Google Ads Call Tracking vs. 3rd Party Tools

Google Ads Call Tracking versus 3rd Party Tools

If you are a Marketer, you must be familiar with the term “call tracking”, or?

If not, take some minutes to read this guide and you will learn all you need to know!

Why do this?

Because phone calls matter. They still play a critical role in terms of leads and sales for quite many industries. The fact that most businesses nowadays track only their online conversions, ignoring offline sales such as calls can lead to wrong marketing decisions. To eliminate such risks, every business should track the entire customer journey to understand which of their marketing efforts actually work and which don’t.

To do so, you need to implement a call tracking solution. Without it, I am afraid you are flying blind, simply because you can’t be sure about the actual performance of your marketing activities.

So, you need call tracking. Agreed! 

Somebody mentioned to you Google Ads Call Tracking, which is free of charge. Correct, but is this service proper for your business needs and objectives?

In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into Google Ads Call Tracking and its differences with 3rd party call tracking platforms. Hopefully, this will help you make up your mind.

What is Google Ads Call Tracking?

Google Ads Call Tracking is a conversion tracking method that Google utilizes in order to show how many prospects called a business after viewing or clicking on its PPC ads.

3 Ways To Track Your Call Conversions

There are 3 types of call conversions you can track with Google:

Types of Phone Conversions Google Tracks
Types of Phone Conversions Tracked by Google

1. Track Calls From Ads

Google allows businesses to track calls that are generated directly from call-only ads, as well as ads with call and location extensions and measure their effectiveness. To do so, a minimum call duration must be set, so that every call that exceeds this limit is calculated as conversion.   

What you need:

  • Α business in an eligible country
  • A Google Ads account
  • At least 1 active call extension, location extension, or a call-only ad
  • Enable call reporting in your Google Ads account settings

To track inbound calls directly from your ads, you need to create a new call-only Google ad. This type of ad is displayed only to devices that can make phone calls. Users that come across such ads, call directly the forwarding number instead of visiting the website.

In order to count calls as conversions, you need to activate call reporting in your Google Ads account. Call reporting utilizes Google forwarding numbers to monitor the performance of call-only ads and call extensions. A forwarding number is a unique phone number- generated and owned by Google- that is displayed in your Google Ads and helps you track those calls. Google forwarding numbers are either local or toll-free, and currently available in the following countries.

Google Ads Click-to-Call Example
Example of Click-to-Call ad

2. Track Calls To A Phone Number On Your Website

This kind of conversion tracking allows businesses to track calls that occur when a user clicks on one of their ads and calls the forwarding phone number that Google dynamically displays on the business’s website. Once again, a minimum call duration must be set, so that every call that exceeds it, is counted as a conversion.

According to what Google states, “phone calls are counted when calls to your custom Google forwarding phone number are received, either through a call button or through manual dialing. Manually dialed phone calls are counted for your campaigns and ad groups, but aren’t available for keywords and ads.” 

What you need:

  • Α business in an eligible country
  • A Google Ads account
  • At least 1 active call extension
  • A website and rights to edit it

To deploy DNI technology you need first to set up conversion tracking on your website. This is done by adding a snippet of code on your web properties. This code is responsible for detecting whether the user has come organically or from an ad and adjusts accordingly the call forwarding number that is displayed.

That is to say, once the tracking code is set up, every time a user clicks your ad and enters your website, Google dynamically replaces the business phone number displayed on your site with a Google forwarding number. This way, businesses learn which specific keywords, campaigns, ads, and ad groups inspired the user to call.

3. Track Clicks On A Number On Your Website

In this case, Google allows businesses to track calls that are made when a user follows this specific path: Click on an ad → Click on a phone number/ button/ link on the mobile version of a business’s website. Actually, this way businesses measure the number of clicks they receive from their mobile website, not actual phone calls.

What you need:

  • A Google Ads account
  • A website and rights to edit it

The Benefits of Google Ads Call Tracking

  • Insights At The Keyword Level: Google Ads call tracking, similarly to other call tracking platforms, provides significant customer insights in terms of campaigns, ad groups, ads, and specific keywords that drive quality phone calls to your business. This is valuable information helping businesses gain a clear view of their Marketing ROI and take more wise decisions to optimize their marketing spend and increase conversions. However, it should be noted that keyword-level tracking applies only for Type 1 & 2 that I mentioned above, namely if you track calls from ads and calls to a phone number on your website. 
  • No Monthly Fees: Google Ads call tracking is a tool that every business and marketer running PPC campaigns in Google can use without having to pay for tracking numbers and monthly fees. Yet, it’s not absolutely free. As you pay for every click, you will be charged accordingly with a standard CPC for every click on your phone number. That being said, in terms of call volume, it doesn’t diverge from other call tracking service platforms that charge per answered call you receive.   

7 Limitations of Google Ads Call Tracking

In the market, there are quite many call tracking platforms that offer more or less similar services at a price range affordable even for small businesses. Despite the various features they may offer, the key component for the majority of them is integrating with Google Ads, the only feature in common with the Google Ads call tracking service.

