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AdWords targets SMS growth with new ‘click to message’ feature

There’s an abundance of data and more and more research suggesting that marketers should not just be considering mobile-first strategies, but prioritising them too. This further confirms what we already know, that Google is continuing its pursuit of AdWords growth and appeal in the mobile marketing arena. Recently, I for one can’t think of many changes and updates made by Google that are not considering mobile to be the first point of contact with users. It’s clear to see that any search marketing strategy must consider mobile to be one of, if not its most important channels for both customer retention and growth.

We have already seen some key updates (in both paid and organic search) in a short space of time, including:

  • The introduction of AMP pages
  • Mobile app indexation through deeper links
  • Callout and sitelink extensions optimised for mobile
  • Structured snippets for mobile ads
  • The local search results pack made consistent cross device
  • Enhanced mobile features in Google Search Console
  • Extended ad headlines on mobile device

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Google’s growing presence across the mobile market makes perfect sense, as in recent years we have seen mobile search behaviour dwarf many statistics, including searches on mobile devices overtaking desktop searches and a growing number of mobile users browsing with intent and completing purchases direct from device. With Google reporting a 146% year-on-year increase in mobile searches, the chances are, if you don’t already prioritise mobile users in your search strategy, that you have already lost ground.

In this article, I’m going to focus specifically on a brand new AdWords beta feature, due for release later in 2016 – Click to message. Let’s see what it means for paid search marketing and what we can learn from this release.

Digging deeper into mobile PPC and SMS integration

There is no real need for me to justify why mobile search is important and how crucial it is to successful online business. With 30% of all online shopping purchases (and growing) now happening on mobile phones, we have to consider how we can better target these users to further enhance already great user journeys. What other avenues can be introduced to better encourage user engagement? Whether this is by giving users the option to call direct from paid ads, or providing users the opportunity to choose your business from google shopping ads, these alternative avenues and customer touch points continue to grow. SMS is no exception. Google’s pursuit of mobile user perfection has taken another huge stride towards a full circle marketing experience.

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As mentioned earlier, Google has taken many steps in enabling advertisers to reach and target users crossdevice. In May 2015, Google’s VP of AdWords announced a number of new mobile ad formats and since then we’ve seen…

• The introduction of Gmail sponsored ads, enabling advertisers to reach users directly in their email inboxes.
• Customer Match; targeting that allows advertisers to upload a list of email addresses to target with ads.

Towards the tail end of 2015, we also saw the introduction of SMS remarketing and the ability to subscribe to SMS alerts from Google. A significant new ad format that allows searchers to subscribe, receiving updates and deals from Google via SMS text message to direct to their mobile phones.

The key intent displayed above by Google’s latest enhancements have prompted me question how I now think as a marketer. I’m not just referencing Google’s constant pursuit for relevancy, but immediacy too. They state that ‘users no longer go online, but they live online’.

So, how can I better connect with my customers, at a time when they have control over first communication, driven by their intent and allowing them to choose what type of intent they have? Introducing AdWords ‘click to message’…

What is the new AdWords click to message feature?

Click to message is a new Beta Product from Google AdWords. It is “intended to change the nature of a customer’s online experience and improve efficiency for marketers”. It could be explained as the missing piece of the puzzle, tapping into consumers who prefer to use SMS as a form of communication. One step away from integrating instant messaging/live chat into AdWords capabilities.



It has been common place in the digital marketing world for many years, there is no one size fits all first interaction or preferred method of contact. Attribution and channel selection are two of the most important metrics to track in order to serve the correct experience to your audience. Click to message aims to target on-the-go mobile consumers that don’t have a single way they prefer to connect with your businesses. The time sensitivity involved in todays market means we need to offer a selection of communications methods from apps to websites to click to call and now SMS. This leaves the consumer with little or no reason not to find an appropriate in road to a business, and subsequently a product or service on offer.

If we were to look at it scenario based, if you work in an office environment and can’t make a voice call, SMS may be more efficient. If you are commuting and signal or Wi-Fi connection drops in and out, you can catch up where the conversation left off. There are endless occasions when SMS may serve a consumer better. There is also no time pressure on consumers to reply instantly. Users will visit a website, use an app, go in store or call depending on what works best for them in the moment.

Click-to-message ads give consumers a new, convenient way to have a conversation with a business via text messaging and to keep it going throughout the day on their own timetable.

Why integrate SMS with PPC?

So, with the already large capabilities available in AdWords, why does SMS need to be a part of the cycle too? The statistics speak for themselves as:

97% of smartphone owners use texting—it’s also the “app” they use most frequently.

