Demystifying Call Tracking In AdWords

Recently, I’ve been helping more companies in the local vertical; and for many of them, the ultimate goal of buying search ads is to get a phone call from a new prospect. Tracking these types of offline conversions has always been complicated, and I have to admit that one of the product areas I found most confusing while I worked at Google was anything related to showing and tracking phone numbers in ads.

The reason for the confusion is that Google’s call-related solutions have very similar sounding names yet are reported in different ways. It’s crazy to me that tracking results for businesses that are usually the least online marketing-savvy is the most complicated. In this post I’ll share the different ways to show phone numbers and track calls in AdWords.

Different Places To Show Phone Numbers With Online Ads

Advertisers that want phone calls should provide their prospect a phone number at each touchpoint to maximize their chances of getting the call. There should be a number with the ad on the search results, on the landing page after the user clicks the ad, and in display ads you show users through remarketing after they’ve left your site. Each of these touchpoints requires a different implementation.

1. Show A Phone Number In AdWords Ads

The first interaction with your prospect is when they see your ad on the search results. It’s well worth showing a number here because, according to a recent Google study, 70% of users have called an advertiser directly from the results page rather than clicking on the ad. In the past, you could simply put your number in the ad text; but, since this is now against policy, advertisers should leverage call extensions:

Call Extensions On Desktop

Call Extensions on desktop allow advertisers to show a trackable phone number with their ads.

On a mobile device, call extensions are shown as “Call” buttons (pictured below). They look different, but they’re coming from the same settings in AdWords.

Call extensions on mobile

Call Extensions on mobile devices hide the phone number but allow users to initiate a call to the advertiser.

Call extensions can be set at the ad group level — so if you want, you can show a different number for each ad group. You should consider showing numbers with different area codes if you have different ad groups for different cities. For example, a company that services the entire San Francisco Bay Area could show a phone number with the 415 prefix for ad groups with “San Francisco” keywords and a 650 prefix for ad groups that have keywords for “Palo Alto,” thereby reinforcing the local nature of their business.

One of the best things about showing a phone number through a call extension on a desktop or tablet is that there’s no charge when the user calls the number, even when using Google Voice to track the calls. Here are the pros and cons of using a Google Voice tracking number versus your own number in call extensions.

Benefits of Using Your Own Number

  • If users write it down, they’ll always be able to reach you because it’s your number.
  • You can show a local number with your own area code, reinforcing the idea that you are a local provider that is close to users.

Benefits of Using a Free Google Voice Tracking Number

  • When you use a GV number, Google can track the number of calls that are connected and how long these last. They can report calls of a certain length as conversions.
  • Google reports these calls at the ad group level so you can see which ad groups have a good cost per call.

2. Tracking Phone Calls From Your Website

If the user doesn’t call the number shown with your ad and decides to visit your site first, you can still track calls. However, the implementation is now a bit different. A quick and dirty solution is to show a special number that you don’t use anywhere else on all the landing pages for AdWords ads so when that number rings, you’ll know it was someone who clicked on your Google ad.

Unique Phone Number For AdWords Helps Advertisers Track Calls

Use a special phone number on your landing page that is only shown to users who clicked your AdWords ads for simple phone tracking.

A more sophisticated approach that’s still easy to set up is to use a call tracking system that dynamically shows different phone numbers to users who click your ads. Services like ifByPhone, Mongoose Metrics, LogMyCalls and a slew of others all provide this service from about $150 per month, depending on how many calls you get.

The basic principle of how they operate is very similar and goes something like this:  based on your estimated number of monthly visitors, they calculate how many unique phone numbers are needed to be able to show a different number for each click.

Having one number per click would be exorbitantly expensive, so they have technology that rotates the numbers in such a way that allows tracking each call back to a single ad click. So when a user clicks an ad, they see a unique number. If that number gets a call, it’s associated with that click. If no call happens and a certain amount of time passes, the number goes back into the pool and can be shown to another user who clicked your ad.

Dynamic Phone Numbers For AdWords Ads

Use dynamic phone number insertion on the landing page so you can track which keywords drive the most calls.

The data they collect can be sent to Google Analytics, where you can count it as a goal completion, and from there, you can feed it back into AdWords as a conversion. The beauty of this solution is that call conversion data is put into AdWords so you can use it to set the right bids and do optimizations to help meet your goals.

