Call-Only Ads Are Ruining Mobile Results

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Adwords call extensions are an invaluable feature for PPC advertisers who want to drive phone calls to their business. Up until a few weeks ago, you could choose how call extensions appeared on mobile devices. The ad could be clickable, driving visitors to your website; or it could be set up as call-only, where the only thing the user could do is place a call to your business from their device.

A few weeks ago, Google rolled out call-only ads and took away the option to have call-only call extensions. Those of us who were successfully using that option were forced to create brand new campaigns, called call-only campaigns, for these extensions.

We have a client whose primary goal is to drive phone calls. They do have responsive landing pages with a lead form, but they’d really prefer that prospects call them. So we were using call-only extensions for mobile, and getting great results from them. When the mandate for Google call-only ads & campaigns came, we created new call-only campaigns for this client. I figured call-only campaigns would be a boon for us, as in many ways we’d now have control over mobile budgets again.

So, we launched our new call-only ads and campaigns – and watched them get virtually no impressions.

mobile impressions 1
It’s clear from the data that most of the mobile impressions were still going to the main campaign, not the call-only campaign. So, on June 30, we excluded mobile from the main campaign with a -100% bid modifier, in an effort to force traffic over to the call-only campaign. You can see in the table that impressions for the week of 6/29 decreased by about 2/3 – and the call-only campaign decreased too, which was the opposite of what I expected.

Well, the week of 6/29 included July 4 and a nice 3-day weekend. We didn’t take action right away, knowing the holiday likely affected search volume. Indeed, impressions were down across the board for the week of 6/29.

But what happened last week, the week of 7/6?

mobile impressions 2
Yikes. Impressions rebounded for the call-only campaign, to their highest point yet. But they’re still nowhere near the levels they were before, when mobile was turned on in the main campaign.

Even worse, conversions are way down:

mobile conversions
This really tells the story. While conversions have steadily increased on the call-only campaign, they’re not coming close to replacing the conversions we were getting from mobile in the main campaign prior to call-only campaigns launching. And impressions are down 70%.


Now, I realize that call-only ads only show on devices that are capable of making calls, and this wasn’t the case before. But you can’t tell me that less than 2/3 of mobile devices aren’t call-capable.

I’m at a loss to explain what’s happening here. It seems like we can’t win: either we turn mobile back on for the main campaign, and then have people clicking through to the website from mobile, which the client doesn’t want; or we lose 70% of our impressions and a bunch of conversions.

Some people are raving about call-only campaigns, but I’m left feeling super frustrated. And I know there’s confusion in the marketplace about exactly how these ads work.

What’s your experience been with call-only campaigns? What am I doing wrong here? I’m open to suggestions – bring it!

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  1. This is about how I expected things to go. Even Mobile searchers like to have the choice to visit a website OR click-to-call. Forcing a new pattern on an existing user base who has had the choice for a while almost never turns our how you intended. Just like, ahem, forcing Enhanced campaigns and rolling Tablet into Desktop search on a savvy marketer base.

    I don’t see Call-Only as an alternative for most businesses, but more of an entry point for those businesses (mostly local) who want calls over website visits, or who do not have a viable mobile site to send visitors to.

    I’d probably turn the original back on and count on it for main results while giving Call-Only time to work itself out.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Thanks James. That’s probably what I’m going to do. Weird thing is, we were using call-only extensions in the old campaign – you couldn’t click through on those ads either. That’s why these results surprised me so much.

      • Yea, that is weird. Are both campaigns using the same or similar Ad Copy?

        • Melissa Mackey says

          Same ad copy as we were using before the switch. Ads differ by device: Mobile ads say “call us” while desktop ads say “download” because the LP CTA is to download a white paper, which few on mobile will do. That’s why we want to drive calls from those with a phone in their hand.

  2. Kurt Henninger says

    Had very similar experiences with drops in Impressions using Call-Only campaigns versus Call Extensions on traditional campaigns for numerous clients. Also enough of a drop in conversions to have clients notice and ask, “What Is happening to My Phone Calls?”

    Oddly enough ….when I’ve manually tested campaigns where I ran still ran traditional call extensions, the ads are still Click To Call Only enabled versus giving an option to call versus going to the website.

    So, my solution has been to keep the “older” call extension enabled campaigns running in while I let things get sorted out.

    Also, at least for local campaigns, there is a weird confluence of ads for “nearby businesses” which are taking up the top 2-3 ad positions on mobile devices as well for local queries.

    Hard to sort all of it out at the moment.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Very interesting, Kurt. It’s sounding more and more like I need to turn mobile back on for the main campaign just to salvage calls. You’d think Google would want to preserve the click revenue they’re losing on this, but maybe not. Thanks for the insight!