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SMS marketing already exists, but what this new feature does open the door to, is marketers being able to communicate with users over SMS without having to give out any personal details. There are no barriers to communication. Whereas historically, businesses using SMS marketing needed to acquire phone numbers, by using click to message ads, a user simply enters into an SMS dialogue. On the one hand, businesses won’t be able to grow mobile marketing lists, but on the other hand it has the potential to reduce costs and increase efficiency at the same time. Google reported the following statistics on SMS marketing:

  • Innovative businesses have been using SMS as an effective marketing channel for years.
  • On average, text messages are opened in 3 minutes with a 90% overall open rate.
  • Messaging apps are still rising in popularity, but are primarily for personal conversations

The open rate statistics alone are enough to deem this a viable path for marketers to consider.

The other obvious benefit of the click to message feature is that the set up time, maintenance and reporting of this channel can be absorbed within your daily running of AdWords. Yes, you’ll need a potential team responding (depending on volume), but aside from that it is easily managed. My only initial comment, is much like social media and other engagement opportunities you will need a contingency plan in place for the likes of complaints, escalations and an element of customer service.

How will click to message work?

This is where marketers can become creative. Choosing how to engage with users opting for SMS, and what the goal of these customers should be. There needs to be an obvious commercial advantage to this service.

From Google, “When a user clicks the text Icon, we will launch their SMS app with a pre-loaded message. That message will be sent to the SMS capable number you provided. User and business continue to have a conversation via SMS, or transition to another mode (call, in person, website)”.

Google have also considered many users having varied intent. This is why they have decided an optional form will allow you to get more context to provide customers with the most relevant conversation possible, such as get a quote, ask a question, track my order and so forth. At this stage, I can assume you’ll have the ability to tailor this to be relevant to your business.

What does click to message mean for users?

For the audience of millennials and generation Z, texting is already ingrained in our daily routine. We receive marketing and personal messages daily. Checking our smart phones and messaging on the go is a habit we have adopted. Now considered a normal daily activity for much of the population, extending that to text a business makes perfect sense and the inception should be very straight forward.

It’s convenient too. That’s why it is no coincidence it is so frequently used by so many to communicate. As mentioned earlier, users will take the path that is most convenient to them. If that happens to be SMS, then marketers can now make provisions for that.

Lastly, its time saving. Say you have a fairly simple query that you can’t find the answer to online and you simply don’t have time to wait on hold. Engage via SMS and carry on as you would.

What does this new AdWords feature mean for businesses?

Firstly, in a similar way for users, it is convenient for businesses too. Two-way communication allows businesses to engage with consumers at a time that not only matters, but a time when they are most likely to convert. How often have potential conversions been missed due to users having to wait for information, or not find an answer to the question they have? These SMS conversations can then potentially lead on to a call, or eventually a conversion direct from a text.

If used effectively, businesses could also benefit from a cost reduction. Messaging will allow advertisers to take the strain from busy call centres, by dedicating staff to handle more than one concurrent conversation and also avoid the time-wasting of incoming calls when it could be solved directly via SMS.

What else do we know so far?

As the functionality is only in its beta stages, I am yet to dig further in what this could offer and how flexible it may be. What I do know is that in terms of the serving capabilities of Click to message, is so far the extension will serve on ads in different formats including text and call and text only. Reporting will also be available when you segment by click type to see detailed stats the click-to-message extension.

Keep your eyes peeled in SERPs for businesses trailing this beta functionality, as we should soon start to see the SMS option appearing for companies opting to use this feature.

So what do I do next?

Click to message certainly looks like an exciting new AdWords feature that is aims to bridge the gap between PPC and SMS marketing. Add this to your already vast collection of paid advertising enhancements we’ve experienced as of late and you’ve got a whole new world of creative opportunity to exploit.

This focus on bringing SMS and PPC closer together should certainly be seen as an opportunity to further increase audience engagement at a lesser cost to other more traditional digital methods.

At present, to gain access to this feature your account has to be whitelisted based on current spend. However, that’s not to suggest you ignore this. Keep your eyes and ears to the ground for the release of click to message and be ready to capitalise, as an early inception could be the key to gaining the best advantage for this new beta product.

Is it likely to tear up trees in the realms of PPC advertising? Not immediately. But once end users gain an understanding of this feature, and it becomes common place to request additional information or make a request via text message, where they don’t have to visit a website and wait for it to load and can directly contact your business through a means of communication they favour most, why not prepare for it?



Jack Cooper is the Digital Marketing Manager at Strawberrysoup, an integrated Digital Marketing Agency with offices based in Chichester, Bournemouth and London. Strawberrysoup is a flourishing digital agency with its roots based firmly in website development and design and Jack enjoys writing about the relationship between new marketing techniques and the creative industries.