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Should Your Businesses Have a Phone Number In Its Ad Copy?

James Connell November 12, 2009 Category Digital Marketing

The debate about including a phone number in search ad copy has been going on for years.  The Nos argue that inserting a phone number takes important space away from your marketing message, and that if people call without clicking, it will lower your quality score, thereby driving up cost.  The Yesses often focus on the fact that if a searcher calls without clicking, you don’t pay for that click.  They also note that few advertisers include a phone number in their ads, so doing so can help your ad stand out.

Local Results Change The Equation

As Google increases its emphasis on local search results, it will become more and more important for local businesses to include a phone number somewhere in their ad.  Look at the following results page for a search for a plumber in Sacramento, CA.  The most eye-catching part of the page is the map of Sacramento with listings (And Phone Numbers) for seven local plumbers.  If you are advertising plumbing services in Sacramento, and you aren’t one of the seven listed next to the map, your ad is competing not only with all the other ads, but also with those seven listings.  Think of a searcher trying to find a plumber: will they click on an ad or two to see what the plumbers’ websites have to say, or will they pick up the phone and start calling around?  If they start calling, only one of the listed advertisers has a chance of getting the business. (Of course, the only way to knSacramento, CA Plumbersow what will really happen is to test.)

Ad Copy Can Generate 30% of Your Calls

When the Search Engine Marketers here at Path Interactive realized that we would have to test putting the phone number into ad copy for many of our clients, we also decided to find out exactly how many calls would be generated by the phone number in the ad.  To do this, we set up a unique phone number for each advertiser and ran that number in the ad.  So, if a searcher were to see an ad for Al’s Plumbing, the phone number in the ad would be 800-555-1212, but the phone number on the landing page would be 800-555-5555.  Doing so allowed us to easily separate out ad copy-generated calls from website-generated calls.  The results naturally varied by advertiser and industry, but for transactional businesses that generate many phone calls (such as plumbers), the ad copy phone number generated 30% of  each advertiser’s calls on average.

Getting 30% of your calls without paying for a click seems like a home run, but what about the argument that including a phone number in ad copy will hurt your quality score, thereby costing you more in the end?  Our data shows that although our clients’ click through rates did experience very small declines after we started running a phone number in ad copy, the declines were not large enough to affect quality score, and therefore the extra calls didn’t add any noticeable cost.

Test, Test, Test.

Of course, for most advertisers, ROI is the only true way to gauge the effectiveness of any advertising campaign, and testing is the only way to know whether including phone numbers in ad copy generates a higher ROI.  Many of our clients received a definite bump to both lead quantity and ROI, with little effect on lead quality.  For others, the calls generated by the ad copy weren’t as qualified as calls generated by their websites, and it turned out that their ROI was higher when their ads didn’t include a phone numbers.  This underscores the fact that the only way to know if your business should include a number in the ad copy is to test.  And, because the search engines are constantly refining their results pages, the only way to continue to know what will generate the best ROI is to keep testing.

Keep on testing!

James Connell is Search Director at Path Interactive

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