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.