Some of you may remember Google's 2006 experiment to embed click-to-call links in local search results. Little green icons indicated you could be connected via Google; when clicked, a window prompted you for your phone number then called and connected you to the business.
It didn't get far and was never monetized. But now the idea is making a comeback through a mobile pay-per-call program launched last month. True to most high-end smart phones, users tap phone numbers to activate a call. But now, numbers in Google sponsored links are monetized on a per-call basis.
The idea is that click-to-call – and the pay-per-call business model behind it – makes a lot more sense in mobile than on the desktop. From a user perspective it's more integrated, given that the mobile device is, after all, a phone. From an advertiser perspective, calls from on-the-go mobile users can be valuable.
This is especially true in certain advertiser categories that prefer phone calls over clicks, such as trade services or anyone booking appointments and reservations by phone. Calls can also carry a premium in categories where there are high-value leads, such as autos.
Get Them While You Can
This is why some businesses that opt in for this program will be getting a bargain (AdWords opt-in process explained here). Google is charging the equivalent rate per call as clicks generated from the same ads. This is mostly done for simplicity, according to Google Product Manager Surojit Chatterjee.
"It's probably a bargain for advertisers in many verticals who pay a lot more for phone leads," he said. "But we wanted to keep it simple. If you have a local ad with AdWords, it's easy to turn on the click-to-call link for high-end mobile devices like Android and iPhone."
For large advertisers on top of their SEM game, it could likewise be a bargain. The program is an offshoot of Google's Local Extensions – the AdWords feature that lets advertisers specify details for their locations. Those with many locations can have the correct details appear based on a searcher's location.
In mobile pay-per-call terms, the closest location's number automatically shows up in the ad. This is important, not only to call the right business, said Chatterjee, but increases overall ad performance. Specifically, ads that include local phone numbers are being clicked between 5 and 30 percent more than those without.
This isn't just the phone number itself being activated more often, but the URL CTRs were also higher – surmised to be a result of the legitimacy and local relevance that these phone numbers lend to the overall ad.
Additionally, ads that get more calls will receive a higher quality score, just as they do with clicks. So not only are they priced the same, but they have the same impact on future rankings. Chatterjee asserts this is to prevent "punishing" ads that might get less clicks because they're getting more calls instead.
Activating and tracking pay-per-call in the existing AdWords "workflow" is hoped to be an additional appeal. Chatterjee alludes to a separate science that could develop around building ad groups that are meant to drive mobile calls specifically.
"If you look at traditional pay-per-call, it's a bit hard to tie calls to keywords and campaigns," Chatterjee said. "Here you can go into AdWords and segment your campaign performance by click type, and see per-campaign, per-ad group, or per-keyword, how many calls you got."
(Also see what Yext is developing in this area)
The question that remains, however, is whether Google will eventually decouple the call monetization from AdWords clicks. Like all things Google, there's no way to know for sure. But it could start to monetize calls separately after it gets the ball moving among mobile advertisers.
For now, bundling them together falls right in line with Google's general strategy for simplifying mobile options within AdWords. For maximum scalability and appeal to early stage mobile advertisers, the thinking goes, keep it simple.
"We already had Local Extensions, we just made it available and clickable on high end phones," Chatterjee said. "Create a campaign once, and it shows up in many places. The goal is to make things simple and scalable and this is just one example. Hopefully we'll see more."