Why You Need To Track On-The-Phone Conversions

If you’re in a service-based business, chances are that your SEM campaign generates phone calls. Hopefully, you’re taking advantage of call tracking to tell you how many phone calls your campaigns generate, and using that data to help you evaluate the success of your campaigns. That’s a great start, but you’re still missing a key metric. To get a complete and accurate picture of return on ad spend, you need to know how many of those calls resulted in a conversion.

Let’s say you were in the market to buy a diamond. I doubt your only basis for evaluation would be the size of the diamond and whether or not the diamond is certified (if it is, please contact me—I have a giant diamond to sell you). You’ll want to understand the cut of the diamond, its clarity and its color.

To continue with the analogy, call tracking simply provides certification (that a call actually happened) and carat (how long the call was). The actual conversation between the caller and your business completes the picture for you by explaining whether or not the call resulted in a conversion, which features or products contributed to that conversion, and why a customer may have objected to converting. I’m using the term “conversion” in a generic sense, as it can apply to a purchase, reservation, appointment, lead, etc. So how do you get this information?

How To Measure On-The-Phone Conversions

The low-tech way to begin measuring on-the-phone conversions is to listen to recordings of calls driven from your marketing efforts (many call tracking companies can provide this at your request), and note the calls that resulted in on-the-phone conversions. This is certainly an option, although if you receive phone calls at any volume you’ll run into problems of statistical significance. It is time-consuming to listen to thousands of calls, so you’ll likely end up only listening to a sample of calls, and your calls come from many different sources or keywords, and you’ll want to understand the conversion rate for each.

A step up from this method is to take advantage of call transcriptions. However, this method is equally time-consuming and transcripts can be difficult to decipher as they can sometimes read like they were typed by someone who has had a little too much to drink. “Keyword spotting,” a technique where designated words or phrases appearing in transcripts or recordings are used to flag calls conversions or other events, is a more efficient way to determine conversions, but accuracy can vary depending upon the provider. Call mining goes beyond keyword spotting by offering the ability to search recordings for words and phrases on the fly, highlighted frequently said words and phrases that can be utilized to build out keyword lists and the ability to “slice-and-dice” call data to calculate conversion rates and other metrics at a granular level, including down to the keyword.

Best Practices For Identifying On-The-Phone Conversions

Below are a number of best practices I recommend for using call mining to measure conversions and extract key marketing insights that help you optimize your campaigns and convert more calls.

Leverage keyword suggestions to appropriately identify important words and phrases. Important words and phrases related to a conversion (expiration date) or feature (climate-controlled) can often be generated by looking at your SEM keyword lists and listening to a handful of phone calls. To refine your list, you should look at a tag cloud or list of frequently used terms generated from your set of transcripts.

Compare sources and/or keywords. Once you have defined a conversion, the low-hanging fruit often comes from evaluating the relative conversion rate of each of your sources. For instance, you probably have separate call tracking numbers for your Google and Bing campaigns. For more sophisticated PPC campaigns, you can track down to the campaign or keyword. Recently, I worked with a company that generates thousands of on-the-phone leads each month only to find that the top source of phone calls had the lowest conversion rate.

Identify solicitations and existing customers. The goal of many SEM campaigns are designed to convince new or repeat customers to make a new purchase. Therefore, place calls in three buckets: (1) new customers calling about a purchase, (2) existing customers calling about a purchase they already made and (3) solicitations.

As an example, this summer I worked with a customer who received between 200 and 300 calls from two different sources. We used call mining to find calls where a customer referenced a specific product problem, and we identified those calls as existing customers calling about a past purchase. For the first source, 32% of calls were identified as current customers. For the second, just 9% called about past purchases. It became pretty clear after looking at the data that the second source was a much more efficient way to reach prospective customers and spend could be adjusted accordingly.

Focus on features. After you begin to understand your conversion rate, I suggest looking for which features customers reference most and how those features correlate to a conversion. If your hotel offers a free breakfast and you can identify that as a factor in your conversion rate, that is an actionable insight you can carry over into your keyword list and creative.

Identify regional differences. You likely already geotarget your SEM campaigns. Call tracking providers will tell you where your customers are calling from, and you can use that to influence how you market your services. Let’s say that you’re a pest control company. Are there certain areas in the country that are asking about bed bugs? In the storage industry, you could find that climate-controlled units are more important in only the warmest climates.

Take action on the data. I’ve left the most important best practice for last. Call Mining should be a part of your arsenal to optimize your SEM campaigns and improve your return on ad spend. The easiest ways to start are by shifting your spend from lower-converting call sources (or using more call tracking numbers to further break out conversions from that source), using what customers are telling you to update your creative and leveraging data on proximity to target the message to your audience.

Good luck, and remember: don’t just track calls, track on-the-phone conversions!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column


About The Author: is the Vice President of Advertising Platforms at Marchex, where he focuses on the development of next-generation call advertising platforms.

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  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    Unfortunately, a key issue with call tracking is that it can reduce effectiveness of one’s overall search marketing effort. Until the industry solves this issue, many of us will have to continue to strongly recommend that clients avoid call tracking entirely. Analytics is great to have, but it shouldn’t be obtained to the detriment of actual performance. See:


  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com George Michie

    John, Chris,

    This seems like a complicated solution to a fairly straight-forward problem. For our clients with material call center activity, we append a code to the paid search destination url which is then embedded in a “code” box at the bottom of the page. The call center person databases that code — “Could you scroll to the bottom of the page and read off the code in the yellow box” — and through a back feed those sales are credited to the exact ad that drove the person to the website.

    To Chris’s point, this doesn’t cannibalize paid search sales, in increases them by capturing what’s currently missed.

    John is the notion that these businesses are too small to implement a tracking system? Seems like language parsing off of transcripts is a hard way to go when call-center code tracking has been around forever.

  • http://searchengineland.com John Busby

    Hi George,

    If I’ve made call mining out to be complicated, then shame on me! As part of your call tracking package, you just opt-in and as soon as the calls stream in you can compare the relative effectiveness of your campaigns.

    I do like call-center code-tracking as an option, and it sounds like you have employed it effectively. For many of the customers that I’ve spoken to, though, adjusting contact center procedure just isn’t feasible (and, as you suggest, some businesses are just too small or otherwise ill-equipped).

    I also want to point out that with call mining you can get other information about the call, such as which features were asked about by the caller or discussed by the agent.

    – John

  • http://searchengineland.com John Busby


    Totally agree that analytics shouldn’t compromise performance! We’ve worked with customers, large and small, that have utilized best practices in call tracking for years without incident (while reporting much improved performance).

    – John

  • http://www.rimmkaufman.com George Michie

    Thanks John, makes sense to me!


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