Search & Call Extensions: Tips & Best Practices

Chances are, the last time you Googled a local or national service-based business, you came face-to-face with a "call extension" button.  That's just the clinical term for the call icon that appears as part of a sponsored search result in mobile.

Call extensions have become one of the most popular features added to Google AdWords in recent years. It’s an impossibly easy way for consumers who are searching on mobile devices to click a phone number and connect to a business.  Behind the scenes, that phone call counts as a "click" that debits from an advertiser's account.  Google reports that tens of millions of phone calls are placed from these mobile click-to-call ads each month.

With the recent launch of Enhanced Campaigns, Google has added even more new features to call extensions. Since a phone call is the most popular response to a local search and a quality phone call is likely to convert into a sale, it would seem that now is as good a time as ever for advertisers to adopt this feature.



Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it sounds. And here’s why:

1. All Calls Are Not Created Equal – For many AdWords campaigns, more than half of the phone calls generated will be either customer service phone calls or unintended phone calls.  Each keyword will produce a different mix of these calls, and measuring this is critical to your success in acquiring new prospects.

2. Accidental Phone Calls Happen More Than You Think – Have you ever accidentally ”butt-dialed” a business, an old flame or your poor mother?   Across the country, 911 operators have reported dangerous volumes of accidental phone calls.  Generally speaking, the more your ad is displayed, the more likely you are to receive accidental calls.  One way to measure the impact to your campaign from accidental calls is to assign a positive value only to a call that has reached a minimum duration, thereby qualifying it as a two-way conversation.

3. Use Multiple Tracking Numbers Whenever You Can – The most effective way to understand how keywords and campaigns impact consumer intent is to use multiple tracking numbers.  Google’s Enhanced Campaigns allow you to add up to 20 call extensions to each campaign or ad group. Google reports the duration for any calls generated via this channel. Metrics beyond duration require third-party call tracking lines to measure each call’s effectiveness. 

4. Use Phone Trees, or “IVRs”, To Signal Intent –Consider your phone tree (“press 1 for sales, press 2 for service”) to be the equivalent of a landing page.  In the call center world, these phone trees are called IVRs, and they are a simple way to understand the reason for each incoming call.  These IVRs can be used to route calls to the proper agents and have the ancillary benefit of thwarting “butt-dials.” 

5. Tie Your Call Data to Your Call Center – In the digital world, dynamic tracking pixels and site tags do much of the work to link a keyword click to an online action.  In the call world, you need to talk to your call center director and ask for a report of the calls that your campaigns produce.  Many call centers will be able to supply a specific destination phone number for your campaign to supply you with high-level ROI information.  And while you’re at it, ask the call center when they are open.  One of the biggest mistakes I see is sending phone calls to an unstaffed or closed location.

As more and more consumers make phone calls directly from a digital or mobile experience, marketers finally have the opportunity to explain, with precision, how online campaigns translate into offline revenue.

Now stop reading and head back to the phone. Someone is calling!

3 comments about "Search & Call Extensions: Tips & Best Practices".
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  1. Neil Mahoney from Mahoney/Marketing, August 7, 2013 at 3:31 p.m.

    Despite the number of accidental calls, and I doubt the percent would be very large, I'd credit these calls as more important than a click. I believe they'd be as important as a download of your sales materials posted on your site.

    To me, clicks are no more important than readership scores were in the old days

  2. Brandon Fluharty from ReachLocal, August 7, 2013 at 5:55 p.m.

    I agree with Neil that campaigns that only track visits are a bit 2004. At my company, we track phone calls (desktop and mobile) and even optimize around good phone calls (90 secs or longer). This is what local business owners really want more than just visits to their site.

  3. John Busby from Marchex, August 14, 2013 at 11:55 a.m.

    Hi all - thank you for the comments! I agree with the sentiment that calls are a more attractive outcome for SMBs in many categories.

    @Neil - it may surprise you that in search as much a third of calls are accidental and this can be 75%+ in mobile display... so an important, and sometimes overlooked, factor to measure. Some more data here -

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