tracking Admit It Doesn’t Hurt SEO if Used Correctly

Adam Steele is one of the foremost local marketing experts on the web. He is the Founder of Nightlite Media, a Vancouver-based SEO firm. He wrote an article recently that discussed call tracking and SEO in great detail, this was after the barrage of call tracking and SEO articles on both sides of the debate.

“The solution [to call tracking and SEO] is quite well documented.

As long as precaution is made to make certain your tracking number doesn’t get scraped by Google, or some other authority, tracking numbers are totally fine.

Historically, and I think this is where a lot of this anger from marketers [about call tracking] stems from, companies in the call tracking industry…have abused these numbers without any regard for NAP or the SMB.

Call tracking companies need to educate. Tracking numbers are awesome. I use them all the time, especially in local lead gen. Naturally it is an incredible way to measure my campaign results.”

Other widely known agencies and experts confirm that call tracking doesn’t hurt SEO and recommend that businesses use it.

Another expert, Mike Blumenthal, is one of the foremost experts of local search in the world. His blog is very well done and very well read. Recently he wrote an article about call tracking and SEO. And even though the article was fairly even-handed, some readers got the idea that he was anti-call tracking completely and utterly. In fact, this is the article that many anti-call tracking local marketers reference when they begin any discussion. However, if one reads his article carefully, it is obvious that he knows call tracking can be used correctly without hurting SEO.

He says that marketers can use call tracking on their website. They would “…have more control and might see some interesting value to using call tracking numbers.”

He also says that an entirely safe and acceptable technique would be to “….use a Javascript to display a tracking number to the user, that guarantees that the Google bot and search from Google always see your local number.”

He later says he has participated in discussions with other SEO experts and “…confirms that this [using call tracking DNI] is acceptable.”

Entire state marketing associations, and other respected groups, confirm and endorse that call tracking is fine when if it is used correctly.

The list of sources confirming that call tracking does not hurt SEO when used correctly is too long to include here. Suffice it to say that call tracking is mainstream and when deployed correctly, it DOES NOT hurt SEO.

Ways to Correctly Use Call Tracking

One of the best articles regarding how to correctly use call tracking was written recently by the Minnesota Search Association. I STRONGLY recommend that you read this article. They lay out 5 specific ways to ensure that call tracking does not harm your SEO. At the risk of being repetitive, I won’t go into the details and methods they discuss. But I will mention one more method that ensures call tracking is safe, Dynamic Number Insertion.

 Dynamic Number Insertion is a call tracking method that actually virtually displays a unique phone number on a website based on the source or keyword of the visitor. This is done via a snippet of Javascript. The default number on the site stays hard-coded and does not change. Thus, NAP is not impacted and SEO is not harmed. This is the predominant method companies use to gather call tracking data. It is a failsafe way to gather critical call tracking metrics without harming SEO.

It is worth nothing that this dynamic Javascript method is the same method that A/B testing companies like use to split-test sites. It is also the same method by which dynamic content and ad generation is accomplished. These things don’t hurt SEO. Why would call tracking?

The bottom line is this: local marketers and call tracking companies need to deal with this nuanced issue in a nuanced way. If a call tracking company says that call tracking numbers NEVER hurt SEO, they are wrong. If a local marketer says that call tracking numbers ALWAYS or even MOSTLY hurt SEO, they are wrong.

Using call tracking numbers on directories is bad. Using call tracking DNI on your site is good.

McKay Allen

McKay Allen

Director of Content and Communications at Convirza
McKay Allen is the Director of Content and Communications at Convirza. He has spoken at SMX, Social Media Strategies Summit, LeadsCon and Content Marketing Conference.... Read Full Bio
McKay Allen
McKay Allen
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  • Joe Romano

    How did you determine that call tracking is a billion dollar industry? Where’d you get those numbers? Seems pretty inflated to me

  • I have used image and Dynamic Insertion for call tracking quite a lot. I have also written articles about the miss use of call tracking numbers. I want to share a recent experience we had.

    We had a call tracking number in an image on a website. Google closed the listing. Upon us calling and asking about the issue we were told that the number on the website did not match the number on the Google + Local listing. They had us change the number to reflect the number on the listing.

    Do I still use call tracking numbers? Yes. Are the risky for any person who cares about local search rankings? Yes.

    I’m not saying that everyone with a call tracking number is going to get their listing closed. But depending on who at Google is verifying your information you could find yourself with no listing and the need to use your local phone number.

    What needs to happen is simple: Google and other IYP’s need to support another field (phone number to display). That way you can list your legitimate number that identifies your business but display whatever you want. Until something like that happens. It will always be murky and Call Tracking companies like yours will be more pro than they should and local seo’s will continue to be cautious.

  • I also thought it was bad taste that you only linked to the ” pro” articles and didn’t link to Mike Blumenthals.

  • HI Mike,
    Thanks for the comment. Three quick points:
    1) I certainly don’t think it was ‘bad taste’ that we didn’t include links to negative articles. I don’t believe Blumenthals article or other negative call tracking articles ever link back to anything positive about call tracking, and I certainly wouldn’t call that in ‘bad taste.’ Please make sure you apply the standards you describe as ‘bad taste’ to everyone.

    2) Using a call tracking number in an image as you describe is not a proper use of call tracking. I’ve never even heard of any of our clients doing that. Pretty rare use case in our experience.

    3) DNI doesn’t hurt SEO. Every single local search expert—even the anti-call tracking ones—agree on that.

  • Some more quick points:

    1. Image works amazingly well in ensuring that search engines don’t crawl the number. Especially when you only have one call tracking number you are dealing with. It’s a proper use. And a DNI number would have produced the same outcome. Sorry. The fact of the matter was that the rep said that we needed to show the exact number on the listing as on the website.

    2. Mike Blumenthal never mentioned your name or an article you wrote in a post. He actually complemented you in comments. Thats why I thought I would mention it. You actually mentioned him and talked about the article. It’s just a common courtesy man.

    3. You’re welcome for the comment. 🙂

  • Call tracking is a technology which enables the pay per call business model, allowing the tracking of phone calls to be associated with performance based advertising, and supplying additional analytic information about the phone calls.

  • Sarah Katherine

    When reviewing the author of the article and attributing to the content- seems a little fishy to me. What you work at a call tracking service? Would like to know a non biased. And YES, you should have linked to the expert’s website.