Merchant Circle Phone #

Last week my post about zip code SEO generated some minor controversy so I thought this week I would continue with obscure local search engine optimization tactics by talking about optimizing for phone number search.

While I am not going to argue that phone number searches will generate a huge amount of traffic for you, it’s a pretty easy, inexpensive tactic that could add a % or two to your numbers. There also may be some good strategic reasons to do this:

1. Local search engines (IYPs, verticals, etc.) can intercept traffic from the SERPs if they display the phone number in the title tag or meta description tag. Users looking for the phone number of a specific business may click on the result that displays the actual number (or part of the number) in the SERPs. I have seen cases where the business’ website was the #1 result but the IYP listing got more clicks because it displayed the phone number in the meta description.

2. Businesses can use the same strategy to intercept clicks to IYPs, etc that have a clear message that the phone number is available.

3. Possibly one of the best uses of this tactic is for sites that are looking to sell services to businesses to show up in the SERPs when the business is doing a vanity search such as looking for their phone number. This could be a very cheap way to get potential advertisers to find out about your service. Merchant Circle appears to be using this tactic – see the above graphic.


It’s been a beautiful summer so far. Was listening to Yo La Tengo’s “Summer Sun” album while writing this and thought I would share with you this strangely beautiful song of their’s: Winter A Go-Go


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19 Response Comments

  • Jeremy  June 16, 2008 at 9:23 am

    Hi Andrew

    I am slightly confused as to why somebody would do a search for a specific phone number in Google, unless in my case I have done it when missing a call on my mobile to see if it was a cold caller or something similar. Or am I reading the article incorrectly? Anyway I am trying to optimize a clients website at the moment (their clients are only local), is this something I should do for their site?

  • Andrew Shotland  June 16, 2008 at 9:39 am

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear Jeremy. My theory is that by adding the phone number to either the title or meta description you have a good chance of getting the attention of the following searchers:

    1. People searching a business name looking for its phone number.

    2. Businesses searching their own phone number to see what shows up in the SERPs.

    3. People searching the phone number (I don’t know why they would do this but I see it in the referrals, albeit in small numbers).

  • Jeremy  June 16, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Ah yes I understand now, it makes sense like that. This will definetely be something I will try out then. Thanks for the good tip.

  • Brian Carter  June 16, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Yo La Tengo! Yay. Indie rock.

    Crazy, phone number in URL- never thought of that.

  • Michael D  June 16, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    While it may not seem so important to attract that one person doing a vanity search. The value goes up if you are a directory (as mentioned) that can offer phone number based pages for hundreds or thousands of local businesses.

  • Brett  June 16, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    wow I’ve been doing seo for 4 years now and I’ve never seen that. I will be watching to see what becomes of this. Great article.

  • Andrew Shotland  June 16, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    Thanks Brett. I love this tactic because it’s so simple. Not a game changer but to me SEO is a game of incremental gains.

  • pyrmont  June 16, 2008 at 11:52 pm

    Andrew again one of your gems. Totally agree that SEO is a game of incremental gains.

    Will give it a try and see how we go.

  • Robbert  June 17, 2008 at 1:17 am

    So simple, but brilliant. Just like Jeremy I didn’t get it at first, but you explained it in the comment under him!

    I’ll definitely try this, thanks.

  • Bill Quimby  June 17, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    Being in the phone number business this is a no brainer for me. I actually made a whole website just to list toll free numbers at I really don’t use it, because the people are usually looking for something else and the people that actually call are usually a pain in the neck.

    I know we’re the exception rather than the rule, but I think this would be similar to making a directory of local micro businesses in your industry to capture people looking for them or for a name that sounds related. Almost any content can be beneficial in traffic terms. The more tailored to your business you can make it, the better but it’s stil reasonable even if it’s not exactly tailored if it doesn’t take too much effort.

    Bill Quimby, President of Toll Free

  • Andrew Beckman  June 18, 2008 at 6:16 am

    When you place your phone number in the Meta description, make sure it’s in the beginning sentence . The Search Engines do cut off in most cases part of the Meta Description when they pull it into your listings “Snipit” of your site.

  • Kevin L.  June 27, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Hey Andrew,

    The phone numbers included in the URL has helped!

    MerchantCircle recently crossed 500,000 members. We’re proud to help local businesses acquire customers by offering an alternative to over-priced, ineffective offline marketing channels. We’ve been interviewing our merchants in all 50 states – you can read about their MerchantCircle experience here:

    We’re committed to providing every local business a web presence, easy-to-use marketing tools and a platform for connecting with other merchants, all for free. As always, please email any questions or concerns to and we will respond as soon as possible.

  • Craig Mullins  November 12, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    I have a local type directory portal of just under 500 people.

    Even with that small a data set. I get people searching for phone numbers on a regular basis…

    I regularly do phone number searches on people all the time. A lot of times phone numbers are tied to bad reviews of people & companies…

  • Shimon  December 11, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Unfortunatelly it didn’t work for me. I just wanted to share that eversince I’ve added phone number to meta description two things happened: actual traffic slightly dropped and tendetion of traffic growth lowered a lot…

  • Abe  March 15, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    This is all very interesting I never really considered it.

  • Mike  November 6, 2010 at 8:08 am

    @Kevin L

    Thanks for that link. That including with Andrews post helps me out on a schoolpoject!

  • DanDy  September 7, 2011 at 7:01 am

    Tomorrow you will look at a phone number on a page you wrote down, but cann’t remember what it was for.
    You will either dial it or google it.
    That incremental gain to provide easy access to your site/company may help your prospect/supplier.