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For many businesses, phone calls make up the majority of leads, yet call tracking is still a challenging task for marketers. In this article, we’ll compare Google’s Website Call Conversion Tracking to third party call tracking systems, and explore the pros and cons of each.

call tracking

The General Benefits of Call Tracking

Before diving into the different types of tracking options, it’s helpful to understand why call tracking is so important. For many service based businesses, phone calls make up the majority of leads rather than form fills. So, in order to get the full picture of where leads come from, it’s important to properly track and attribute phone calls that stem from website visits. In addition to providing a clearer measurement of ROI, it can also provide valuable insights about peak times or days for your business, allowing you to staff accordingly.

Limitations and Drawbacks of Call Tracking

No matter which call tracking service you use, you are going to face limitations in some way or another. The limitations may vary depending on the platform, but there are some challenges that are universally consistent. For example, using tracking lines can cause discrepancies in directory listing information, which may in turn affect your Maps listing. Additionally, it’s difficult to qualify phone call leads in platforms like Google Analytics or AdWords since a phone call doesn’t necessarily indicate a true lead.

AdWords Website Call Conversion Tracking

AdWords introduced Website Call Conversions in 2014 to provide webmasters with a way to track phone calls resulting from website visits. This is not the same as call extensions or call only ads, where the user calls directly from the SERP without ever visiting the website:

Call Tracking Example

When a user clicks on an ad and lands on your website, AdWords dynamically inserts a Google forwarding number to track and attribute calls made by each user. This allows AdWords users to get a better picture of the cost per conversion. As with all tracking platforms, there are pros and cons to using this method:

Call Tracking Example 3

Pros of using AdWords Website Call Conversion Tracking:

Free

Adwords user may use this feature at no extra cost.

Automatically Qualifies Phone Calls by Time 

Unlike most third party platforms, AdWords will only count a conversion for calls that last 60 seconds or longer. This can help weed out phone calls that likely didn’t turn into leads.

AdWords Integration 

As a Google-owned service, using the native tracking platform makes it easy to pull conversion reports directly from AdWords.

Cons of using AdWords Website Call Conversion Tracking:

No Call Recording or Customer Information

Google does not allow collection of personal data, so you cannot listen to recorded calls, view names or phone numbers of callers, or collect any other personal information from users who call your business.

Numbers are Not Permanent

Unlike most third party platforms, Google does not permanently assign tracking lines to an account. This means that once the lookback window expires, a tracking number may be reassigned to a different business. This can cause problems for users who attempt to call your business from a tracked phone number (for example, a user first called you from an ad and stored that phone number in their phone). This is a known issue in AdWords, and as of 12/4/17 we confirmed with a Google AdWords representative that this is still the way Website Call Conversion Tracking operates.

Cannot Track Calls From Other Sources

Since this is a Google AdWords product, it can only be used to track calls from AdWords. To track calls from other sources (Like Facebook Ads, Organic Search etc) you would need to implement a third party tracking platform.

Conversions Only Appear in AdWords

Since phone calls are counted as a native AdWords conversion, they will only be accessible in the AdWords platform. Conversions will not appear in Google Analytics, even if you have Google Analytics and AdWords linked.

Only One Swapped Number at a Time

With AdWords Website Call Conversion Tracking, you can only choose one “target” number at a time. This can be problematic if you have multiple locations with different phone numbers listed on your website.

Third Party Call Tracking

If the limitations of AdWords call tracking are a deal breaker for you, there are countless third party platforms to choose from. Each one varies in features and limitations, but as a general rule, most support basic Google AdWords and Google Analytics integration. Other pros and cons include:

Pros of Third Party Call Tracking

Track Calls from Multiple Sources 

Most third party platforms will let you track calls from multiple sources, with varying degrees of customization.

Caller Data & Call Recording

Since third party platforms do not store data with Google, most will provide information about each phone call/caller such as caller ID, names, phone numbers, and call recording.

Data Flows to Both AdWords & Google Analytics

By integrating your call tracking platform with Google Analytics & importing your Analytics goal into Google AdWords, you can view data in either platform (data collection & attribution discrepancies between Google AdWords and Google Analytics still apply).

Permanent Tracking Lines 

Unlike AdWords Website Call Conversion Tracking, most third party platforms will permanently assign phone numbers throughout the life of your account. Some will even let you purchase or keep them if you discontinue the service.

Integration with CRM & Third Party Software 

Most major call tracking platforms support CRM and other software integrations. This will help ensure your processes are efficient and you’ll also be able to more easily analyze overall campaign and individual ad performance. 

Cons of Third Party Call Tracking

Cost

The cost of call tracking varies by platform and call volume, but a third party platform is a paid service.

Goal Inflation 

Since goals are usually triggered by dialing any tracked line, it can be difficult to differentiate between a lead and a repeat caller who may have saved one of your tracking numbers.

Which Call Tracking Option is Right for Me?

Ultimately, the decision to use call tracking should be based on the business needs and objectives. The best way to determine this is by asking yourself, “What questions do I want to answer about my business?”. From there you’ll be able to determine whether AdWords native call tracking or an alternative will be the best option. 

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Kiyo Wiesnoski
Digital Media Analyst at | More Posts

Kiyo Wiesnoski is a Media Analyst at Adlava, a web design & digital marketing agency headquartered in Las Vegas. She is the current office champion of person-with-most-Hello-Kitty-things-on-desk competition. She is also the founder and sole participant of said competition.