Google Jan. 28 took its AdWords click-to-call ad program out of beta, offering advertisers a potentially lucrative new way to connect with their target audiences through high-end smartphones with HTML Web browsers.
Click-to-call ads let advertisers add local business numbers alongside their destination URLs in mobile search ads. When users of smartphones, such as Apple's iPhone or Google's Nexus One, search for a local business from their mobile phone and stumble upon ads that have these numbers, they may simply click the number to call the business.
To help better connect searchers with the right business, click-to-call ads and their corresponding phone numbers are based on users' locations using Google Maps' My Location feature.
This is vital because it helps Google weed out local business results where there are multiple locations. For example, thanks to the cellular triangulation technology used in My Location, a person in New York City searching for a TGI Friday's restaurant will get a result and ad from a franchise in New York City instead of in Boston.
Advertisers can gauge the results of their ads by tracking how many calls they receive. Google explained its rationale for offering such ads, and how searches made on mobile devices differ from those on computers, in a blog post:
"When people search for goods or services using their mobile phones, they often prefer to call a store rather than visit that store's Website. Whether they're placing a direct order, making a reservation or inquiring about services, the ability for prospective customers to easily call your business is a key distinguishing feature of searches made on mobile phones versus computers."
BroadPoint AmTech analyst Benjamin Schachter said in a research note advertisers pay the same cost-per-click for a call as they would for a "click-through" to the destination URL.
Schachter added that a meaningful percentage of mobile queries are for phone numbers or local information, making a phone number associated with an ad a highly relevant component on a search engine results page. Schachter wrote:
""Given this relevance, we would expect high 'call-through rates' compared with click-through on a mobile text link (after all, the primary purpose of phones is to make calls). If widely adopted by advertisers (they can opt out), this new model could drive increased monetization of mobile searches and accelerate the timeline for mobile search to make a meaningful financial contribution for Google.""
Indeed, Paul Feng, Google's group product manager for mobile ads, told Search Engine Land just the "presence of a local phone number improved the performance of ads" in some of the early trials. Feng said that some advertisers in Google's beta tests had seen improved click-through-rates of 30 percent versus comparable ads on the PC.
One downside is that advertisers may prove to be unwilling to pay for these phone calls because finding a phone number has been considered an organic result, Schachter said. Advertisers may prefer not to pay for any resulting calls by opting out of having the phone number in a sponsored link.
Nevertheless, click-to-call ads underscore Google's continued dedication to making money from the mobile Web and it's plausible to believe Google will offer additional ways to leverage mobile ads, such as through GPS and other location-based mechanisms, in the future.
Those interested in seeing how click-to-call ads work should see this video here, along with instructions for how to implement click-to-call ads.