How to Get Good Vanity Phone Numbers for a New Business or Marketing Campaign

In this day and age, it’s easy to think of phone numbers as low on the marketing priority list. I realized I had fallen into that trap the day I had a client reach out to me and say, “Hey, before I forget, we need to get some new, easy to remember phone numbers in our area code. You can do that, right?”

Confidently, I replied, “No problem”. (fingers crossed)

How Do You Find Easy To Remember Numbers?

In ancient times, when there were only a couple phone companies providing local phone service, obtaining a vanity number wasn’t that hard. This was due to the fact that just a couple entities were able to tap the pool of unused phone numbers in a given area code.

Things have changed dramatically since then though. Today, there are literally thousands of players in the local phone service game. Some of these companies could be the old Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), cell phone providers, cable companies or one of the thousands of VOIP providers.

Why is this a problem? All of the unused vanity numbers are now divided up and dispersed across a numerous phone companies instead of just a few.

So if you find an easy to remember phone number that works for your business needs, you have no choice but to activate that number through the company who owns it. Since there isn’t a law in place that obligates the company to release that phone number, you don’t always have the option of using it with the provider of your choice.

So how did I find the right vanity number for my customer?

The client needed a vanity number because they were launching a new product that was going to be marketed through TV.  They wanted a number relating to the automotive industry that was simple to remember. The VOIP provider that we positioned the business with told us that getting a vanity number “wouldn’t be a problem”.

It actually was a problem.

A couple weeks before the deadline, the VOIP provider came back to us, claiming there wasn’t a way to search for vanity numbers through the carrier vendors they used and the only way to sort through the underlying carrier’s untapped numbers was to select an area code/ prefix one by one and then manually scan through every number in the hope that we would stumble upon something usable. After days and way too much coffee, we still had yet to find anything good.

At this point, panic was setting in. After a flurry of Google searches for “available phone numbers” and “vanity phone number search”, I found several vanity number providers and started brainstorming.

I was looking for a number that was:

  • Easy to remember – Using all letters to create a simple call to action (when possible) that a prospective customer can easily recall at a later time is always the best option (e.g. 1-202-BUY-CARS)
  • A simple, dictionary word – Getting creative with the spelling (e.g. 1-202-BUY-CARZ ) isn’t the way to go because two weeks after the fact, customers might have forgotten and end up calling a competitor. Similarly, hybrid numbers like 1-202-214-CARS aren’t ideal because most customers have a hard time remembering random digits.
  • Clear about what my client does – This number was going to become incorporated into the client’s branding, so I wanted it to clearly reinforce their offering through the number.

At one provider, I could easily do a vanity number search but it was too limited in that I had to first enter a city and state. Because my client was doing a national media buy, it would have helped a lot if I could have searched everything without having to limit myself to a small area first. So with this limitation, I first went to allareacodes.com and made a list of cities with area codes that would be easy to remember, such as 303 (Denver), 404 (Atlanta) and 808 (Honolulu).

After some time spent jotting down dozens of potentially viable vanity numbers that I found on Hosted Numbers, I reached out to our VOIP carrier and asked why they didn’t provide the same capability.

The account manager at the VOIP provider asked for some example numbers that I found on Hosted Numbers and we looked them up at fonefinder.net to see who the underlying carrier was. As it turned out, bandwidth.com and broadvox.com held most of the numbers on my list.

Thankfully, our VOIP carrier already had a relationship with the carrier (bandwidth.com) behind the number that best fit my client’s needs. They were able to claim the number and make it available to our VOIP carrier relatively quickly. While Hosted Numbers has a decent search platform, I found their platform a little weak in that they’re only searching available number databases from a few third party carriers and not their own pool.

So basically, I lucked out.

Finding a number through hostednumbers.com that my client liked and then having it be available to our VOIP carrier was a stroke of luck, indeed. If that wouldn’t have worked, my plan was to “port” the number away from Hosted Numbers to the carrier I was working with. The problem is, number ports take anywhere between 5 days to a month to complete, which meant my client wouldn’t make their broadcast deadline.

