If you have a website, you'll know that boosting your rankings via search engine optimization is a continuous struggle with no guaranteed results. You may have also tried paid search engine marketing (SEM)—search ads—for which you are charged on a pay-per-click basis.

Whatever the case, you've had experience with leads entering your site only to leave without contacting you. Those leads could be coming from a Google search results page, your social media campaigns, banner ads you have in place, or various other sources.

The question here is how to ensure your online marketing is doing what it should be: driving business to you.

The next evolution in SEM will help you do just that. With call tracking, a whole new wealth of information about your potential customers is now available. You'll be able to see the number from which the call was made, where and what time it was made, how long each call was, whether it was a repeat or first-time caller, and how many calls you're getting from each geographical location; and, of course, you'll be able to play back call recordings. Missed call? All that information will also be available.

Call tracking improves your paid search conversion rate and maximizes efficiency.

Here's how you can get the most out of your online marketing efforts via call tracking.

Step 1: Figuring out what you need

If you've got a small operation and don't engage in any online advertising, it might be time to think about catching up with your competitors. If you are already doing all sorts of online marketing, it's time to assess the effectiveness of each online channel and decide on how granular you want your analysis to be.

Do you think that a B2B company is at a disadvantage in search engine marketing because of its lower search volume compared with a B2C retailer? Use that to your advantage. For example, if you offer forklift repairs and servicing, don't expect to get 10,000 impressions per day. What you can expect, however, is highly qualified leads from people who are looking specifically for your service. Compared with a generic keyword like "good restaurants," your search volume will be lower but the quality of your impressions will be higher.

What you need to do is to narrow down the keywords related to your company and to make sure you're there when potential customers are searching for you.

On the other hand, if you're more B2C, then it goes without saying that you need to find a method to track your calls. Many people are too impatient to submit an online enquiry and wait for a reply. If you're not easily contactable via phone, in all likelihood they'll find a competitor who is.

Regardless of how large your marketing efforts and spend are, every dollar counts and making sure there is minimal inefficiency is imperative.

Step 2: Setting Up

Now that you know how specific you want your tracking to be, it's time to get down to it. Start off by obtaining a unique call tracking number. That number is different from your actual number, but the calls still get directed to you:

When a user searches for you and your ad shows up, the unique call tracking number will appear together with your ad. Should the searcher click on your ad, a page will be dynamically created to mirror yours in every way, with the exception of the contact number. Insert a code into your site to show the same call tracking number that will follow the user on every page he goes to... till he leaves your site. No matter where in the site he goes, the number he sees will be the same if he came into contact with you through the ad; no matter when he calls, you'll know the exact source of this sales lead.

To configure call tracking in AdWords, refer to the screenshot below and insert the unique call tracking number you've already obtained in (1). Call extensions for mobile? Enable it on this screen in (2). If you don't want to be woken up by calls on the weekends or in the middle of the night, schedule the phone number to be shown only at specific times (3). Ad scheduling will have to be strategic. If you don't have anyone to answer the phone at 7 in the morning, then make sure your number won't be visible at this time.

Running different campaigns and want to measure which is most effective? Many different ad groups, keywords, or different ads for different platforms? Not a problem: you can easily set up different call tracking numbers for each purpose. No matter which number the customer calls from, the call will be routed to your actual number. The tracking number is there so that data can be collected from the source of the call and to see which are most effective.

Step 3: Review

That's not all there is to it. Take a look at your monthly report. It'll tell you how many calls you got from each campaign, the duration of each call, and how many were missed; and you'll be able to play back recordings of each call.

What you should be trying to get out of the report is a clear idea of how effective your marketing is. Find out where your calls are coming from and how many conversions you get from these calls. Is there a particular time or region you receive a higher proportion of calls?

Have a look at this overall report from a hospital doing (paid) SEM:

Under cardiology, there were 10 calls and zero submissions. This tells us that 10 customers called directly from the number they saw from the ad without submitting an inquiry. Without call tracking, this data would not have been captured. Though it appears that the ratio of impressions to call count may be high, closer inspection tells us that more than half of those impressions came from buying into competitors' keywords. Though the CTR may not be high, it translates into free advertising and brand awareness in the case of those who did not click on it.

Before jumping to conclusions, make sure you understand exactly what the report is telling you. Make sense of it, and you'll be on your way to being a more cost-effective advertiser.

Step 4: Optimize

You now know which keywords work best for you or which ad copy triggers the most calls. Streamline your SEM campaigns by focusing more on what works. That doesn't necessarily mean just focusing on the ads that get you the most calls. After reviewing your report, you should know which ads give you the highest proportion of conversions.

Find that a particular salesperson has a high conversion rate with some industry or gender or age group? Go one step further by customizing each salesperson to receive a particular type of call. With such hot leads coming through, your SEO efforts may well take a backseat.

Connect the offline to online. Keep in mind that most searches begin online but don't end there. Unless you deal only in e-commerce, chances are that some combination of an inquiry, a phone call, or an actual visit to a physical store is needed. Contracts may need to be signed, or some consumers like to have a "feel" of the physical product before committing. In the past, those instances would be completely missed as conversions resulting from your SEM dollars. With unique call tracking numbers, online or offline conversions can be tracked from your SEM efforts; and, along with call recording and missed-call notification, that results in a closed loop marketing system that captures leads generated from SEM back to your company.

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image of Leonard Tan

Leonard Tan is the founder and CEO of PurpleClick, an award-winning online marketing agency specializing in search marketing. He is also featured in Red Herring Top 100 Asia, among the list of the world's best technology innovators.

LinkedIn: Leonard Tan