What millions of calls tell us about marketing in a post-pandemic world

After more than a year of belt-tightening and uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, owners of small and midsize businesses are ready for some good news (or even predictability).

In many ways, there’s a sense that things are getting back to normal — or a new kind of normal, at least — but a few questions linger. What does this “new normal” look like? How did the pandemic change consumer behavior, and are any of those changes permanent? How should businesses still recovering from the upheaval of the last year adjust their marketing efforts not just to survive but grow in the current environment?

To help business owners and marketers answer these questions, we analyzed data from millions of calls from CallRail customers per week through 2019, 2020, and the first quarter (Q1) of 2021 and published the results in our first-ever call-tracking metrics benchmark report.

The report dives into important growth metrics to provide insight into how your business growth compares to your industry peers and offers suggestions for maximizing your marketing dollars. The biggest takeaway?

While the pandemic is not yet “over,” consumer interest is up, and most of those people are taking to the internet to find places to do business. To attract new customers, businesses should invest in the digital marketing channels where the majority of prospects are looking.

Read on to learn the report’s top findings and discover how you can leverage this data to grow your business.

Google Ads and Google My Business are the biggest call drivers

Google Ads was the biggest call source before the pandemic, and still is today — but Google My Business (GMB) is inching closer to taking the top spot.

Top source of calls 2019-Q1 2021

Google Ads top call source

Google Ads remains the top call source, but the rapid growth of Google My Business during 2020 underscores the importance of an up-to-date, accurate listing.

In 2020, calls from organic search soared by 138%, and GMB calls increased by a remarkable 672%, presumably as customers sought information about reduced operating hours (or to find out if businesses were even open).

While those numbers moderated in the first quarter of 2021 (organic grew by 15% and GMB by 24%), the graph above shows that GMB is steadily growing as a trusted source for consumers.

This data highlights the importance of businesses having a robust presence on Google — and GMB specifically.

The key takeaway? Be sure to keep your GMB listing up to date! And with CallRail’s GMB integration, you can automatically place a calltracking number in your listing to identify the customers who found you there.

It’s critical to track the source of all calls to determine which marketing channels (GMB, organic search, Google Ads, direct mail, etc.) are bringing in the most leads so you know where to invest your future marketing efforts.

Increased call volume means more prospects (and customers and revenue)

Call volume increased continually over the reporting period, but it saw the biggest jump in Q1 of 2021. This is great news for SMBs since more calls indicate more interest and more potential customers.

Impact of COVID-19 on call volume

Impact of COVID-19 on call volume

Call volume temporarily dropped during the first wave of COVID-19 cases, but it grew year over year between 2019 and the first quarter of 2021.

Although call volume decreased as COVID-19 cases spiked, it maintained its upward trend overall.

Here’s a look at call volume growth year over year (YOY):

  • 33.22% increase in 2019
  • 33.86% increase in 2020
  • 39.88% increase in Q1 2021

The industries that saw the biggest growth were real estate, financial services, and home services.

industry growth

To what can we attribute this increase in call volume? More businesses are investing in digital advertising, and it’s paying off — even during the pandemic: Digital ad spend increased 12.2% during 2020, compared to 15.9% from 2018 to 2019. In 2021, it’s predicted to grow by 25.5%.

Call duration is also up YOY, from 2.36 minutes in 2019 to 2.53 minutes in the first quarter of 2021. While that is likely a positive indicator that prospects are more interested in what you’re offering, it could also mean that there is more friction in your sales cycle, so be sure to consider that along with other customer satisfaction metrics. Listening to recorded calls can help you gauge customer sentiment and identify training opportunities to improve your customers’ experience.

Finally, first calls increased by 12% in Q1 2021, indicating there is an excellent opportunity right now for SMBs to acquire new customers. If you don’t capitalize on it, your competitors will — so now’s the time to kick up your marketing efforts to funnel those interested prospects into your business.

Quick website optimization tips to turn Google Searchers into customers

Marketing budgets are as tight as ever after the shutdowns and uncertainty created by the pandemic, so it’s essential that you’re getting the biggest bang for your marketing buck.

The first step to achieving that is to ensure your website is optimized to convert visitors into paying customers.

Some ways to accomplish this:

Use keywords your prospects are searching for: Nothing else about your website matters much if your prospects can’t find it! Leverage free SEO tools to find popular keywords and choose the ones that are most relevant to your business. Then, strategically place those keywords throughout your site — in your headers, throughout the text, and even in your URLs — so when people search for your product or service, your website appears in the results.

Pro tip: If you're using a tool like CallRail’s Conversation Intelligence, you can use the Call Highlights and Key Terms Spotted reports to source which keywords you should be focusing on.

Make your phone number easy to find: Your phone number should appear on your contact page, yes. But the goal of your website is to eliminate any friction that might prevent a lead from reaching out to you, so don’t send visitors looking for it (or they just might give up and move on before they find it). List your phone number prominently on your home page — and every page — to encourage your website visitors to call. To take it a step further, use the click-to-call feature on your mobile website.

Pro tip: Using CallRail’s Call Tracking powered with Form Tracking provides you with a seamless timeline of your customer’s entire buying journey on your website. Use the insights to give you ideas for how to optimize your website to reduce friction, while also using it as inspiration for developing additional content offers that may interest your target audience.

Test different calls to action (CTAs): Experiment with button text, color, and placement and conduct A/B testing to identify the most effective CTAs. You can even try using your phone number as a CTA to entice visitors to call your business rather than clicking a button to download a piece of content or submit their contact information.

Finally, be sure any submission forms on your website include form tracking so you can determine the effectiveness of your offers and, along with call tracking, connect the dots between the people who interact with your website and the people who call your business.

Follow the Data

The marketing landscape is ever-changing — even without throwing a worldwide pandemic into the mix. As new technology emerges, so do new marketing trends and opportunities, so it’s important to stay informed of what’s working for your industry peers (and for your business specifically). Using this data to inform your marketing strategy will help you maximize its effectiveness and avoid wasting precious marketing dollars on channels that don’t get results.

Download the full call benchmark report for a deeper dive into the data, including how your call volume compares to others in your industry, inbound vs. outbound call growth and more, as well as best practices for optimizing your Google My Business listing and other tips for achieving the best possible outcome from your marketing efforts.