Call TrackingA phone call is the most valuable lead any small, local business can get – pretty much the definition of a hot prospect. So every local business keeping a close eye on its marketing budget should know which campaigns best drive calls.

Luckily, customers always tell you exactly where and when they saw your phone number. Just kidding! Phone calls are typically the black box of marketing; you know what comes out but not what went in.

Small business call tracking can help. It’s simple in principle: Put a different phone number on each campaign – for instance, billboards vs. radio vs. Google ads vs. print directory — and log how many calls come in to each number. Train your employees to track which numbers produce the best leads; you could do it with paper forms.

But to get serious about call tracking, you’re better off running call software from one of the many tracking services out there. Here’s a quick guide to the features and benefits of call tracking solutions for small business.

Phone Number Provisioning

You can order any number of phone numbers that forward to your business line, in your local area code or toll free numbers. Pricing for phone tracking packages may be based on the number of phone numbers, calls or minutes of talk time.

Ad Source Tracking from Online or Offline

Through a bit of code on your website, call tracking companies can change the phone number displayed on your site so that each visitor sees a different number (it’s called “dynamic number insertion” or DNI). If the visitor calls the number, you can correlate the call to your web tracking software and learn where the visitor came from, for instance your Google or Facebook ad.

For offline ads, the vendor assigns unique numbers to marketing campaigns and logs the calls for a real-time look at how the campaigns are performing.

Integration with Google

Call tracking software vendors can pass the call data back into Google Analytics so you can count a call as a conversion for a Google AdWords ad, see how your Google campaigns perform as call generators and set your keyword bids accordingly.

Some vendors can track calls in Google Analytics from offline ads with a clever workaround: When a call comes in, the vendor’s server pings a hidden web page which Analytics can track, leading to a rolled up view of on- and offline call activity.

Actually, Google is a call-tracking service, too. With the “call extension”, Google puts a forwarding phone number on your AdWords ad and counts the calls as conversions.

Call Recording

Call tracking vendors can also record phone calls for playback later for training purposes or to evaluate your sales team’s performance. Some offer voice recognition technology that listens for key phrases in a recorded conversation (like “credit card number”) and rates the calls for effectiveness in moving the prospect along to a sale.

Caution: Don’t Let Call Tracking Mess with Your Online Reputation

Google looks to your phone number as an identifier for your business and it prefers to see consistent numbers on your website and sites that list or link to you. So you don’t want to keep swapping out phone numbers on the “Contact Us” page of your website or your Google+ local business page, for that matter. Landing pages you create for marketing campaigns are another matter, while the “dynamic number insertion” code hides a changing number from Google. The bottom line: This is one more reason to be vigilant about online reputation management and regularly check to make sure your correct numbers appear on key sites across the web.

Dex Media provides call tracking and other performance tracking for local businesses.