The ultimate guide to Google Ads call tracking

Category: Call tracking

Are you craving some marketing super-powers — like X-ray vision to see offline as well as online response rates to your campaigns? Maybe you’ve have heard whispers about the latest Google Ads call tracking techniques. If so, then it’s time to investigate…

Why track calls?

Judging the success of marketing campaigns relies on being able to measure the response rate. But for many businesses, it’s not so much about web forms or online sales — it’s about calls.

The trouble is, calls happen ‘offline’ and won’t appear in any traditional analytics data. This gap limits your ability to understand which campaigns are successful. For companies that rely on phone calls such as legal firms, those in the health sector or automotive companies, the inability to track calls makes running effective Google Ads campaigns impossible.

How to track calls

Today, there are a few methods that Google Ads advertisers can use to track calls. But each has pros and cons.

Use clicks/taps

Using a system like Google Tag Manager or by customising Google Analytics code, you can track when a user clicks (desktop) or taps (mobile) on your phone number. This is set up using a special ‘tel:’ link for the phone number. You can then configure this to send a custom ‘vent’ to Google Analytics (and other web analytics systems). Finally, you can set a goal in your analytics system based on this event.

While this method is free, there are significant limitations:

  • Very few desktop users will click on a phone number, so you won’t know when these calls occur
  • On many devices including most mobiles, clicking the phone number needs confirmation before placing the call. You won’t know whether the clicks resulted in an actual phone conversation
  • You have no information about the length or quality of the call. All clicks/taps are counted equally

While this method is straightforward for anyone experienced in web analytics to set up, you have to recognise that the final data will only record the basics. It’ll be incomplete and unreliable.

If telephone calls are important to your business, then you would be unwise to rely on this method which can easily lead to costly and damaging decisions being made because they’re based on inaccurate data.

Use Google Ads Click to Call

Google Ads offers its own call tracking system with the following capabilities:

  • Tracking a phone number displayed directly in an ad (from call-only ads, location and click-to-call extensions)
  • Tracking a phone number displayed on your site, to Ads visitors only
  • Tracking the length of phone calls to provide basic filtering of calls unlikely to be genuine enquiries

Google uses ‘forwarding numbers’ to track calls – the phone number displayed to your visitors is replaced by a number that tracks the call and diverts to your actual business number.

Setting up Ads call tracking is relatively complex, and is described in detail in Google’s 3,000 word article. It’s enough to make most of us feel giddy.

You’ll need to create the appropriate conversion settings and install multiple sets of code across your whole site (one for general conversion tracking, and one to ‘switch’ your normal business phone number to Google’s forwarding number).

Although this service is free to Ads advertisers, there are disadvantages with Google’s system:

  • You can only track Google visitors from Ads, so you will have no way to compare the effectiveness of other market channels such as social media, Bing, YouTube or Yahoo.
  • There is a limited choice of numbers (which area codes you can use) and availability varies by country
  • We’ve heard reports of poor call quality, or visitors not hearing normal ring tones

If you’re only interested in measuring Ads traffic and can accept a few limitations, then this system is a reasonable entry point into call tracking.

Use Mediahawk

Mediahawk’s industry-leading call tracking system overcomes all the disadvantages of tracking clicks/taps or using Ads forwarding numbers.

It’s proving highly popular because you can:

Like Ads, Mediahawk will forward calls to your preferred business number and can report on call length – but it includes many other features too, such as recording calls.

Reporting and measurement

Accurate reporting is a key reason to use call tracking of any kind. However, there are major differences in reporting capabilities depending on the type of call tracking you use.

For ‘click/tap’ call tracking, you will be restricted to reporting on when those events occur. These can be imported from Google Analytics and used as conversion in the Ads interface. You won’t know any more about the calls, or even that they were actually placed.

Google’s own call tracking can also be reported as a conversion, with the addition of the ability to track the length of calls and the caller’s area code. For instance, you can see an overview of calls as below:

Google call conversion report.

A comprehensive call tracking system like Mediahawk provides a wealth of other information for you to fine tune your marketing campaigns, including call reporting:

  • By keyword used
  • By landing page
  • And with call ‘assists’, for example if your Ads campaign first attracted the visitor, but they came back via another channel before calling

Because Mediahawk tracks all channels, the information you get is far more useful to your overall marketing, allowing you to judge the effectiveness of Ads against your other channels:

Mediahawk marketing channel report.

You also get the full details of every call, including phone numbers, recording, tags and more:

Paid search calls report from Mediahawk.

Ready for those marketing super-powers?

Call tracking still remains a mystery to many marketers — while others have spent their blood, sweat and tears trying to make it work using tools that really aren’t fit for purpose. But the key marketing insights you need are within easy reach with Mediahawk.

About the author - Natalia Selby

Marketing Executive at Mediahawk, with 20 years experience in analytics and content management.

Man and woman using laptops.
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