Most of these tracking providers can even record the calls, so if you’re ever unsure about the quality of the leads or how good your sales people are at selling, you can just listen to the calls to figure it out.

3. Tracking Numbers In Display Ads

To show tracking numbers in display ads, you have to add the number into the ad manually. Your best bet here is to set aside a few unique numbers and use one in each campaign. You won’t have granular details, but at least you’ll have some sense of whether remarketing and display ads are driving calls. Google provides some limited options for call extensions in display ads, but they’ll only work on mobile and they can’t be tracked as conversions.

Tracking Phone Calls In Reports

Now that you’re showing tracking numbers at all touchpoints related to AdWords, it’s time to look at reports and see how your campaigns are performing. Thanks to Google’s enhanced call extensions that can use Google Voice to connect calls, it’s now possible to see call data inside AdWords reports.

Before Google Voice integration, they had no way of telling what happened after a user clicked a phone number with their mobile device. So while they could report a click on a phone number, they had no idea whether that call connected and if so, how long it lasted. If a large portion of those calls went unanswered because there wasn’t anyone staffing your phones or if calls were usually quick and didn’t lead to sales, they simply couldn’t tell.

Consolidating The Call Reports

If you have call tracking at all touchpoints, you’ll have at least two different systems that are reporting: one for calls before a click, and one for calls after a click. While all the data can be consolidated in AdWords, making sense of the reports can be a bit of a challenge. So here’s a sample AdWords campaign report where I’ve enabled the segment “Click type.”

If you read this particular example incorrectly, you might easily be undervaluing your results by 20% or by as much as 50%. Take a look at the numbered legend below the screenshot to see where it’s easy to lose count of total conversions.

Click-type conversion reporting in AdWords

Make sure you count all conversions, both from clicks and calls. The numbered list below explains how to read this AdWords report. (Click for larger version.)

  1. These rows are calls tracked by Google before a click happened, so they may report calls and call conversions, but never clicks.
  2. As in point 1, this is call tracking so any conversion that happens would be a call conversion. Because these are calls, there should never be data for regular AdWords or Google Analytics conversions (those can only happen after a click).
  3. As in point 1, this is call tracking, so these are the only columns where you might have data. Call conversions from these columns are NOT added to conversions in item 4.
  4. Conversions in this column are only conversions that result from a click, so they do NOT include call conversions. Good news for this campaign is that there are 4 regular conversions plus 1 call conversion.
  5. The true number of conversions for this campaign is between 5 and 10: 4 regular conversions (see box 4) + 1 call conversion (see box 3) + 5 mobile clicks-to-call (see box 5). The reason for the uncertainty is that with the 5 mobile clicks-to-call we have no way of knowing what happened (if the call even connected and how long it lasted), so these may have led to 0 conversions or as many as 5.

Take It To The Next Level: Track Only Calls That Turn Into Sales

If you want to get even more sophisticated and only assign a conversion if a call turned into an actual sale, that’s now finally possible thanks to offline conversion import. With this new functionality, you can store Google’s unique click ID (the gclid parameter) in your CRM, and once the sale is confirmed, upload the gclid back to Google. Then it will show which keywords led to conversions.

I know it took me a while to get my head around how to track phone call conversions, so hopefully this will help some of you as you work with call extensions and third-party call tracking services.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Paid Search Column


About The Author: is the founder and Chief Marketing Technologist of Top Tier Marketing, an online marketing agency specializing in AdWords. He is also the Cofounder of Optmyzr, an AdWords tool company that makes account management more efficient. Prior to forming Top Tier, Vallaeys spent 10 years building AdWords and teaching advertisers how to get the most out of it as the Google AdWords Evangelist.

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  • Mongoose Metrics

    Nice overview of call tracking! It really is the missing piece of the ROI puzzle isn’t it?

    I just wanted to note that you can now also view sales/revenue data from calls right in AdWords with the new Google AdWords Conversion Import feature. Mongoose Metrics is actually the first call tracking company to offer this Google approved integration. (This announcement from the Inside AdWords blog has more:

    Again, great article. And thanks for the mention of Mongoose!

  • Steve Cameron

    Good article.

    I have found Call Tracking to be a massive help for customers whose ad response is call based. Being able to run the tracking through Analytics and back into AdWords as a conversion is an account manager’s dream.

