Google is testing a pay-per-call feature in ads appearing on its search engine results pages.
Some searchers have begun to see a phone icon next to the company's sponsored listings. By clicking on the icon, they can enter a phone number and click a "Connect for Free" button to be linked up to the other party.
Google's system first calls the search user, then dials the merchant and makes the connection.
The company details the offering in a FAQ item on its site. In its description, Google tries to head off privacy concerns, saying it will store a person's phone number and call information for less than four months.
"We won't share your telephone number with anyone, including the advertiser," according to the FAQ. "When you're connected with the advertiser, your number is blocked so the advertiser can't see it. In addition, we'll delete the number from our servers after a short period of time."
It's not clear whether advertisers in the test are paying for the service, whether it's in the U.S. only, or what the bidding/pricing structure for leads it generates will eventually be.
Reached for comment, Google confirmed it is conducting "limited tests" of a pay-per-call model, but declined to give more information.
Blogger and tech consultant Greg Yardley was among the first to spot the feature, and he's posted some screen captures on his blog. Tests appeared on search results for the query "refinance," a keyword likely to attract advertisers that would highly prize phone leads.
Presuming it receives a wide roll-out, the Google service will be a formidable competitor to existing providers of pay-per-call technology, including Ingenio, eStara, VoiceStar and Jambo.
Pay-per-call is widely thought to be a powerful local marketing channel in the making. A JupiterResearch study found almost half of small businesses are receptive to pay-per-call online advertising. Kelsey Group, meanwhile, predicted the pay-per-call market will grow to between $1.4 and $4 billion by 2009.
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March 19, 2014