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Today I had the chance to chat with Dan Rubinstein, head of SME product initiatives at Google. Among many other things in the rapidly shifting online local marketplace, we spoke about Google’s integration of click-to-call links in all its local business listings in Google Maps. Though this was announced on the Google Blog late last week, I held off on blogging about it knowing that my scheduled call with Rubinstein would make for a more substantive post.

The background, in case you haven’t seen or read about it, is that the company will add small “call” icons to all its business listings in Google Maps. Like the click-to-call functionality integrated into Microsoft’s Windows Live Local, this opens a JavaScript window that allows users to type in a phone number. The system, powered by Google Talk and Skype, then initiates a call between the business and the entered number (both phones ring). Users can opt for Google to save their numbers to make subsequent calls easier, and they can save the business numbers in their phones if they have caller ID.



This was expected by many including us, given Google’s past experimentation with click-to-call and its partnership with Skype (eBay). We expect the next step to be an accompanying business model that will involve pay-per-call  likely an auction-based system integrated with AdWords that will have similar economics as pay-per-click. This will not only have utility for users in eliminating the step of picking up and dialing a phone, but more importantly it will help Google address a segment of the small-business marketplace that prefer calls to clicks (and those that wish to be charged based on calls rather than clicks). These include mostly service businesses that are better equipped to turn a call into a conversion than a click (as opposed to retail or any business with product information or e-commerce functionality).

“Certain businesses that aren't online would prefer a phone call versus a visit to their Web site or a purchase on their Web site if they don't have that,” said Rubinstein. “So there are certain models that make sense for pay-per-click advertising and certain businesses that prefer the phone as an interface. We're in early stages and just launched this recently and we're going to see what we learn from it.”

For now, Google has integrated click-to-call links into all business listings in order to test the system and gain traction for the product. We expect pay-per-call to follow closely behind, and to play a big role in Google’s small-business advertising growth.

For more on click-to-call and on Google’s future plans in local, we’ll post a podcast of my discussion with Dan Rubinstein on our home page. For even more from Rubinstein, he’ll give a keynote address on day 1 of The Kelsey Group’s ILM ’06 conference next week in Philadelphia. We hope to see you there.

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