Click-to-call is the next big thing in Web advertising… but with a twist

business and consumers, google, marketing and advertising, search engines, technology

I just read on Darren’s Problogger.net site (via Threadwatch) that Google is testing out a pay-per-call feature in its AdWords program.

The way it works (so far in testing) is that Google places a little phone icon next to specific trial text ads where text AdWords ads are normally placed on the righthand side of Google search results pages.

When someone clicks on the phone icon, they get a call from Google and Google then connects them to the advertiser free of charge… of course, charging the advertiser an amount up to their max pay-per-call bid price.

IMHO, though, this is one layer away from being humungously useful to advertisers. As it’s currently implemented, I think a lot of folks (like me!) would be apt to read the small text ad, click through to the site, and then decide whether to call the company from *there* or not.

And by that point, there’s no easy way for the advertiser to know that I came via AdWords… which means that it’s basically flying under the ROI radar. This may not seem like a horrible problem, but let me tell you… for some advertisers (like one of my clients, who spends over $150,000 a month on AdWords alone!), it’s quite painful to wonder whether that cost-per-lead is unduly inflated because lots of customers are calling in their high-ticket orders rather than placing them on the company’s Web site directly. With the latter, this client can see the conversions via Google’s conversion tracker. With the former, the best the client can do is ask the purchaser “Where did you hear about us?” and 9 times out of 10, the person will say “Um, somewhere on the net” or maybe even “Google” but they’ll hardly know whether they spotted this firm via a natural or AdWords listing!

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So here’s my idea: One of these companies… Google, Yahoo!, or Microsoft (with its Ad Center, not yet released in the U.S.) should implement a special javascript code that displays — on the advertiser’s site! — a tailored-per-client toll-free number when the referrer is a ad-click from Google, Y! or Microsoft. If the visitor isn’t from one of their respective PPC programs, then the javascript code would default to simply showing the company’s own default toll-free number.

And one of the coolest things about this is that it’d be VERY hard to game or click-fraud. If the engine set, for instance, a minimum call length before charging (say, 15 seconds), you’re not going to get random “calling farms” in India making 16 second calls, IMHO :-).

Of course, really cheap-ass companies participating in the program could say “Oh, hi! Let me quickly get your number and call you back…” but — especially when high-ticket items or subscriptions are at stake — I don’t think such behavior is likely. The annoyance of that would likely offset too much potential revenue from customers.

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From at a technical perspective, I think this would be pretty easy to do. I understand that there might be some referrer-acknowledgement issues (e.g., people surfing in high-paranoid mode with referrer stuff turned off), but on the whole, I can imagine that advertisers would be willing to pay a premium for a visit + call… and consumers would be well-served, too.

What are your thoughts on this? Am I missing a key problem here?

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What do you think?