Toll Free Vanity Numbers

This client also wanted to split test the response rates between a local vanity number and a toll free one (1-800, 1-888, 1-877, 1-866 and the newest, 1-855). For this ask, I had already decided to use ringboost.com because friends of mine have been able to find some great toll free vanity numbers there.

After 45 minutes of searching the site, I was able to create a list of every toll free vanity number my client would want to consider and then after some quick deliberation, we purchased the TFN and did the RespOrg change (the switch of ownership) from Toll Free Numbers to our carrier.

Unlike “porting”, which can take up to a month to complete, transferring TFN between carriers only takes two days to a couple weeks, and is a much less painful process if everyone involved does what they are supposed to do.

Does Your Business Telephone Number Show Up Correctly in a Google Search? Here’s How to Check it (and Fix it…)

What’s the use of having a business phone number if no one is aware of its existence?

You could have the most memorable phone number anyone has ever seen, but if customers in the research phase can’t find it, you have a problem. So how do you think prospects and clients are going to find your number?

Will they walk to the other room and dust off a massive phone book? Probably not…

They will do a Google search.

Yellow Pages vs. Google Maps Over Time

The question is, does your business’s correct information show up when people do online searches for keywords that pertain to your business or even “branded” searches for your business name itself?

Surprisingly, a lot of companies fail to address some of the fundamental necessities of local SEO and lose staggering amounts of business to competitors as a result.

If you need help with your local search presence, you have two options:

1. Pay a consultant or agency a lot of money to fix the problem

2. Do it yourself, following the easy steps we’ve outlined below

How things should look

Starting out, you might want to take a look at a company that is doing things somewhat correctly.

Below is a screenshot of one of XO Communications “branded” searches from the day I wrote this post.

XO Communications Branded, One Box Result

As you can see, in addition to the name, address and phone number, Google is showing a map, images, site links (the smaller links below the main result), reviews and more.  The box that contains the business information is called a “OneBox”.

Furthermore, below is what is called a “broad search” (meaning a general search, for a type of business or product) for term, “telecom companies near me” in a general area.

XO Communications Branded, Local Pack Result

These kind of search results affirm to your customers that you are an actual business and help them find you. If your competition has these and you don’t, read on.

The path to local search visibility

1. Set up Google My Business

Google My Business used to be called Google Places and is the main point where you can make changes to your business information in Google’s Knowledge Graph. Once you have entered in all of your information and fixed/ created your profile, Google will send you a postcard with a PIN for verification purposes. This can take anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks. Once verified, your profile will go live.

2. Analyze your citations

Citations are online mentions of the business as an entity. In relation to local SEO, they are extremely important, as the algorithm uses them to figure out who, what and where you are. There are two different kinds: structured and unstructured. Both are valuable in their own way but your challenge has to do with structured.

When there are a multitude of conflicting structured citations out on the web, something called NAP (name, address, phone number) confusion happens. Examples would be your main phone number being associated with another name, your name associated with another address, etc.. Even deviations between abbreviations and other minor differences can hurt you (ie. NW, not North West; Blvd, not boulevard, etc..).

It’s super important to decide on one convention and then stick with it. Once you have made that determination, if it differs with what you entered into Google My Business, you’ll want to go change it there so everything is perfectly aligned.

The best way to see if you have citation conflicts is through a tool called Local Citation Finder, by Whitespark. Create an account and run a Business Search (as seen below) with your location, primary local phone number and business name.

Whitespark Citation Search

Next, run searches for any secondary names and phone numbers.

Once the results have populated in the Your Search Results section, click on the little, pink + symbols next to each result to see whether or not the results match the name, address and phone number you have decided will be your primary.

Whitespark Search Results

If you see more than one phone number showing up in these results, you will need work on getting a higher ratio of accurate citations.

