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Google AdWords Call Extensions: Beware the Data Gaps

John Lee
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Do you have major gaps in call tracking data from Google AdWords Call Extensions? You just might, if you haven’t followed important rules. Thankfully, there are solutions to fill these data gaps.

Call Extensions Basics

Call tracking is fundamentally important for online advertising, yet so many companies completely miss this. The Google AdWords Call Extensions don't fill that need 100 percent (it only tracks calls from the SERPs, not your website). However, having a phone number published with your text ad means you can at least get a baseline understanding of how many potential leads or customers are willing to pick up the phone and call.

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Setting up Call Extensions is simple. Using the Ad Extensions tab, choose to create the Call Extension at the ad group or campaign level. From there, enter your desired phone number. Then choose to utilize the Google forwarding number (which enables call reporting for non-mobile click-to-call activity) or to simply publish your phone number in the SERPs.

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Why is the Google Forwarding Number Important?

For mobile search traffic, Call Extension data is easy to access. A searcher clicks the phone number and calls. This “click-to-call” activity is tracked at the campaign, ad group, ad and keyword level in AdWords (via Segment > Click Type). Great!

For desktops and tablets, the data is fully dependent on the use of the Google forwarding number. When set up, you will be able to report on phone impressions, number of calls and create “call conversions” as an added metric (based on length of call). However, this data is limited to campaign and ad group layers only; there is no ad or keyword level data.

If you do not set up the forwarding number, you will be blind to how many calls you generate by using the Call Extension from desktops and tablets.

Call Extension Data Gaps

But what about those data gaps I mentioned? If you aren't mindful of the rules behind Call Extensions -- and more specifically forwarding numbers -- you stand a chance to have major gaps in your AdWords call tracking data:

Minimum click threshold per ad group. Your root phone number will show in the Call Extension without a minimum number of clicks. However, the forwarding number (and therefore deeper metrics for desktops/tablets) will only show if the ad group has a minimum of 20 clicks in a 4 week time period. Beware: You may be receiving calls but don't have the data to back it up! Made a bunch of changes lately and somehow saw Call Extension calls drop? This might be why.

Automated bids kill forwarding numbers. In short, if you use Conversion Optimizer, Target CPA Flexible Bid Strategies or other automated bids within AdWords, the Call Extension forwarding number WILL NOT WORK. If you are reporting Call Extension calls to a client or boss and run auto bids in AdWords, you need to follow up on how this affects your stats!

One serious issue to watch out for if you have ad groups that need to be paused and resumed frequently: This type of activity disrupts data flow and can force the forwarding number to stop showing!

Solutions and Alternatives to Fill Data Gaps

As with most data gap issues faced in marketing, there are solutions… or at the very least, alternatives. Here is a quick list of solutions and alternatives to avoid Call Extension data gaps:

  • If you are using Call Extensions with the Google forwarding number enabled, do a review of your campaign settings TODAY.
  • Do you have Conversion Optimizer or Flexible Bid Strategies running? Then the forwarding number isn’t working. Make a decision to either be O.K. without call data for desktops/tablets or change your bidding strategy.
  • Do your ad groups have enough data to trigger the forwarding number? If not, take the extra effort to beef these ad groups up so that the forwarding number will work.
  • If there is push-back from a client or internal decision maker on using the Google forwarding number, take the time to build a case for reporting and data clarity. This data is needed to understand performance of and optimize your campaigns.
  • If the forwarding number is simply not an option, secure a unique phone number that you dedicate to Call Extensions and can keep track of outside of Google AdWords.
  • Solve all of your problems and more! Get a service like Mongoose Metrics where you can track all of your calls. Bonus? You can record calls from all data sources (SEO, social, other paid channels) and with a deeper data set to boot. Full disclosure: I do not work for, do not get referral fees or have any other relationship with Mongoose – I just like their services!

Google’s Call Extensions are a great way to get additional phone calls and to better understand the behavior of your potential leads and customers. As with any feature in AdWords, Call Extensions are loaded with ifs, ands, and a plethora of caveats that force advertisers to pay extra attention to the details.

The Google forwarding number is a fantastic device for gaining call metrics from desktops and tablets, but the potential data gaps will trip you up if you are not careful. Review your Call Extension settings, traffic data and use of automated bids in AdWords to ensure you are generating “clean” call data.


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