If your company does business via phone or uses display advertising, a vanity toll-free number is a must. Expecting rushed viewers to remember a random 10 digit string is simply unreasonable, and relying on this could destroy the bottom line. However, not all of these numbers are created equally.

While any vanity number is certainly preferable to a normal one, they, too, can be problematic unless proper precautions are taken. Indeed - picking out the perfect vanity number is something of an art form.

Here are a few key steps:

Stay Away From 'Hybrid' Numbers

The whole point of a vanity toll-free number is letting viewers abstract the numbers away by remembering letters instead. Unfortunately, some business owners manage to mess this concept up by using what are known as 'hybrid numbers.' We've all seen these. It's when a company uses a telephone number like 1-800-642-PETS.

While PETS is surely easier to remember than 7387, there's still that pesky 642 to worry about. Chances are, more than a few viewers wont remember it. Instead, strive to get a full word or phrase, such as 1-800-PET-FOOD.

An excellent real-life example of what to shoot for is 1-800-FLOWERS (of course we know these aren't always available but you can also check the 866, 877, 888 or 855 version)

Company Name Or Specific Benefit?

There are two basic choices a business owner has when deciding what his or her vanity phone number will spell:

Unless the name of your business also happens to express the specific benefit you offer (as is the case with 1-800-FLOWERS), always err on the side of putting the specific benefit in your vanity number. The reason is that unless your company name is already established and synonymous with your industry, it will not have real staying power with your target audience.

After all, how many people will automatically associate 1-800-BIG-DAVE with 'Big Dave's T-Shirt Shop' when the phone number offers no clue that you sell t-shirts?

Simple, Unmistakable Spelling

It should go without saying, but any vanity toll-free number you choose should be easy to spell. First, rule out any number containing the letters 'Q' or 'Z', which are only available on relatively new and modern keypads.

More generally, think about how your vanity number will be sound when repeated in verbal conversation, TV or radio. Slang words usually have several different spellings and are thus a bad idea.

Same goes for possessive pronouns before words that begin with 'S. For instance, if your company's name is Sam's Sandwiches, using this as the vanity number could confuse people. Do they dial one 'S' or two? Avoid problems like these by using only vanity numbers with one, clear, unmistakable spelling.

If in doubt, practice verbally saying your proposed number to a friend or co-worker and asking them to dial what they heard. When more than a few people can effortlessly do this on the first try, go ahead and get the number.

Branding Your Number

Once you decide to do business with a vanity phone number and select a good one, don't be shy about using it. In fact, some of the most successful companies in the country use vanity numbers as core elements of their branding. FexEx, for instance, slaps its 1-800-Go-FedEx number on all of its delivery vans, airplanes and packaging.

This is exactly the approach to emulate with your own vanity toll-free numbers. Make it the focal contact point in your TV commercials, radio spots, billboard ads, and even online campaigns like PPC and media buying. Done correctly, viewers will gradually come to associate that phone number with your business and using it to place orders will become second-nature.

Vanity numbers can be a huge benefit to any company so be sure to choose the best one for your company!