3. Build and sanitize your citations

The goal is to attain a higher percentage of accurate citations so Google’s algorithm is able feel confident that your information is accurate enough to publish on their search results. The way to do this is two pronged:

A. Build accurate citations with a data aggregator. There are services that allow you to enter your information and publish it uniformly across a multitude of third party sites with the push of a button. The best of these are Yext and Moz Local. Both are easy to use, effective and come with their own upsides: Moz Local is much less expensive and Yext is the most elegant and powerful aggregator on the market.  Not only does it build new citations, it goes out and corrects erroneous NAP on third party sites automatically.

B. Manually fix the bad citations. This is a necessary evil in cases where you have a really high ratio of inaccurate citations, due to a rebrand or lack of coordination leading to multiple phone numbers publishing all over the place. You would again use the results generated by Whitespark and either claim your profile on each third party site and fix it or reach out to the webmaster and request a change.

4. Get positive reviews

Online reviews are an important quality signal to the local search algorithm. They populate into organic and SEM results (leading to higher conversion rates) and contribute to higher rankings (by increasing trust).

There are a lot of ways to get good reviews, but one of the most effective is by integrating Get 5 Stars into your email marketing strategy.

This service prompts existing clientele to give your service a simple star rating and if they respond positively, they are then redirected to a page asking them to give you a review on the review site(s) of your choice. If they respond negatively, they are redirected to a questionnaire asking what you did wrong and how you could improve customer experience.

This way, your happy clientele are leaving reviews and the less than happy ones are able to vent in a direction that doesn’t negatively impact your business.

Final Thoughts

Once these changes are made, keep in mind that it could possibly takes months to see lift. SEO is a marathon and not a sprint.

The items outlined above are more foundational issues. Once they are tied off, there are other things that can be done that will enable more visibility locally and nationally.

If you feel like you need more help, it might be wise to consult a local SEO expert. The costs you will incur pale in comparison to the ROMI you will receive back. Organic search results typically convert 16 times higher than paid channels and owning the top result on a search will yield you 33 to 40 percent of that keyword’s search traffic, as opposed to 16 percent for spot 2 or 6  percent for position 3.

Are Cheap IP-PBX Business VoIP Phone Systems Right For Your Business?

The world was still listening to Smashmouth and contemplating the underlying meaning behind The Matrix when the founder of Digium.com, released his free, open source IP PBX software in 1999.

He created an entirely new segment in the open source software market… Not only did companies using Asterisk collectively save millions of dollars when installing the open software, they found it could be hosted or installed on-site, as a call distributor, a VoIP gateway, a conference bridge and much more.  It became the Swiss army knife of IP-based telephony overnight.

But then, in January 2009, one small business Asterisk customer was slapped with a gigantic and unexpected phone bill. His system had been hacked…Is Asterisk Secure?

Australian newspaper Adelaide Now reported: “A small business has been landed with a $120,000 phone bill after criminals hacked into its internet phone system and used it to make 11,000 international calls in just 46 hours.” But the Australian business owner wasn’t the only victim. Three companies in the U.S. using IP PBX systems (two from Asterisk) suffered similar fates around the same time.

Adding insult to injury, a slew of neckbeards eventually went online and posted soundless YouTube videos that exuberantly demonstrated, keystroke by keystroke, how to break into the PBX and make free calls.

So what happened?

As an Asterisk reseller said following an attack on one of his customers, “We were so focused on the telephony side [when we installed Asterisk] that we completely overlooked…the IT side, the security side.”  It was obvious in hindsight. Their failure to secure the server ensured their demise.

Since then, Asterisk has solidified enormously.  It’s now backed up by thousands of skilled IT experts in an open source community who take security very seriously. As of today, there are more than a million Asterisk-based systems in use across more than 170 countries.

The upside of Asterisk

In a nutshell, Internet Protocol Private Brand Exchange allows you as your own personal phone company. You can set up branch menus, dial “9” for an outside line, assign 3 digit extensions for every team member at the office and much more.

