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I'm a small business owner (I run a little computer repair shop), and I'm attempting to track calls to my store from different advertising channels. I use three separate tracking phone numbers: one for my PPC campaigns, one for newspaper ads, and my "official" one that I use in web directories and on my site.

I have extremely good NAP consistency across the web. My problem is that I can't tell the difference between a call that comes from a search engine and a call that comes from a directory because the phone number is the same in both places.

Could I detect when a human being (i.e., not a bot) is organically visiting my site and swap out the NAP-consistent tracking phone number with a separate "organic" tracking phone number? Or could Google consider this cloaking and penalize me for it?

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That wouldn't be an issue at all –  John Conde Dec 6 '13 at 21:42
    
@JohnConde Do you have a reference for that statement? I recommend avoiding all server side cloaking. –  Stephen Ostermiller Dec 7 '13 at 11:32
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It's just a phone number and it only affects tracking. Intent is the key. Seeing a different phone number doesn't affect the quality of the content. –  John Conde Dec 7 '13 at 13:35
    
Yes, I agree that this innocuous and white hat, but I have always read Google's statements on cloaking as a zero tolerance policy with little room to argue intent or actual effect on users. –  Stephen Ostermiller Dec 7 '13 at 15:22
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2 Answers

Technically showing a different phone number to Googlebot is cloaking. In this case you might get away with it because:

  • The change is not very significant
  • The intent is not spammy
  • It doesn't target keywords (few people search for phone numbers)
  • You'll want to show visitors from Google the same phone number that you show to Googlebot. Since the set of users that Google cares about get the same treatment as Googlebot, it would pass Google's sniff tests.

On the other hand, Google is particularly sensitive to cloaking and I would be very hesitant to implement any type of cloaking that is not specifically condoned by Google representatives. The biggest risk would be that their bot checks the page with a Googlebot user agent string and then masquerades as a normal browser and "catches" you. You might get an algorithmic penalty without a human from Google even reviewing the situation.

I would recommend treating this phone number the same way that advertising is usually treated. Use JavaScript to write it into the page. Block Googlebot from crawling the JavaScript using robots.txt so that Googlebot doesn't see any phone numbers at all.

The only thing that worries me about this solution would be the effect on a Google Maps listing that you have. Googlebot likes to see the phone number in your listing also on your website. Maybe the phone number from your listing could go just on your "about us" page, but the "advertising" phone number could be used on every other page.

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Yes this is what is called cloaking. Google wants exactly the same content as seen by humans. The only exception is the mobile content. You can show different content for mobile device from the same URL.

I'm not sure but you can use Javascript to change the numbers. Googlebot does not execute it but has capability to check for tricky use.

But practically John Code's answer is correct since for every page request plenty of counters/date/times can change so it's very difficult for google to detect it.

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