It appears that Google has renewed testing of “click-to-call”, a system which allows searchers to contact local businesses via a free phone service. Users simply enter their phone number and Google does the rest, including paying for the calls.
Google tested “click-to-call” in 2005 and 2006 with an eye towards implementing pay-per-phone call advertising models. However, in June of last year Google stopped accepting click-to-call advertisers and the ads stopped showing up.
At the time, Google said “we are always working to improve the local search experience. We are constantly testing new features and iterating based on feedback from our users. Click-to-call was a valuable experiment that enabled us to learn more about the preferences of our users. While we are no longer providing this service, we expect to incorporate our findings into future developments for Google Maps.”
Which is exactly what they have done. Min Zeng from the Google Maps Team has said that if you “search for a business, like a hardware store, on Google Maps, and click the ‘call’ link next to its phone number. Then, enter your phone number and click ‘Connect For free.’ Google calls your phone number and automatically connects you to the hardware store.”
He also advised that “we’re providing the ‘call’ link as a free service to all businesses. These aren’t ads and don’t influence the ranking of businesses in the search results. We foot the bill for calls (local and long distance), but airtime fees or other mobile fees will still apply if you use a mobile phone number. Currently, the calling feature works if you live in the U.S. and are looking for a business located in the U.S.”
So, why would Google be testing something that they didn’t see as a success last time? My guess is that Google has recognized the power of mobile/cell phones (especially the iPhone) and has realized that a one touch to call through a mobile/cell phone can be a pretty powerful revenue generator. Feel free to let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.