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Call Tracking for Local Businesses: How to Set It Up and Why You Should

Call Tracking for Local Businesses: How to Set It Up and Why You Should

A question I sometimes hear from business owners goes something like this: “Do we really need call tracking? It seems like an extra expense we can do without?”

This provides an interesting perspective to talk about the benefits of call tracking and reporting, as well as an opportunity to discuss the potential negative repercussions of not doing it!

Why Local Businesses Need Call Tracking

When clients have brought up call reporting in the past, I use the following three reasons to explain why it’s absolutely critical to do.

1. Google Business Profile Insights Only Track Calls from Mobile

We already know that Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business) is a critical component of a local business’s existence. So it’s important to be able to assess how the Business Profile is performing, and how it’s contributing to business growth—or lack thereof.

If you’re relying on Google Business Profile (GBP) Insights data, you’re only reporting on calls that customers make from a mobile device. Therefore this data isn’t an accurate reflection of all calls that your business will get from GBP. Anyone pulling up the listing on a computer before calling the business wouldn’t be counted in this data.

Here’s a recent example comparing one month of GBP Insights vs Call Tracking Metrics data for the same business during the same month:

Gbp Call Tracking Metrics

Call Tracking Metrics Gbp

As you can see, if we weren’t doing call tracking, we would’ve missed the additional 54 calls made to the business.

Keep in mind, Google Business Profile Insights don’t represent unique visitors, so multiple searches or clicks from the same user would count multiple times. Being able to segment the data by unique calls is another benefit of call tracking.

2. You Can Record Calls

Listening to calls might be time consuming and boring, but it can provide valuable benefits and uncover potential issues with a business.

In a previous article on local SEO reporting, I shared an example of when we listened to the calls of one of our clients and discovered something that was having a negative impact.

During the phone calls, a virtual assistant (VA) for Mr Smith (made up name), a personal injury and criminal attorney, was asked a simple question from many different potential clients. The question was, “What practice areas and types of cases does Mr. Smith take on?”

What was the VA’s response to this question? It was, “I’m not sure. But I’ll double check and get back to you.” You better believe that these potential clients ended up choosing another law firm!

We reviewed this with the client and he was then able to train his staff to correct the issue. Now that’s what I call going beyond SEO to become a partner to the businesses that we work with.

Warning! Never listen to your clients calls without their consent. If call tracking is used, the client should be the one to own the account and set it up.

3. You Can Label Calls to Assess Quality

Another benefit of listening to call recordings is you can set up a system for labeling calls. This enables you to have better insights into the quality of the calls, and while the setup can be time consuming, the benefits are well worth the squeeze.

We’ve taken this on for some clients and trained the staff of other businesses so that they can do this effectively themselves.

The first step is to come up with a taxonomy so you can build a ‘call label legend’. This allows you to be consistent, efficient, and effective when going through this process multiple times each year.

Here’s a sample call reporting legend with the taxonomy we use:

  • new customer
  • existing customer
  • caller hung up
  • wrong number
  • not someone they can help
  • telemarketer
  • quote
  • voicemail

After you’ve created your taxonomy, you can start to listen to the calls and devise a system to label them. This system will allow you to create a filter for your reports based on the labels that you apply to the calls.

Here’s a sample call report that we shared with a client:

Brightlocal Call Metrics

Creating these reports gives us an opportunity to offer our clients additional insights into the calls that we’re driving from our efforts.

For example, if the client tells us that their sales are down, and we notice that 30% of their calls are going to voicemail or hanging up, that’s relevant and insightful information to share with the client.

How We Set Up Call Tracking at Sterling Sky

We typically use Call Tracking Metrics or Call Rail with all of the businesses we work with. In my experience, they’re very similar but also have their own nuances that can take some getting used to. I’m not going to get into the subtle differences in this article.

Instead, I’ll walk you through the things we think about when setting up a new call tracking account. The examples I’ll use are mainly from Call Tracking Metrics.

As I mentioned in the disclaimer above, we always instruct our clients to set up their own call tracking accounts. Here’s what a typical email to a new client might look like:

“To properly track your phone calls from ads and/or organic traffic, please set up an account at and email me your login. This will allow me to help track your ROI and make sure we are spending time and money in the place that will give you the best return. You will only need the Business Plan.”

Once the business signs up and shares the login information, we’re ready to get the account set up.

Here are the typical steps that we go through for Call Tracking Metrics, and the same general rules apply to Call Rail:

  1. Log into the account and add yourself and the account manager as users.
  2. Purchase seven numbers if they have SEO + SEM. If you aren’t doing ads for the business, then just purchase five, and if you’re only doing ads, just buy two. Make sure the area code matches what’s listed on the client’s site (or if it’s toll-free make sure you keep a toll-free one).

    Buy Ctm Numbers

    a) Google Organic – onsite

    b) Google Ads – onsite 

    c) Bing Organic – onsite

    d) Yahoo Organic – onsite

    e) Location & Call Extension  – offsite

    f) Google Business Profile – offsite (see here)

    g) GBP Onsite

  3. Configure the numbers. Call Rail and Call Tracking Metrics should have an automatic source for all except the Location Extension. Make sure you label them all. Normally, I keep the default settings for numbers which leave call recording on.
  4. If WordPress:

    a) Install the Call Tracking plugin in WordPress and activate it. Go into the settings of the plugin and add the access key & secret key. You’ll have to enable API integration in ‘account settings’ in the Call Tracking dashboard. 

    b) Inside the WordPress plugin settings page, uncheck the boxes to disable Contact Form 7 and Gravity Form integrations.

    CTM Numbers

  5. Check to make sure the numbers are swapping. Open an incognito tab and use this format——and you should see the new number. 
  6. Go over to Google Analytics and set up a goal called Calls (CTM or CallRail) following these instructions.

    a) Category > Calls
    b) Action > leave blank
    c) Label > first-call (Change to “Regular Expression”)
    d) Value > 0

    Goal Details

  7. Go to Settings > Integrations, and link Google Analytics to the account.
  8. Log into GBP, set the tracking number you picked for the call/location extension, and insert it into the tracking number section (under ‘edit business details’). Do this for all of the business’s listings if it has more than one.

    Google Business Call Tracking

  9. Reassign the task to the Google Ads manager so they can finish creating the call extension and setting it up to sync to CTM.
  10. Send the Ads team these instructions.

Now what?

Now that you have your call tracking set up, you’re in a position to provide your clients with monthly reporting that tells them:

  1. How many calls they received
  2. Where they came from (GBP vs organic sources vs ads)
  3. How good or bad the quality of the calls were
  4. Where we need to focus more efforts and/or focus less effort

We like to present month-over-month call data in a graph so that the client is tuned into whether calls are trending up, down, or are flat. When calls are trending down or staying flat, it’s a sign that we need to investigate the cause.

What’s your experience of call tracking been like? Do your processes look something similar to the above or do you take a different route? Let us know in the comments section below.

Colan Nielson
About the author
Colan began his career in the local SEO world back in 2010. He became a Google Product Expert at the Google My Business forum (now Google Business Profile Help Community forum) in 2014. In 2017, he joined Sterling Sky as VP of Local Search, and has served as a faculty member at LocalU and an administrator at the Local Search Forum, both affiliate organizations of Sterling Sky, since coming on board. When he isn't doing local SEO, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife and two young children, or kicking butt while training and teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

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