Search advertising was based on the premise that if you put the right information in front of consumers while they're looking for a product or service, they're likely to click on it.
However, mobile has ushered in another option. Now, instead of just clicking, customers can call or click to call. The difference isn't that stark. "A lot of people just go on our website and call us anyway," says Jay Lefiger, owner of the Chelsea Pines Hotel in New York and a Google AdWords Express user.
Providing a direct phone connection in a search ad saves a step for the customer, but also adds some complexity for the advertiser. After all, how are you supposed to keep track of how many of these incoming calls lead to sales?
Google has been providing the ability to click on an ad to call a merchant since early 2010. The company claims that having a clickable phone number in an ad leads to a 6 to 8 percent average increase in click-through rates. While traditional AdWords ads only charge you if someone clicks, Click-to-Call ads only charge you if someone actually calls. (A Google rep says the pricing for AdWords is the same regardless of whether it contains CTC. However, on a desktop, there's a separate bidding system that starts at $1; a call has to be longer than 30 seconds to warrant payment.)
Thankfully for merchants, Google's not the only game in town for CTC. Skype, now a unit of Microsoft, began offering CTC ads in July 2010. Skype added the functionality to display ads in December 2011. "Our goal is to make it as ubiquitous and friction-free as possible," says Sandhya Venkatachalam, GM of Skype's advertising and monetization. While some big advertisers, including Intuit's TurboTax, have signed on to Skype CTC, Venkatachalam acknowledges that "we’re early in this business. We're talking to a wide range of SMBs." Yahoo, the other possible entrant in CTC, doesn't currently offer the feature.
Comparatively, Google has the advantage of a preexisting AdWords client base to leverage for CTC. One such client is Lefiger, who spends $300 a month on AdWords ads with CTC. Lefiger is happy with the results, though he hasn't yet closely parsed the data. "Every call that comes in, we always ask 'How did you hear about us?'" Lefiger says. "We don't do much in the way of print anymore because it just doesn't work."
Similarly, Google doesn't offer detailed stats about CTC's efficacy beyond its 6 to 8 percent figure. But to address ROI concerns, the company introduced a product in November 2010 called Call Metrics, which assigns a new phone number to an ad, then tells you how many calls are coming to that number and how long they last. That way, if one ad appears to be more effective than another, you can put all your spending behind that more effective ad.
Richard Holden, director of product management for Google, says businesses should experiment to see what works. Some businesses are a better fit for CTC than others, though. "Local practicioners, lawyers—a lot of them get their business through lead generation," he says.
Obviously, if you're a Web-based business or you aren't interested in taking a lot of phone calls, though, CTC may not be for you. That said, most businesses don't disable the feature if they have the choice. Says Holden, "The opt-out rate is very low."
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