Is Google Voice Hurting Your Local Search Ranking?

google-voice

Google Voice, a free, easy way to get a local phone number to give clients, may be hurting your local search results. And mine too. I have been a strong proponent of Google Voice since its inception. After all, it can help you appear more local, and you can hack Google Voice to send different callers to different phones. But I recently attended a CLE with Jabez Lebret, author of Online Law Practice Strategies: How to Turn Clicks Into Clients. He shed some light on “call tracking” numbers. I had never heard of those before, but when Lebret described them, they sounded suspicioulsy like my precious Google Voice service. So I followed up with him, and his answers about Google Voice and local search were surprising.

What Are Tracking Numbers?

Tracking numbers are phone numbers that companies generate to help you track the return on investment from their marketing campaigns. So, a marketing company can say “We will get you ten calls a week!” then use a number to track those calls. These phone numbers typically are in your area code, but they will not show up in the phone book. You have serious problems when a tracking number starts showing up all over the internet.

What is the Harm?

When you are trying to rank high on Google, and other local search providers, they rely heavily on local directory listings like Yelp, Merchant Circle, and Localeze. Since these tracking numbers do not belong to a physical address, this includes a Google Voice number, it appears as though you are trying to cheat the system and rank locally in a location where you do not actually have an office. Then these listings cross-pollinate with each other, and all feed into Google, Yahoo!, etc. Jabez ads:

“When the search engines try to verify that you are in fact located at your physical address they see the discrepancy with your phone number and the local phone company’s listing. Now confused, search engines will drop you lower in the local ranking until the information matches.”

Does it Matter?

But Josh, you say, I’m blogging. I have an SEO-optimized website. How could this little factor matter that much? I asked Lebret the same thing. He explained:

Local search results are important to any business, but especially law firms. If you’re doing everything else right, and your competitors are as well, this one small thing can push them ahead of you in the search results. Or worse, keep you out of the local results all together.

(Photo: http://droidweb.com)

, ,

  • static

    Josh, have you given any serious thought to why you want to be higher on Google than another lawyer? While the idea of getting low-rent, volume clients might seem attractive at the beginning, desperation stage of a new practice, it isn’t necessarily the foundation of a good law practice.

    I recall one old timer who was told by a marketer than he had completely blown his presence on local listings, to which the old timer replied he would rather put his needle through his eye than get the type of calls/clients one gets from being on local listing sites. Once you become known as high volume, low price lawyers, it can bery hard to change your reputation.

    • http://phillylawblog.wordpress.com/ Leo

      I agree. I really wanted to be page 1 of Google when I first started the practice — and I was able to do so.

      Some days, this is great. Other days, it’s a stream of clients calling for legal advice but who don’t want to hire a lawyer. Many of my potential client calls who find me on “the internet” end up being no/call no/shows. I am often more surprised when they do show.

      Stick to the old school way — do good work, well.

    • http://gngf.com/ Jabez LeBret

      Hi Static – The quality of clients you get from being ranked #1 on search engines has more do with your graphics and on-site copy than anything else. If you do a good job of writing your copy you will be attracting the right clients for your specific firm and pushing away those that do not match your target.

      • static

        Wrong.

        And it would be nice if you identified yourself as a non-lawyer marketer so anyone reading your comment won’t be confused about who you are and what you’re selling.

        • http://gngf.com/ Jabez LeBret

          When someone becomes an attorney they spend years learning their profession so they can provide the best advice and guidance to their clients. I too have spent years learning how consumers behave online, what marketing trends work, and how to properly build a website that converts the right traffic.

          I am not trying to hide what I do at all and nor am I trying to play an attorney. First and foremost I am a legal technology and marketing author. I also write a weekly business and technology column for NBC Chicago. I am a partner at a digital marketing agency that works 100% in the legal industry. With that said I would be more than happy to get on the phone and explain why / how you can use design to vet your traffic. Feel free to contact me directly. I felt the article made it pretty clear who I am and I apologize if my comment above seemed misleading.

          I do however stand by my remark and it can be backed up with data.

          • static

            My apologies. I didn’t realize what an important marketer you were, trolling the comments at Lawyerist in the hope of scrounging up some new lawyer business. Very impressive.

            • http://gngf.com/ Jabez LeBret

              I am not sure what I did to offend you, but I am one of the good guys. I was interviewed for this piece by Josh following a CLE I delivered. The only reason I am replying to people on this post is because I am the one that was interviewed. Before you jump to judgement it would be nice if you took a moment and reached out to me if you are actually curious about what I do and how I do it. Otherwise, it seems unnecessary to draw assumptions based on facts you don’t know. Again, I apologize if what I said earlier came out the wrong way.

              • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

                I am one of the good guys

                I was ambivalent about your contributions until you wrote this. Every marketer thinks they are “one of the good guys” — or wants us to think so, at least. Bullshit. You are a marketer, and as far as I can tell, you were never a practicing lawyer. That means you have little or no idea what it means to practice law or follow the rules of professional conduct (not to mention conduct yourself professionally as a lawyer, regardless of the rules). You have no idea whether or not you are “one of the good guys.” You may know marketing, but that’s it.

                • http://gngf.com/ Jabez LeBret

                  I am not nor have ever been a lawyer. My background is 5 years as a financial analyst at Nordstrom corporate offices in Seattle before I moved into website coding and development. From there I got into marketing for other people online and eventually founded our firm which works solely in the legal market.

                  Working in the company culture of Nordstrom helped shape how we run our company. There is no question that every marketer will tell you they are a good person, and obviously this is not true. Of course I have met plenty of attorneys that say they are “one of the good guys” and it turns out they are full of shit too.

                  The truth is there are assholes in every walk of life and every industry. There are people that take advantage and give everyone a bad name. Marketing is not a 4-letter word and nor is being a marketer a bad profession.

                  Sam I respect you and I have been following for quite a while. Gyi and I were having a coffee a while back and he recommended I keep up with what you are doing and I have. Of course you do not know me or if I am one of the good guys or not. Hopefully over time our paths will cross and we can grab a good cup of coffee.

                  I have not posted on here to try and get new clients. We do not lead capture on our website and I have not reached out to anyone that participates on the Lawyerist to try and sell them anything. I was simply trying to help explain what is a common issue that effects a lot of attorneys trying to properly establish their firm online. That is all.

        • http://www.facebook.com/studio89a Jason Rogers

          I’m pretty sure that if you leverage your web presence properly, as another channel for your intended message, that you can weed out the low quality leads.

          >> “Josh, have you given any serious thought to why you want to be higher on Google than another lawyer?”

          Seriously? Do you still use the phone book?

          Sure, offline referrals may tend to be higher quality, but to say that attracting leads online is not worth it is actually kinda ridiculous. Your statements imply that only “undesirable” prospects use the internet, which is simply not true. Obviously.

          By the way, I found this post after searching for info on using a Google Voice # in local listings for a law firm; I had a question, this post provided an answer. The same concept can be applied to any firm’s website: provide valuable information and you build trust. The catch is that you don’t build trust by constantly “selling” your services. It’s the blatant, egotistical “look at me!” marketing that attracts those low rent folks. Don’t assume that all the quality clients are just magically going to know who you are without doing some kind of research.

  • http://www.rjstahllaw.com/ Rick

    I tend to disagree, a bit. (Not with the article, but subsequent comments). Leo references using the old way, which I presume to be the standard of letting your rep outweigh your advertising. I have updated/claimed my profile all over, and would love to be p.1 on Google (I am on some searches). Yes, some calls are tedious, and I agree that I am more surprised when the client shows up, admittedly, but as a younger lawyer it helps to have your name out there. And it’s the best way outside of reputation (which takes time) to get going. More calls do not mean bargain lawyer. I just ensure that me and my staff is up front on fees, and if a client wants advice I ensure they can afford what is imminent. Yes, it’s more calls, and probably a little free advice via phone, but it has helped me refer cases (to lawyers who may not charge as much, or other areas of law, etc) and becomes more common.
    I’m regard to the post, one way around this is to have a hard line and supplement with Google Voice. I have a landline in my office, but use GV as my “office cell” for clients. It helps my clients to be able to contact me, and gives me the opportunity to turn it off if I want personal time. Just a thought.

    • http://gngf.com/ Jabez LeBret

      Rick, you are right on. The key is that call travels through the trunk line connected with the location of your office. From there you can forward it on to any number you want. Great thinking and way to go outside the box.

    • B G

      ” I just ensure that me and my staff is up front on fees,…” Try ‘I just ensure that my staff and I are up front…’ or “I just ensure we…” Rick, I know it’s just a blog post, and I mean no offense, but if I may make a gentle suggestion: Google and purchase the book “Grammar Girl”.

  • http://www.themckinneylawfirm.com Christopher McKinney

    Josh –

    Does this mean that users of services such as Evoice and Ruby are taking an SEO hit?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/gyitsakalakis/ Gyi Tsakalakis

      Use real local phone numbers on your site. For tracking, use toll-free number in more prominent location. There are other methods (javascript, numbers in images). Key is consistency of name, address, phone (NAP) across local data sites. Check out David Mihm on this at SEL from ’09.

