Buying guides and call tracking have a long history together. For over 30 years, buying guide publishers have used various types of call tracking to help document response to advertisers. This is particularly important to these publishers, because buying guide advertising is sold primarily on its ability to generate direct response for advertisers.

In the really good old days when most business was done by postal mail, tracking response was easy. The publisher simply added a suffix to the advertiser's address, so that 123 Main Street might become 123-B Main Street. Advertisers could simply scan their incoming mail for proof of advertising efficacy, and there are legendary stories about buying guide salespeople dragging company CEO's down to their mailrooms to prove that their publications did indeed generate business.

As phone usage became the dominant means of doing business, resourceful buying guide publishers discovered Remote Call Forwarding. With this service, the advertiser would have a unique phone number that appeared only in the buying guide, and all calls to that number would be seamlessly forwarded to the advertiser's regular main telephone number. Best of all, the publisher (not the advertiser) would receive a monthly phone bill that showed the number of calls that had been forwarded that month. It wasn't a lot of detail, but it was hard concrete proof to counter that age-old advertiser renewal objection, namely "I didn't get any calls." Remote Call Forwarding didn't provide much data, was expensive and was a logistical nightmare for publishers, but it worked.

Because of the hassle and costs, publishers were quick to embrace the next generation of Call Tracking, which was based on 800 numbers. Besides lower costs, 800 numbers not only told you how many calls were made to the number, but the phone number of each caller. It was a huge step forward, but many smaller advertisers were reluctant to use 800 numbers in the belief that they wouldn't be viewed as local businesses if they sported a toll-free number. Call tracking stalled a bit for this reason.

The last ten years have seen something of a renaissance for call tracking. Local phone numbers began to become available with all the same data as toll-free numbers. The growth of pay-per-call created a demand for information such as call length (to judge engagement) and even digital recording of calls (to address concerns of advertisers who didn't want to pay for non sales-related calls). But with such heavy use of email to communicate, call tracking seemed destined never to regain its former prominence.

This may now be changing. A Toronto-based company called Telmetrics is a hotbed of innovation in call tracking. It's just introduced software that, when embedded in a mobile phone app, can track calls made from an advertisement with no need for a special phone number at all. And if that isn't intriguing enough, the company now also offers audio-to-text transcription of all calls, and can even scan the text to look for commonly used words and phrases that might inform keyword advertising purchases! It's remarkable stuff, and online buying guides need all the sales documentation tools they can get.