  3. Interesting stuff. Wonder if it has to do with Google trying to better assess what type of ads to show people, like only showing call-only ads to people who like to call or something like that. Is the conversion rate of the new call-only campaign greater than what you were seeing in your old campaign prior to launching the call-only campaign?

    • Melissa Mackey says

      That could be. Conversion rate on mobile is up almost 75% from what it was before the new call-only campaign. Sadly, that’s not enough to cancel out the low volume, so we’re still down in overall numbers. I sure hope that isn’t a new tweak to Google’s algorithm. Food for thought – thanks Andy!

  4. I am running them on a bail bonds website, and it is going gang-busters. CPA is fantastic, client said calls usually dip during the summer, but not this summer (likely because we’re early adopters of the new format). My thought on the Call only campaigns is that Google is trying to make ad formats for different verticals, and the bail bond is a vertical that has always been highly mobile + call-centric. My guess is that the results may be vertical or even user-intent dependent. I’d be curious if your impressions stayed the same for your high intent terms vs your informational or broader terms.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Well I’m glad someone is having luck with it! You’re probably right about the verticals. We’re seeing lower impressions on mobile across the board – probably because this is a B2B client. Still, it’s annoying to see what was a great channel reduced to nothing overnight. I’ll dig into it further by keyword sets to see if I can glean anything more. Thanks for the insight!

  5. The other elements that could be playing a part are:

    * Google could be assuming lower CTR on these ads vs the extension-based ads

    * Google search partner impressions may not be possible as perhaps these ads cannot be displayed on Partner network sites.

    * It would be interesting to see how the match type click share appears on the original vs call only campaigns. Could shed some light.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Steve, thank you for these ideas. Going to do some additional research on match type click share and also look at the impact of search partners. Appreciate the suggestions!

      • The other aspect mentioned by Jerry is also interesting. It’s definitely worth comparing CPCs and rank on the new vs old.

        It’s hard to get impression share on mobile (on generics) because, as Jerry says, there are really only 2 spots in play that matter.

  6. We too were excited to drive calls with the new Call Only Ad Format.
    We switched two clients who had been achieving great results with Mobile call ads and call extension campaigns.

    Both accounts fell off the map. Initially NO impressions for a few days, then slowly more impressions. Zero phone calls.
    After a week we had received just 1% of the mobile campaigns call volume. Unfortunately, all 6 of those calls were bogus. No idea why.

    Ultimately we suspected the low impression volume was due to two factors.
    1. The campaign was competing with same/similar keywords and bids in the other campaigns.
    2. Since Call Only is new, highly competitive and the top two positions are the only ones worthy.. CPC would be higher than our bids.

    Unfortunately, the suggested bids were between $48 and $89 per call.

    We turned off call only and reverted back to establishing the old setup – as close as we could with the new features – and calls have returned to the mobile ad and call only campaigns but not at the rate of their former glory.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Yikes. Good to know, Jerry. Sounds like that’s the direction we’re headed too. Crazy that Google can’t make this thing work. Maybe it’s a way for them to make up their flagging mobile CPC revenue?

  7. Mel,

    Love the article and thanks for throwing out the stats. Part of me feels that call only campaigns were really designed for local businesses and there is some sort of local algo in place for that. But it could easily be a conversion algo on the back end.

    As all of us know, Google is FAR FROM PERFECT! There algorithms are fallible like any human is, mostly because it’s humans writing the algorithms.

    Interested to see everyone’s input

    Oh one more thought… Google may have always intended for call campaigns to be in competition with the normal campaigns as a way to raise mobile CPCs (and it looks like it may be working as that was one of their biggest revenue drivers this last quarter)

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Yes, my tinfoil antenna is twanging hard on this one. Well I’m going down swinging on this one Google!

  8. I’m currently having this same problem, I’ve initially migrated just one campaign to CTC to see how it goes and the results have been terrible. Impressions slowed to a trickle and one of the two (!) keywords to get impressions has randomly had its quality score slashed to 1/10 (its equivalent in a desktop campaign is 6). The quality score thing is particularly irritating since the keyword has had no clicks, so there’s no post-click behaviour to justify such a low score that ensures it’ll likely never trigger an ad again.

    I got in touch with a Google representative who gave me odd advice – adding a mobile bid adjustment (on a campaign that’s only capable of showing on mobile?) and raising the campaign budget (not bid). Neither action has had any effect whatsoever so today I’ve reactivated the call extensions on the desktop campaigns. It’s a shame because on paper CTC ads make great sense and I’d like to use them for certain clients but they now pose too much of a risk.


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