How to Display Telephone Numbers

The Week magazine has a wonderful column called ‘boring but important’ – which does exactly what it says on the tin. In this blog, I’m going to look at the boring but important concept of making sure that telephone numbers are displayed in a format that is easy for consumers to read and understand.

Why is the phone number format important?

Tracking numbers are either geographic (they start with the code 01 or 02) or non-geographic (starting with the code 03 or 08). Geographic numbers relate to particular areas or towns, and people learn these codes from an early age. Both number types have different roles to play within a marketing strategy depending on the how a company wants to present itself to its customer base.

Regardless of the strategy, how the different number types are displayed has an effect on how consumers view, remember and respond to the numbers.

All telephone numbers need to have spaces between the digits for ease of reading. Since the introduction of different number codes by the telecoms regulator (currently OFCOM) there has been a standard way to display numbers.

However, it’s surprising how many companies ignore the standard formats and show numbers on a website and in advertising that customers struggle to read because it goes against the familiar display code.

Telephone number formatting guide

Examples of how misplaced digits can make numbers look odd can be seen by looking at examples for the London code and the Sevenoaks code:

London code:

  • 02072458791 – no spaces
  • 02072 458971 – space after 5 digits
  • 020 7245 8971 – space between 3 and 7 digits (OFCOM recommended)
  • 0207 2458 971 – space between 4 and 7 digits

Sevenoaks code:

  • 01732823270 – no spaces
  • 01732 823270 – space after 5 digits (OFCOM recommended)
  • 017 328 3270 – space between 3 and 7 digits

Looking at these two examples, the OFCOM recommended format is the easiest to read and remember. This is how we have all been trained to look at numbers, therefore to go against the perceived formats just makes it more difficult for customers.

To make sure that you don’t make the mistake of displaying your numbers incorrectly in your advertising and on your website, here’s a boring but important ready guide:

Name Number type How to display
Non geographic – 08 0800, 0808, 0843, 0844, 0845, 0870 08XX XXX XXXX
Non geographic – 03 03XX 03XX XXX XXXX
Geographic – 5 digit code 01XXX 01XXX XXXX(X)
Geographic – 4 digit code 01XX 01XX XXX XXXX
Geographic – Cities 0121, 0131, 0141, 0151, 0161, 0191 01X1 XXX XXXX
Geographic – London 0203, 0207, 0208 020X XXX XXXX
Geographic – Cities 02X 02X XXXX XXXX

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