Seth Godin (found via SEW) reports on a Google click-to-call option that is being served up with some sponsored links. He gives an example of sponsored search results that instead of links, include a small phone icon (same icon used to place calls in Google Talk) which can be clicked to open a small Ajax-based window for initiating a call between the user and a business.
A phone number must be entered the first time it is used, but it offers the ability to save that number so subsequent uses are easier (and truer to the term "click-to-call"). To see this in action, note that Godin’s says to do a search for "Artisan Hotel" (without geographic modifier). I assume he did this from New York, because when I did this search from San Francisco, I ended up with different search results. The way around this if you are in a location that gives you geographically relevant links that don’t include these click-to-call examples, just add a New York zip code, or the words "New York" (or just follow this link). Then you’ll see what he’s talking about and be able to give it a whirl.
Google appears to be testing it on a limited basis (which we already knew it was doing), but this is the first sign of it. It could be an intriguing cross-platform offering to entice existing AdWords customers, and more notably the large segment of SME advertisers that prefer calls to clicks and currently aren’t "sold" on AdWords. On another level it extends Google’s growing list of options and platforms offered to local and national advertisers that now include print magazines and radio, and will likely soon involve television or video (look for the company to acquire or develop something similar to Spot Runner soon). From a consumer facing standpoint, the user experience could likewise be groundbreaking given the sheer mass of Google users.
There will be a consumer adoption learning curve however, as there is with most new technologies, and which there certainly is with internet telephony. But it’s important to note that this isn't VoIP, as the click-to-call tool we're talking about initiates a call between a business and a phone number that a user provides. But it's certainly a step towards VoIP.
That little green phone icon that signifies click-to-call in these new search results is the very same one that represents a PC-to-PC call when it appears in Google Talk. The search click-to-call could evolve into something similar where instead of a call initiated between a business and a consumer land line, an outbound call is made directly from the user's computer building on the technology currently available in Gtalk.
Search as a point of entry into the whole Google experience, could therefore push along the mainstream adoption of VoIP overall because it will show mainstream consumers that VoIP isn't so scary. This is the very strategy behind introducing VoIP in an IM context, as we pointed out in a recent advisory. Once it becomes mainstream, it can be fully leveraged and monetized across IM, email, search, local, and mapping products. And the advertising models built around click-to-call will be the monetization lever.
In the meantime look for those little green phone icons to start to multiply across the Googleverse.