Click To Call Debuts In Google Maps

The Google Blog announced earlier this morning that Google Maps has added a new click to call feature for businesses who have signed up for a listing through Google Local Business Center. At first glance it’s both very easy to use and useful for both searches and businesses. But first glances can be deceiving sometimes.

When I first saw it announced at TechCrunch’s post Google Local Adds Click to Call my first instinct was to think this was some kind of pay per call advertising. Google’s been expanding its advertising programs lately having recently announced plans to push AdWords into both radio and newspapers. But call to click is something different. It’s free and all you have to do is use Google Maps to take advantage of it.

From now on when you do a search at Google Maps and come across a business that has listed itself with Google Local, you’ll see a link after their listed phone number with the single word ‘call.’ When you click the link a simple text box appears via Ajax asking for your phone number. Enter your phone number and Google connects the call for you. Your phone rings as does the phone of the business you’re calling. Google pays all charges, though if you’re using a cell phone the minutes will still count against your plan .

I thought I’d give it a test and gave myself a call from another phone. Everything seemed to work fine. Both phones rang, though I decided not to answer since I’ve closed the office for the day and wasn’t feeling like taking a business call. Google says the phone number of the business will appear on your caller id so you can easily save it for future reference. One thing I found interesting though was on the business phone the incoming call shows as coming from California. As a business I’m not sure I would care to see all the incoming California calls, especially if my business only served local customers. I assume it’s Google’s way of thinking it’s protecting it’s visitors, but it seems kind of pointless to me. What if for some reason the call gets disconnected and I wanted to call back the potential customer? Guess I won’t be able to, while there’s a person on the other end who might just be thinking I’m rude.

For the customer the main advantage would seem to be having the call paid by Google, though given the calls should mostly be local I’m not sure how much of a benefit this is. I had originally thought going through the search box would be more convenient, but in all honesty I still had to go pick up my phone. I’m not sure how much more convenient it is to type a number into a computer than it is to dial it on my phone. At the moment I’m having a hard time seeing any advantage to me as a searcher.

Now if people do find value in calling through Google then I can see benefit for the business as it would likely increase the number of calls and given the call is coming via a search I would assume it’s targeted and should lead to more sales. The big question though is will searches think there’s value here and sadly I’m not seeing it.

I assume Google will be using click to call in part as a testing of a possible future pay per call advertising model and they’ll be deriving some benefit from the new system, but for now I’m not seeing the value for the end user. Perhaps others will, but I’ll be just as happy to dial the number directly and not have to take the call through a third party. The one place I am seeing an advantage is when finding a business online that doesn’t have a toll free number. Why not hop on over to Google Maps and see if they have a listing then use click to call to save on the long distance.

Overall the new call system isn’t a bad idea. While I may not find it useful it certainly isn’t taking anything away and I’m sure there will be people who will make use of the system. Business owners with a physical address will probably want to sign up for the listing for the possibility of calls though I can’t say I’m expecting the phone to ring any more often than it does right now.

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