Why Did Google Destroy Keyword Call Tracking?

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By now, marketers know the value of using call tracking to close the loop on online marketing. It should be an extension of online marketing—tracking leads from click, to call, to close.

Early pioneers of call tracking, companies like Mongoose Metrics and Marchex came up with some ingenious ways to link SEM to phone activity. Their idea was simple and useful: Help marketers understand which pay-per-click advertisements or organic searches generate phone calls.

Today the industry calls this Dynamic Number Insertion (DNI) or Dynamic Number Replacement (DNR). Marketers are seeing this as a required feature for any call tracking they purchase. This functionality was a significant benefit to advertisers and led the way to legitimizing call tracking as a required tool for anyone doing SEM.

So how does DNI work?

The Basic DNI Description

Well, in layman’s terms, DNI (via a piece of Javascript code) actually shows a different phone number on a website dependent upon the referring source. For example, visitors from a specific PPC ad see one number, Google searchers see another number, etc. This allows marketers to track which campaigns are generating calls.

I recommend checking out this article in BlogMyCalls as a primer.

The Deep DNI Description

Many of the older versions of DNI are “session-based.” They work by establishing a unique session ID when a visitor clicks to your website. This session ID, along with referring source and keyword information, are passed to the call-tracking application. Then a random phone number is selected from a massive pool of phone numbers and is displayed on the website. Each visitor’s session gets a unique phone number which expires and goes back into the number pool when the user ends the browser session.

This is great because you have the potential to connect referring sources and keywords with specific phone calls, telling you which keywords are actually producing phone calls. Brilliant!

Problem solved! But as with many other things in life, all good things must come to an end…

The End of Keyword ‘Session-Based’ Call Tracking

A couple of months back, Google’s search update significantly changed the information they provide call-tracking solutions (and show within Google Analytics) putting a serious crimp in the fire hose of data marketers were collecting for their website.

What did Google do?

Google’s new privacy policy and algorithms actually block keyword data from being shared if the searcher is logged into a Google account.

For example, if I’m logged into my Google account and search “call tracking,” that keyword will not appear in Google Analytics and it won’t be fed to any other applications (like call-tracking applications). The keyword is private. This has a catastrophic effect on any call-tracking solution that relies on keyword data for metrics (like session-based call tracking). It is the end of session-based keyword call tracking as we know it.

How Many People are Logged In To Google When They Search?

Taking a look at our own company’s Google Analytics, missing keyword data has grown from 17 percent in May to 43 percent now. Search experts estimate that it could eventually range to between 50 and 70 percent of website traffic. Indeed, marketers are going keyword blind, and it is going to get worse because of the mobile search explosion.

Google owns over 90 percent of mobile search and 52 percent of the mobile smartphone market, just about everyone with an Android phone is logged into a Google account all the time. And as mobile search surpasses desktop (2014), it won’t be long until the vast, vast of your visits have no keyword data whatsoever.

Where does this leave the session-based call tracking method we described earlier?

Is Session-Based Call Tracking Dead?

Dead is a harsh word; let’s use the word ‘dying.’

The entire value prop of session-based call tracking is that you can determine which keywords are generating phone calls. That information is quickly becoming unavailable.

So, if you’re trying to get keyword data for every phone call, forget it. Your information will be incomplete and inaccurate. Paying for session-based call tracking and buying a pool of thousands of phone numbers to track calls from keywords is costly less than effective. It simply doesn’t give you adequate visibility into which Pay-Per-Click ads or organic searches are generating phone calls because of missing keyword data.

The Last Great Hope: Other Dynamic Number Insertion Options

Don’t despair. There are other approaches to DNI that can help you see around or through the Google-imposed blind spot: tracking phone calls from PPC or organic search.

Several call-tracking providers offer different methods for DNI:

  • URL-based DNI: assigning dynamic phone numbers based on URL. Each PPC ad, email campaign, banner ad, link, or piece of content can have a different URL. Thus, tracking calls via all those sources—and even keeping track of keyword associated with certain PPC ads—is simple.
  • Source-based DNI: Some call-tracking solutions can ferry data from the referring source site—Google, Bing, PPC ads, or a directory of some sort, etc.—and then dynamically generate a number based upon the unique source.

Solutions like Call Rail or our LogMyCalls provide both URL and source-based DNI, without having to buy expensive number pools or unique session tracking. To be honest, vast number of pools and session-based DNI are expensive, and now, because of this Google update, they are rendered increasingly useless.

The good news is that there are solutions, like those I mentioned in the previous paragraph, that can handle both source and URL-based call tracking while still collecting keyword information wherever possible. The difference is simple: These methods don’t wholly rely on keyword data that is no longer available.

Carlton van Putten
Carlton van Putten is VP of Marketing and Sales at ContactPoint, makers of LogMyCalls. Carlton writes frequently on marketing topics. You can read his exclusive marketing content on Twitter @logmycalls and on the LogMyCalls Google+ page.
Carlton van Putten

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  • http://audioinstallation.com Brandon S

    @ Carlton. Do you guys do webinars or demo’s of your dynamic number insertion?

  • http://www.saifullahbutt.com/ Saif


    This is a nice article. I have seen that there are many users who get logged in to Google while search and Google are presenting them their personal data or search which is manipulated with Google circles.

    i am not getting point that what Google wants to do ? They are having a panda update every other month and then penguin !
    Its difficult to understand them.

    Thank you


  • http://newmediasources.ca puya

    This is what happens when one company owns most of the market. They can now officially dictate what we do and get 🙁

    • http://blog-media.net Obi Won

      And even when they get the FTC on their case, what do they do? Pay off the people!

  • http://keywordtool.com/ Debbie Cruze

    Google is really evolving and they are doing everything they could to improve their service. One of the things they do is to search for your website with the use of keywords written by the users.

  • http://www.hostednumbers.com Nikki

    There other pitfalls to number pooling such as the amount of miscalls that make the actual call data itself inaccurate. These providers enter these numbers into circulation and you have no idea what number is being used for your ad and where it was used before. Say a huge online retailer just went belly up and their customer support number is added into this pool. Imagine how many calls that phone number will continue to get months after the company went out of business from angry customers whose orders weren’t fulfilled. That number is now associated with a keyword that your pumping $$ into under false pretenses.

  • http://na nihkil

    I am wary of Google now.

    Is this one company making it too big? Too big to probably some day tell us what we can and cannot search for? Dictate who is visible in the online world and who is not? Google is a for-profit enterprise, and their position in this day and age over information scares me.

    I’d love for healthy competition to exist – to avoid one company dictating how the online universe should be.

    Come on silicon valley, the time is now!


  • vasu

    when google asked for login id for installing google chrome you might very well understand that once you start your browser you are tacked. any one using your computer is also traced. We are tracked by our mobile operator. for exammple if we share our mobile number using google application i can find where you are at any point of time and no body can bluff about his whereabouts. the moment you have one mail account or attracted by advertisement that your private folders will be available wherever you login by goolge chrome or use a mobile, you are being tracked, all your personal safety and privacy gone.

  • Raman Verma

    All PPC keyword data is still available irrespective of whether someone is logged in or not. so this issue only applies to calls from organic traffic.

    • http://AdviceInteractiveGroup.com Ellen Hakala

      I’m confused. We have Search Engine Optimization Query reports in Google Analytics. Is that information accurate and complete, or, if someone is signed into google is it incomplete?

      Second, is the data that is tracked in the Google Analytics Adwords tab also included/repeated in the Seach Engine Optimization query report or do I have to add them together?