Ranking For Telephone Numbers [Weird SEO]
In this case study I profile a truly unorthodox style of site that focuses on ranking and banking in the phone numbers niche.
Weird, right? Let me explain.
Have you ever received a call or text from a number you don't know?
If you're like me, the first thing you do is plug the unknown number into Google to see who it is.
If you're lucky, Google will provide a recognizable name associated with the number at the top of the search results page.
For example, I recently received a text message from an unknown number. I Googled it and the first result was this page:
I recognized the name and realized it was a call from a friend I had fallen out of touch with. This got me thinking about all of the phone number searches that must be occurring.
Indeed, whether you ultimately recognize the number you've Googled or not, you'll be greeted by a slew of websites with landing pages optimized for that number.
These 'reverse number lookup' phone directory sites have thousands and thousands of pages dedicated to specific phone numbers.
For example, the number "855-696-2074" is a fairly popular search term. According to Ahrefs, it's getting searched 6,000 times a month.
As you can see, there are a variety of sites promising information about this particular number.
800notes.com has a 37-page forum thread of people discussing getting unsolicited calls from it. The emerging consensus is that it's a robo-call soliciting donations for Ben Carson's political campaign.
WhitePages has a landing page that provides some interesting data on the number. It also has an upsell to unlock Premium Details about the number.
The Reverse Number Directory WhoCallsMe has a forum thread on the number. As does UnknownPhone and UnidentifiedNumber.
The list goes on and on.
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How Are These Sites Making Money?
In the world of internet marketing, the 3 main types of monetization strategies are Display Ads, Affiliate Marketing, and e-Commerce (digital/physical products).
In the case of these sites, many of them are capitalizing on the search volume for these phone numbers and using display ads like AdSense to monetize forum content.
For example, WhoCallsMe is littered with display ads:
Users are submitting complaints and reports about the numbers. This free content helps the sites rank, get traffic, and get ad revenue.
Some sites are using affiliate marketing.
If you click the Find The Owner button on IdentifyThisCaller you're redirected to InstantCheckMate:
Instant Check Mate apparently offers a $36 commission for converting traffic sent to their site.
I ran my own number through their service. What eventually happens is you're directed to a lead capture page.
In order to receive the number report, you have to enter your information to download the report.
I was unwilling to do that. I'm already battling a bloated inbox!
But you get the point here- there are undoubtedly people willing to purchase data associated with phone numbers, so affiliate marketing is a solid monetization strategy.
The last monetization option here is e-Commerce. On WhitePages.com there's an option to pay to unlock Premium Details about the number.
This is their own product, not an affiliate offer:
WhitePages has been around since 1997 according to Wikipedia and apparently "has the largest database of contact information on Americans". So it makes sense for them to leverage this wealth of contact information into a premium product.
To get a sense of how these sites work, let's take a look at 800Notes.com.
According to Ahrefs, as of 1/30/2018, it ranks for 309,000 keywords:
Below, you can see a screengrab of some of their top-performing keywords, according to Ahrefs:
800Notes is essentially a forum- each phone number gets its own thread. Running a "site:800notes.com" search shows that Google has over 500,000 indexed pages for the site.
According to SimilarWeb, in December 2017, they received nearly 6 million visits.
As well, SimilarWeb says that about 89% of their traffic is organic. Which makes a ton of sense. This is obviously not social or paid play.
They do get some direct traffic, which is reasonable if you come to rely on them to research unknown phone numbers:
This is another example of websites that compete for arcane SEO traffic and intelligently monetize it. It demonstrates that there are some truly weird ways you can get traffic on the internet.
I'm not advising you to start a phone call directory site- though it might be a fun experiment. Rather, use this case study to stimulate your imagination when brainstorming a niche site.
As I've documented in my other case studies, with things like memes and video game walk throughs, there's a ton of low competition search traffic to be had for an enterprising SEO if you train yourself to focus on the unorthodox.
How do these types of sites succeed? Below I list some factors I think are important.
In its own way, 800Notes and sites like it provide a valuable service- they let you know who's calling you and whether it's spam.
Many of the site's users are vigilant about reporting spam- so 800Notes becomes a vital resource for outing and penalizing unsolicited spam and scam callers. According to Wikipedia, phone fraud constitutes billions of dollars of losses each year.
Imagine, it could be your elderly loved getting targeted by one of these scammers!
So there's a huge market for this information. And plenty of outraged people willing to contribute to a website that profiles fraudsters.
Obviously- not all phone numbers are spam, but some of the most prolific, highest-searched phone numbers are, logically, robo-calls or some other form of call center spam.
One of the challenges with these sorts of sites is that you need to cover a vast amount of phone numbers and if you're producing thousands of pages with the exact same content on it, there's a risk you receive a Google penalty for thin or duplicate content.
The sites that do it well have users generating content for them. They actively solicit reports from users who visit the page for a particular phone number. This insulates them from a Google penalty.
If you're just starting a site like this, let me tell you- it will be very difficult to get traction with user-generated content.
It's a bit of a Catch 22. To rank with this style of site, you'll need user-generated content. But you can't get user-generated content unless you're ranking.
Optimizing for Clickthroughs
It's not enough to create a page dedicated to the specific phone number. The better sites have attractive snippets in the SERPs.
Referring back to my original example, if I were to create a site like this, I would study the SERPs and use compelling meta-information (H1/Site Title/Meta Description/URL structure/breadcrumbs) to make my site look like reputable and authoritative.
I can't say for sure which of these sites is getting the best CTR- but your search result should 'speak' to the searcher.
Help convince them to click your page by promising to satisfy their query.
The better phone directory sites make their SERP meta information look attractive and relevant to the searcher.
The On Page Experience
Some sites like 800notes are just a bare-bones forum thread. And that's totally fine- they're leveraging user-generated content and monetizing with display ads.
On the other hand, for affiliate and e-commerce offers like IdentifyThisCaller and WhitePages are doing respectively, they put greater effort into designing a landing page experience that facilitates click through to the ultimate offer.
You can see that the landing page design is influenced by the monetization strategy.
How To Create A Phone Directory Site
If I had to start a telephone directory site, I'd probably focus on doing custom-writeups of high search-volume numbers.
I'd use Ahrefs to find these numbers by analyzing the keyword rankings popular directory sites like 800Notes, and writing an organized blog post about particular phone numbers.
That said, I wouldn't focus on scraping thousands of numbers and publishing thousands of 'thin' posts. Though there's probably a clever way you can pull it off.
Norh American Numbering Plan | Phone listing for phone area code: 845
I'm leery of publishing 'thin' content- I once received a manual penalty from Google for that reason, so I wouldn't go down that road again. I actually wouldn't recommend anyone try to create one of these sites.
I just thought it was an interesting style of site- and a way to stimulate your imagination about potential opportunities.
If you like this niche case study- leave a comment below or consider giving it a share. I'd appreciate it!