In order to decide whether Google Ads call tracking is appropriate for your business or you require a more advanced attribution tool, you need to know what more else call tracking can offer. At this point, I must say that 3rd party platforms are a cut above what Google offers and I’m going to highlight the major limitations of the latter immediately:

1. Call Tracking Only For Google Ads

The most noteworthy restriction for businesses that need to track their inbound call activity is the fact that call campaigns at present work exclusively for Google Ads, and especially for the Search Network. Thus, in case you use image ads on the Display Network, you won’t be able to measure the call conversions those generate.

Furthermore, while there are many businesses utilizing Google advertising for their promotion, they don’t stop here. Social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) enjoy a significant share in terms of marketing spend, while there are still businesses that use offline channels such as TV, radio, and print ads to advertise their products and services.

What is more, supposing you promote your business to other search engines such as Bing, Yahoo, or Yandex, you are not allowed to use Google’s forwarding numbers to track your call conversions. To cut a long story short, you cannot fully track your marketing performance, which may lead to skewed data. Thus, in case you advertise in more mediums, you should consider a paid call tracking service that tracks calls from various marketing channels (online & offline).

2. No Caller Information

This is another limitation of Google Ads call tracking solution that businesses should take into account while selecting their provider. Undoubtedly, the most important aspect of marketing is to know your target audience. Otherwise, you are most probably wasting resources in dubious activities. Since Google prohibits the collection of personal data, businesses that choose Google Ads call tracking cannot gain information on the profile of their customers.

Google Ads vs. Third Party Call Tracking
Google Ads vs. 3rd Party Call Tracking Vendors

3. For Limited Number Of Countries

Google Ads call tracking is currently available in a limited number of countries, compared to other call tracking solutions that offer their services on a global scale. This automatically restricts millions of businesses that want to track their Google Ads campaigns. If you see your country’s name on the list… Lucky you! 

4. No Integrations With 3rd Party CRM tools

Apparently, Google Ads call tracking integrates with the Google Ads platform. This is where you can monitor your inbound call activity. Nonetheless and contrary to other call tracking vendors, you can’t send your call data to CRM tools (Salesforce, Hubspot, Facebook Ads Manager, etc.) you utilize in order to keep track of your overall marketing performance.  

5. Temporary & Not Owned Call Tracking Numbers

Most call tracking companies provide tracking numbers dedicated to your business, allowing you to purchase and port them even to other platforms. This ensures that the callers that have stored your number will still reach your business. Well, this is not the case with Google. In fact, call forwarding numbers that Google assigns to your business, can change or be reassigned to other businesses.

This is why you can’t use those numbers to other advertising campaigns except for Google. You can imagine the complication when your customer dials your expired tracking number and connects to another completely different business. You miss the sale and the other business comes up against skewed call data, namely calls that weren’t aimed at it.

6. Limitations In Call Analytics Reports

Google’s call reporting allows businesses to monitor the performance of their call extensions, location extensions, and call-only ads. In your Google Ads account, you can view the campaign, ad group and keyword, the number of impressions your call ads received, how many calls your ads generated, the phone-through rate (PTR: the number of phone calls received divided by the number of times the phone number is shown) along with the call type, the caller area code, call start and end time, duration and whether the call was connected or missed.

Furthermore, you can measure inbound calls of a specific duration as conversions and use automated bid strategies to optimize your PPC campaigns for more conversions. Although, this information is by far limited compared to the offerings of other services, such as the number of the caller, the date, region, frequency. Moreover, call tracking platforms allow businesses to score their calls, assessing whether they are quality calls or not. Therefore, in order to get the full picture of your marketing performance, you need to turn to a 3rd party tool that offers a variety of call analytics reports.

Call Details by Google
Call Details Provided by Google

7. Minimum Number Of Clicks Required

What you should also know is that Google may not show your forwarding numbers to desktop ads unless your ad group gets a minimum amount of clicks within a 4-week period. Supposing that this happens, your business number will be displayed instead. In contrast, 3rd party call tracking and analytics services do track calls from your Google ads no matter the number of clicks those receive. 

Is Google Ads Call Tracking a good choice for my business?

Well, the answer depends heavily on the objectives you have set for your own business. If inbound calls do not contribute that much to your sales revenue, a solution like Google Ads call tracking might be a good option. But if you count a considerable amount of phone conversions for your business, you should better make the most of them with a 3rd party call tracking software, such as Nimbata. Call tracking doesn’t end at measuring performance but also helps businesses to improve their interactions with customers. Besides, in the 2020s it’s all about Customer Experience. The question is: Is your customer service that good?


To summarize, Google Ads call tracking provides meaningful insights into the campaigns, ads, and keywords that generate inbound calls for your business. You don’t need to pay for fees and tracking numbers. On the other hand, it’s a free tool with limitations compared to paid tools, which combined with Google can be a game-changer for your business… Either way, you shouldn’t leave your phone calls unattributed.

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