The Good, Bad & Ugly of AdWords Call-Only Campaigns

Paid Media Advertising

It seems like it has been the year of mobile for the past 5 years, so when Google launched call-only campaigns on February 20th, 2015, the paid search world applauded with enthusiasm. Amongst the good remarks about call-only campaigns, there are quite a few cons as well that you might be falling prey to.

I give you the good, the bad, and the ugly of call-only campaigns.

google call only ad

 Source: Google

The Good

Call-Oriented Businesses

For certain business, especially service based industries (e.g., restaurants, home services, automotive), call-only campaigns offer immediate value. The fewer steps you can provide in the conversion funnel, the better your conversion rate.

Cut Out Conversion Obstacles

Good news! If your website isn’t user or mobile-friendly, then forcing people to convert on mobile via calling may be the best option for you. Optimizing your website for conversions is no longer a problem with call-only campaigns. (Tweet this!)

adwords click to call

Targeted Ad Copy

You know a click on your call-only ad will result in a call, so you can customize your ad copy to be call oriented. Use CTAs like “Call Now,” “Speak To,” and “Call For” to emphasize clicking the ad will result in a phone call.

The Bad

Restricts User Choice

Take a step back and look at call-only ads from the user perspective. There are plenty of consumers who would rather visit a website than make a call. Call-only ads take away that option and force them to call. So these potential converting consumers may decide to pass on your ad.

The other component to this con is that you are missing out on the valuable UX data that comes with mobile website visits. Less traffic means less insights into how mobile users interact with your website.

Call-Only Campaign Set Up is a Time Suck

Currently, call-only campaigns can only be set up in the AdWords UI. Creating call-only campaigns in the UI can be a total time suck if you are creating multiple campaigns. Especially when it comes down to ad creation. Bulk ad creation and edits can be done with ease in the AdWords Editor. However, you can’t create, edit or even view call-only ads in the Editor.

Call Tracking Minimum Click Curse

Sadly, call-only campaigns still fall under the Google forwarding number curse. In case you don’t know, the Google forwarding number is only triggered if an ad group has received at least 30 clicks in the last 30 days.

Why should you care? Well, if you are relying solely on Google forwarding numbers to track call conversions, then you aren’t tracking those calls made from ad groups that suffer from the Google forwarding number curse. Don’t freak out too much! You are still getting those calls, but they are not tracking in AdWords. The easy work around is to get a third party call-tracking tool, like CallRail, if you still want the call data. (Tweet this!)

The Ugly

Paying for Click Abandonment

When a searcher clicks on a call-only ad, they aren’t directly placing a call. Clicking a call-only ad first populates a confirmation call window, like the one below, where the searcher can choose to continue or cancel the call. The ugly part is that you pay for that first click, not the click if they choose to continue with the call. Therefore, you’re paying for click abandonment while Google reaps the riches of that first click. (Tweet this!)

call only ad confirmation

Run One Mobile Campaign at a Time

The easiest way to set up a call-only campaign is duplicate a campaign and edit it to be call-only. Keep in mind that if you are targeting the same keywords in the original campaign as in the call-only campaign, then you run the risk that the keywords in both campaigns are competing against each other, thus increasing your CPC in the ad auction.

REMEMBER to decrease your original campaign’s mobile bid adjustment by 100% or you run the risk of paying a higher CPC.

The other downside is that you can’t properly A/B split test if a regular campaign utilizing call ad extensions or call-only campaigns will perform better. You can only test one type of mobile campaign at a time or you run the risk of having your keywords compete against each other in the ad auction.


Getting prospects directly on the phone sounds pretty sweet, right? Umm, YES! Call-only campaigns have the potential to help out a lot of businesses. However, it’s important to be aware of the bad and ugly parts lurking, so you can safeguard your account against them.

What’s been your experience with call-only campaigns? Has it been good, bad or just downright ugly?

About the Author

Nick Footer

Nick Footer is an entrepreneur and founder of Intuitive Digital, a national award-winning digital marketing agency in Portland, Oregon. With over 15 years of experience, he has helped hundreds of businesses improve their online presence through search engine optimization, paid advertising, and website design.

4 thoughts on “The Good, Bad & Ugly of AdWords Call-Only Campaigns

  1. Well done. The Bad and Ugly are insightful.

    You\’re too young to remember Eastwood\’s \”The Good, The Bad and The Ugly\”. Great film though!

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