We’ve all used PBX and are familiar with the functionality it provides, but most people think of it as something too complex or expensive to implement on our own. Thanks to Asterisk, that’s not the case.

Asterisk offers the same functionality of a hardware PBX, for free… Below is a feature list from Asterisk.org (click on the image to visit the page)

Asterisk Features

Laying the groundwork

There are a lot of ways to set up Asterisk. The easiest and most efficient is by installing one of the pre compiled distributions. Of those, we recommend Asterisk Now because, while it’s not as flexible as home brew installations, it allows relatively inexperienced users to change the plumbing and create customization. It needs to be stressed that that you will be forced to operate in a predefined framework though.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can always create your own from the source. When you go this route, you get a lot more control over the functionality and it’s actually not as hard as you might think (assuming you know basic command line).

When you install Asterisk from the source, it enables you the freedom of choosing your own Linux OS (we recommend Ubuntu) and then tweaking the installation for your environment and hardware to maximize performance.

Find full instructions on installing Asterisk from source here.

Parting thoughts

If you’re planning an Asterisk installation and need advice on securing the system, Ward Mundy has collected the most critical steps for locking down your installation. You’ll find further advice in the forums and wiki at the Asterisk.org website.

So while using Asterisk to commit phone fraud is no longer an issue, hackers (some of whom may be your employees, suppliers or business partners) often find ways to defraud using the system. Click here to download a Phone Bill Fraud Prevention Checklist from the Telecom Association.

How To Fix Problems With Your 411 Directory Listings

Even in today’s digitally dominated environment, a consistently large segment of the population continues to use directory assistance as an alternative to local search. In the US alone, 411 is used six billion times per year, providing the telecom industry with $8 billion per year in high profit revenue.

Woman Using Directory Assistance411 providers get paid based on the number of calls they take and not the helpfulness or accuracy of the service they provide. As a result, if your business phone number isn’t in your phone company’s database when a prospect or client calls, there is little chance that they will receive much help from the operator.

That is why it’s critical that you confirm your listing in every city where you do business and with each phone company you use. Being properly listed has a huge impact on your bottom line.

Who’s Maintains Your 411 Listing?

The phone company who provides dial tone to your business and bills you each month automatically lists your company in their 411 directory. Unfortunately, there is no single, “master’ database containing all 411 information. Each carrier maintains their own data. In fact, there are thousands of 411 directory providers.

  • Some are the major land line carriers like Verizon and AT&T
  • Others may be cell phone companies or VoIP providers
  • Yet others are independent firms with no carrier affiliation, but are in the business of providing directory information. 800-FREE411 (800-373-3411) is one such independent service

Except for the independent firms, each of them serve their own customers. If you were to call “411” in search of a business that is not a customer of your phone company, it’s possible they won’t have the listing you want.

There’s another issue to consider, as well. If your phone company is a CLEC (Competitive Local Exchange Carrier) that works with one of the telecom giants, the CLEC is responsible for getting you listed in the major carrier’s 411 directory. As you can imagine, technical failures do happen in scenarios like this, resulting in your number failing to list in the main directory.  If you suspect this is the case with your business, the best place to start is your CLEC’s customer service.

What About Toll Free 411 Listings?

If your primary number is a vanity number or toll free, a “Responsible Organization” (known in the industry as a Resporg) works through an FCC-authorized organization (SMS800.com) to assign toll free numbers to a business. You’ll want to contact the Resporg that provided your toll free number to verify or update your toll free directory listing.

If you’re not aware who your Resporg is, visit 800ForAll.com and enter your toll free number into the free “Who Owns This Number?” query on their home page. It will tell you the name and phone of your Resporg.

What If You Use VoIP?

