The Art & Science of Call-Only Ads


Most local business owners have one concern: How do I make the phone ring?

why use call only ads

They stay up at night terrified that one day they’ll head to work and the phones are dead. Unfortunately, many local business owners are already experiencing this problem.

With map results shrinking, ad space increasing, and national brands owning organic results, local business owners are left feeling helpless.

Most local business owners we talk with have gone through a slew of agencies, ideas, and poor results. Conversely, most advertisers are having to convert at over 10% on their search campaigns to keep their local clients (with tough cost per acquisitions) happy and stuffed with leads.

Grim times indeed.

So what’s the solution? For bad agencies, not sure…but, for making the phone ring: Call Only Ads!

adwords call only ads

The Mind of the Searcher: 3 Questions to Ask

Before diving into call only campaigns, let’s take a moment to place ourselves in the mind of our searcher. What issues is this person trying to solve?

  • Is their issue immediate?
  • Would it make more sense for them to search from their mobile device?
  • Does talking to someone make them feel more comfortable to buy?

If the answer to these questions is yes, yes, and yes then you are starting to be a good fit for call only ads.

Preparing Internally for Your Call Only Ad Campaign

Okay, we have determined that our industry is a good fit and that AdWords is important, but is our actual business a good fit for call only ads?

To prepare correctly, we will need the following in place:

  • Call tracking to record the calls.
  • A trained staff and a clear goal for next steps, i.e. consultation, proposal, in-person visit, etc.

To test your preparedness, have a friend call your business and put the call on speaker phone. What is the experience like? Did it take a long time to pick up? Was the staff friendly? Did they put you on hold? The sales funnel needs to be tight so that you don’t lose the lead.

Once you have the basics in place you are ready to build your call only campaign. We've found that a lack of preparedness and training of the staff who answers the phone is a large reason for poor-performing call only campaigns and abandoned calls.

Building Your Call Only Ad Campaign

Setting up a successful campaign is more art than science. But, to make sure the artist in you is successful, let’s make sure to set up clear process for success.

There is an assumption here that you know how to set up a campaign, so we will not go into that part. Here, we will dive into the thought process behind building a successful campaign. For basic step-by-step instructions or help see the AdWords blog.

Step 1: Understand the Market

Take a moment to perform searches from your phone for your top keywords.

call only ads competition

Analyze the ads showing up on your phone:

  • Do they answer the searcher's intent?
  • Are they call only ads or are they text ads?
  • Are they running any promotions?
  • What’s their price point?
  • Are they local as well?

By asking yourself these questions, you will begin to plan the foundational keys to a successful call only campaign:

Craft ad copy that allows a searcher to feel comfortable enough to press call. What questions can we answer that they don’t even realize they have?

Are you worth their click? Let’s make sure of it!

Step 2: Select Your Keywords

In every campaign there is plenty of room for data analysis. But given the theme of this post, I would like us to step away from analyzing search volume and CPC.

Instead, let’s analyze the intent behind our keywords. Let's make sure that the searcher's intent fits with our goal: getting the “right” calls.

Ask: What keyword modifiers for my industry would make a searcher more likely to call? 

Here are a few keywords to get the juices flowing:

  • keyword +near
  • +local keyword
  • keyword +quote
  • keyword +city

call only ad data

Tip: After looking through internal search term reports from our MCC, we found that advertising with creative copy on large competitor's brand terms can be a successful barnacling tactic for call only campaigns. Simple reasoning, most national brands do a poor job owning their brand SERP with correctly localized call only ads.

Step 3: Craft Your Ad Copy

Your ad copy is your landing page when it comes to call only ads. If you want to be successful, in the words of @larrykim, you better be a Unicorn. 

unicorn ads

We need to convince the searcher that our ad deserves their thumb. Start by addressing these questions:

  • How much will it cost?
  • Are you trustworthy?
  • Is your business close to me?
  • Who will I be speaking with?

Below is a collection of some of my favorite call only ads:

call only ad examples

Step 4: Listen to your calls

AdWords is about your approach and feedback loop from the customer. Advertisers with the tightest customer feedback loop win in the long term.

By installing call tracking/recording, you can now listen to the concerns your customers are explaining. By then taking this information and applying it to your ad copy (REMEMBER! It’s your landing page for call only), you can begin to increase conversion rates and begin your journey towards unicorn land.

Furthermore, we can take this information and parse through our search term reports. Do we have the correct ad copy for keywords that are receiving clicks? Do we answer their localized intent?

Wrapping it all up

As advertisers, it is time that we worry less about the data and more about the context.

  • Are phone calls most valuable in this industry?
  • What is the need of the searcher? Is it immediate?
  • What does the SERP landscape look like?
  • What are the searchers expectations when they call?
  • Why would they call us instead of someone else?
  • Does our ad copy answer any questions they might have or need to know before they feel comfortable to call?

By considering these questions, you can take an average local search campaign and turn it into a high-powered, phones-ringing-off-the-hook call only campaign.

The proof is in the pudding. By simply answering these theoretical questions in our day-to-day AdWords management, you can see the success of a maid service campaign from the last 30 days.

call only campaign data

In sum, step out of the platform, analyze your landscape, and be the best answer for your searchers’ intent.

About the Author

Garrett Mehrguth is the President and CEO of Directive Consulting, a digital marketing agency specializing in industry leading SEO, PPC, and content marketing. Garrett actively writes for top thought leaders throughout the industry on all things digital marketing.



Jan 07, 2016

How do I get one of those unicorn mugs! those are amazing!

Aug 31, 2016

Yes! And her phone case too! :-) Great article, thanks!

Corey Zeimen
Jan 14, 2016

I have been surprised how many people click the call only ads to be completely disqualified lately. If you have the time to screen calls, the value is clearly there, but not if you don't!

Jun 14, 2016

I tried do call-only ads and I raised my bid really high, like 3 to 5 times what I do for normal campaigns, and I still got almost no impressions. About 15 impressions (no clicks) in over a week when normally in that time I might get 50 or 100 clicks. Any idea how to fix this?

Jun 17, 2016

Hi Eric,

It is hard to give you an exact answer without knowing more about your campaign. The need to increase your CPC might be caused by a decrease in quality score. You should check to see if the quality scores in your call-only campaign match up to the quality scores in your normal campaign. A reason for the lack of impressions could be the result of going from desktop, tablet and mobile ads to mobile only. This could have a huge impact on impressions if you are in the B2B space. If your industry tends to thrive on mobile, keep in mind that you are now going against your competitor's mobile bid adjustments or aggressive mobile-only campaigns, this could be another reason for the increase in CPC. I hope some of this helps!

Important: Be sure that your average position is at least 3. If this is not the case, your ads will receive minimal interactions.

Please feel free to respond with more details about your campaign so that I can give you a better answer!


Feb 16, 2018

Brad....why would you want to be in an average position of 3 when if I am this first in mobile, I can typically dominate most of the screen with traditional contextual ads? What is the theory here? Would you still set up ad extensions to help you squeeze out the competition? Also, why would my call only ads seem to be so sensitive to cpc increases based on the competitive mobile sounds more unique here in your explanation than other times. Any competitors bid adjustment strategies always influence individual bid strategies. - just wanted clarity

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