      • Christopher McKinney

        Thanks Gyi

        I will check out the link but for some reason this issue confuses me quite a bit. Especially by what you all mean by “local data sites”. How is that different from every place else on the web?

        What about the fact that Avvo Pro uses a different number on my listing to track those calls? Should I try to get that changed?

        • http://lawyerist.com/author/gyitsakalakis/ Gyi Tsakalakis

          Check out GetListed.org’s Learning Center, especially, Where to get citations for local SEO.

          Also, check out the links in my comment below.

          Regarding Avvo’s call tracking, I wouldn’t speak for them but Sachin and I have talked about Avvo’s use of call-tracking numbers.

          On a brief review of your site, google local listing and Avvo profile, it looks like you have a consistent phone number (however, I’d caution against using keywords in the business name field of your places profile).

          I wouldn’t worry about unique tracking numbers in your Avvo Pro ads. Ideally, purely from a local SEO standpoint, those tracking numbers would be toll-free.

          Hope this helps.

  • http://dobylaw.com/ Michael Doby

    I have also been using a google voice number for my new solo practice. I have been using that number when claiming or setting up my profile on google places, yelp, localeze etc. Would that counter the negative effect on local search results?

    • http://gngf.com/ Jabez LeBret

      Hey Michael,

      It actually is causing more damage. What you need to do is go through your citation sites and change them to your new number. I am sorry to have to tell you this, but you will also need to do a Google search on that Google Voice number to determine where else that number was syndicated. Often times local directory websites will share information with each other. As this happens that Google Voice number may be spreading.

      Find the listings with that number by putting your Google Voice number in quotes. You will have to weed through a fair amount of “did this number call you” websites, but keep digging and you will find the directory listings with that number.

      There are NO services you can pay to do this for you. Believe me, my firm has tried to use every service that claims they can fix your directory listings by paying a nominal fee. Instead we ended up having to go through by hand and fix them one by one. When you use a paid service you end up duplicate listings (which is really bad on your search) and listings that contain partial information.

      Bets of luck!

  • http://dobylaw.com Michael Doby

    Yeah, does anyone else have an answer or some input? I have no interest in paying a fee for someone to “fix” my listings and I don’t think Jabez understood my question.
    I got a number from google voice and have been using that number when claiming or creating my business profile on various sites. I think Josh and I are in a similar situation as we use a number we got from google voice as our office number, please correct me if I am wrong on that.
    When I google my number I get a few “who called me” sites and then I get my webpage, my avvo profile, my yelp listing. I am guessing that is because I have gone and personally set up those profiles.
    My question is, based on Josh’s post, would claiming or setting up profiles on directory sites help to counter the negative local search effect of not having a landline or should I just give up and start paying AT&T for a landline I am just going to forward to my cell phone anyway?

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/gyitsakalakis/ Gyi

      Using a Google Voice number for your business phone isn’t inherently bad. The primary issue is consistency. So long as your office is identified with the Google Voice number and not another number, you should be fine. With some very brief research, you seem to be alright. I recommend adding your firm’s official name, address and phone (NAP) to the footer of your site. Then, make sure you are consistent with that NAP information across all profiles that you claim. Especially these. You should also run your number through here and check for additional local citation sources.

  • http://dobylaw.com Michael Doby

    Thanks Gyi, I really appreciate your help.

  • B G

    I’ll chime in simply because I’m amazed at how much time is spent on this post. If you want new clients, stand up, walk away from your laptop, and go into your community and be a part of it. Nothing will help you develop a strong, legit, worth your time client base like word of mouth referrals. Volunteer somewhere. Host a work shop. Engage with people around you when you’re in public. And most of all, take care of your existing clients, and ask them to talk about you and your (hopefully pleasant and productive) services to their friends and family. If you are doing your job well, and asking others to say so, you will be amazed how quickly and efficiently your practice will grow.

  • http://www.chetson.com Damon Chetson

    This article is wrong. There is nothing wrong with a Google voice number provided you lost that number consistently throughout your website and on directories. Tracking numbers are problematic not because they forward to your physical phone, but because they are temporary and different from your main office number. Therefore, google can create duplicate listings around your tracking number that can cause problems with your overall google local ranking,

  • Di

    I’ve just been told that someone took my mobile number and sent a text message to a person through Google Voice looking like it came from me!!!! Using my mobile number.

    Really? This should be illegal for allowing their users to impersonate others!!!