Interconnected Through Local VOIP NumbersYour VoIP provider manages your 411 listing. When you confirm your listing with the VoIP company, you might want to ask about remote phone numbers. Many VoIP providers can set up local business phone number, say in Dallas, that rings at your office in Atlanta, Chicago or wherever you may be headquartered. Such numbers can also be set up in cities where you have major accounts, or where you are running a sales campaign—giving callers the convenience of dialing a local number. This can usually be done with no monthly fees, which is in contrast to the “remote call forwarding” and “foreign listings” the traditional telecom companies want you to pay for each month.

Call Yourself and Make Sure Your Listings Are Correct

You’ll be able to keep your businesses 411 directory listings up to date and accurate by first asking yourself:

  • What cities are my customers calling from?
  • What are the different names my customers would use when trying to find my business?
  • Would my customers want to be provided with a local or toll free number for my business when calling 411?

Once you’ve determined these things, start calling 411 from the cities and regions your customers are located in and see if you’re listed correctly.  Keep a spreadsheet of the information you’ve collected and correct the erroneous listings by doing the following:

  • Manually working directly with the company that bills you each month and provides phone service to your business
  • Manually engaging the large phone companies like AT&T, Verizon and the other old “Ma Bell” companies in the regions you operate in



Next Steps

As there were a trillion local web searches last year (as opposed to 6 billion 411 calls), it’s critical that you make sure your business phone number is being presented correctly on the different online directories that influence local SEO.  For more information on how to make sure your information is showing up correctly on Google, click here.

AT&T and Verizon Alternatives

When the Bell System monopoly on telephone communication run by AT&T was broken into “Baby Bells,” also called Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) in 1982, the monopoly on phone service seemed to be at its end.

The original anti-trust action by the Department of Justice was initiated in 1972, but legal wrangling stalled the final breakup until 1982. Thirty plus years later, I often wonder whether the quality of service has improved.  A quick online scan shows throngs of unhappy customers’ voices have echoing across forums and consumer advocacy sites.

Freedom From Telecom Bullies

Verizon is the other major player in the space, selling its phone service under the FIOS brand.  They also bundle internet access and TV service and deliver it over a fiber network. Verizon was initially known as Bell Atlantic, one of the aforementioned RBOCs. In 2000 it merged with GTE and re-branded itself with the name we know today. Now, with millions of customers across the country, Verizon too has been inundated by hordes of unhappy customers who complain about phone service and virtually every other service Verizon offers.

Fortunately, the telecom landscape has evolved in recent years and now provides businesses many alternatives to those two incumbent phone companies. The VoIP revolution has transformed the industry, so I’d like to suggest a few companies that we feel comfortable recommending to business clientele looking for a change.

Here are our top picks:

ShoreTel

ShoreTel targets mid-sized and larger companies, generally those that need 25 or more phones. The ShoreTel Connect product is a VoIP system that can be run as a managed service from the cloud, or as a system with its own hardware and servers that you manage at your place of business. Or, if you have multiple locations, you can install Connect as a hybrid deployment where certain locations are managed in the cloud while others are managed on site. The product supports IM, VoIP, conferencing, web sharing and video. Its allows users to move from an IM to a phone call, to an online meeting then to a desktop share that can include video, all with a single click.

Ooma

Ooma began as a VoIP provider for residential customers, then expanded into business services with a clear customer demographic: small businesses that need 25 or fewer phones. Ooma works with any traditional phone (of the curly cord variety), eliminating the need to buy IP phones. You can easily set the system up to ring remote extensions off premises, including employee cell phones which is useful for sales, service and other workers who spend time outside the office. This short video leads you through the basic setup process.

Broadview Networks

Broadview Networks, discussed elsewhere on this blog, serves more than 200,000 users every day with its OfficeSuite cloud phone system. It provides not only excellent quality VoIP phone service; Broadview also lets you communicate with hi def video, web and audio conferencing, and toll-free service.

As network speeds increase and technology becomes more refined, the marketplace for VoIP continues to grow and become more relevant. Contact us with any additional questions you might have relating to finding a suitable alternative to the incumbent phone companies.