    Being based in Spain we have had difficulty setting this up for local clients – but Call Tracking Metrics now offer numbers for a number of countries other than just the US & UK wihch is where we found other alternatives to fall short.

    We don’t pay any set up or connection charges, it’s a simple cost per minute model so it lends itself to PPC – it’s just a direct addition to the cost per conversion. And MM are right – it is the missing piece of the puzzle. The old adage that “half of my advertising is wasted, I just don’t know which half” no longer holds water – we can tell you exactly which half!

  • LogMyCalls

    Great article about call tracking!

  • ClikTree

    Great article. I love some of the call tracking features out there. Adwords allows you to import Google Analytics conversions now also. We combine this feature to track 1st time website phone calls as conversions in Adwords.

  • APP

    What is the difference between mobile click to call and mobile phone calls in the screenshot above?


  • Sinishta

    Wow. So many ways to track call conversion. Another easiest option is to ask the caller about the source while conversation..

  • Amin Haq

    Thank you for writing this article and for explaining so well all the options that are available to marketers to measure true ROI. I work with AvidTrak and our platform integrates call tracking data with Adwords data such that online conversions and phone call conversions are manifested separately for each keyword. Capturing this distinction in conversion type is important for marketers who value phone leads over form leads.

  • Frederick Vallaeys

    Hi there,

    “Mobile phone calls” are when the user clicks the call button on a mobile device and is connected through Google Voice. In this case, Google tracks the entire call and can show it as a call conversion if it is long enough.

    “Mobile click-to-call” is when Google cannot track the entire call because it does NOT go through Google Voice. In this case they can only report that someone when to their mobile phone’s dialer by clicking your number but there is no way to know if the call connected and how long it lasted.

    Hope that helps…

  • ClikTree

    I love old school!

  • Sinishta

    Me too!

  • Frederick Vallaeys

    Google just announced that call conversions will now be added to regular conversions so that means you no longer need to add call conversions to regular conversions to get your true conversion total. Here’s their announcement:

    “Starting in early November 2013, mobile phone call conversions from click-to-call ads will be included in the Conversions column in campaign reports. Including calls from mobile search ads as standard conversions lets you take advantage of optimization solutions like Conversion Optimizer and eCPC bidding. Measuring calls as conversions is an important part of understanding the full value of your AdWords marketing. To view call conversions, segment your conversion reporting using the new conversion action, ‘Calls from ads’.”

  • Kevin Dale

    Thanks for this data! I’m wondering if it’s possible to get a gclid when a customer calls directly off an ad. We are uploading conversions to adwords but don’t have a gclid for direct callers.

  • CT Chong

    Very informative article.

    From the perspective of a small company from a country that the call tracking system services you mentioned above were not available, tracking call seems to be a very difficult task.

    We are considering using different phone extension numbers for different adgroups. These phone extensions numbers will appear in the Ad’s “call extensions” and landing pages of specific adgroups.

    We will log the phone extension numbers that the callers made. From the phone extension numbers, we will know which adgroup is performing well. Such tracking method is definitely not detail enough. We will not know the performance of keywords. We can only know which Adgroup leads to call.

    There are more problems in setting up. Since we have limited phone extensions number in our PBX system, we can only assign a few phone extensions number to a few adgroups that incur higher cost and attract many clicks. This is to monitor whether these adgroups are effective in driving leads.

    I also doubts whether the PBX system can assign a few phone extensions number to ONE phone receptionist, with proper log of the phone extension number that people dialed to call in. More over, the conversion tracking is now definitely not in Adwords or Analytics dashboard, but in my Excel worksheet.

    But such data will provide us information enough to improve adgroups or to drop adgroups, etc. And may be we can compare the same adgroup in different months when we used different landing pages. The requirements are not sophisticated, but the setup I mentioned above seems…clumsy.

    Is there a better way for small company like us?

  • Outleads Team

    This is a great explanation of tracking and understanding online and offline AdWords conversions. On a further note, Outleads ( just released a call tracking system that integrates with form submission tracking and allows users to segment these conversions for sophisticated retargeting advertising, like callers that didn’t convert or callers interested in a specific product. We track phone calls on some 3rd party websites, as well. It’s all done with just one phone number, so if you were always intimidated by maintaining a complicated web of forwarding phone numbers, we resolved that issue, too.


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