Vanity Phone Numbers and Domain Names

This is not a new concept but when I came across the PR Newswire coverage of and the matching 1-800-business vanity phone number asset sale, it struck me (again) that some vanity phone numbers can be liquid and have been bought and sold like domains.  A couple months ago I was having a casual conversation with a gentleman (who is old enough to be my dad) over a couple beers.  We got to talking about domains and he could understand the domain market better than almost any random person I’ve talked to because twenty years ago friends of his were buying up 1-800-keyword vanity phone numbers and selling them to companies in the US, and made good money doing it.

I did a little research and you can still ‘register’ and look up available vanity phone numbers at sites like Pricing is pretty steep for these lines, monthly fees for nationwide service is $180 for 1800 and 1866 vanity phone numbers. I haven’t looked at pricing from competitors so I’m sure there is some variance. Funny when you think about it, vanity phone numbers were the primitive domain names and people were investing in phone numbers. I don’t think there’s much of an aftermarket for the vanity phone numbers now but telephone companies do withold certain vanity numbers and sell them at ‘premium pricing’ like verisign has done with some .TV domains. 

The part of the sales pitch on where the seller slams alternative vanity phone number prefixes like 1-866 , etc amused me because you get an idea of the the heirarchy of vanity phone numbers they want you to realize, with 1-800 of course being #1 and 1-866, 1-877 and 1-888 being knockoff and hard to remember replacements of the king 1-800. Sound familiar..?

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1 Comment

  • Mike,

    Your term of slamming is improper in the context of the pecking order of toll-free number prefixes.

    Here’s the facts:

    Not all toll-free prefixes are valued equally.

    Industry sources and various studies report that non-800 toll-free prefix numbers (888, 877, and 866) routinely underperform by 10 to 60 percent when compared to 800 prefix numbers.

    A study of yellow page advertising usage found that many consumers are unclear about the function of 888, 877 and 866 numbers. Nearly one in ten consumers (10%) believe that 888, 877 and 866 numbers function differently than 800 numbers. The yellow page study also substantiates traditional wisdom that 43 years of usage has embedded “1-800” in the minds of consumers as “toll free” and that using 888, 877 and 866 prefixes carries an inherent risk of customer confusion and misdialing.

    Engine Ready, a SEO or Search Engine Optimization firm, conducted an extensive test in 2009 to determine if the use of various toll-free prefixes produced different conversion rates. They sampled 18,100 visits to an Internet lead generation site. All visits were from paid search ads in Google and resulted in 2,614 combined call-in and online conversions. The visits were split evenly among 4 distinct landing pages, each page displaying one toll free number starting with 800, 888, 877 or 866. Other than the 4 different toll-free phone numbers, the landing pages were identical.

    Their website chart shows conversion rates for call-in leads by toll-free prefix. The highest conversion rate corresponds to the 1-800 prefix and the lowest conversion rate corresponds to the 1-866 prefix.

    Engine Ready researchers concluded that the age of the toll-free prefix, along with the more prestigious and meaningful 800 prefix, appears to directly impact the call-in conversion rate. The longer the prefix has existed, the higher its conversion rate.

    The magnitude of the difference between the best performing “800” prefix and worst performing “866” prefixes is 1.64 percentage points.

    This means that the “800” prefix had a 59.8% higher call-in conversion rate than the identical page with an “866” phone number. And, that the “800” prefix had a 17.7% higher call-in conversion than the identical page with an”888” phone number.

    So Mike, only the purely uninformed would ever select anything but an 800 prefix.

    George Jones


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