Google is launching a new tool that connects advertisers with consumers over SMS directly through ads in Google Search.

The internet giant has been testing the so-called ‘click-to-message’ ad message extension for several months already, but it will soon be ready for prime-time with a broader rollout arriving in the “coming weeks,” according to Amit Agarwal, Google’s senior product manager for mobile search ads

How it works

Given that message extensions rely on SMS, they are designed to only show up on devices that are capable of sending text messages — so this is a mobile-only offering. With that in mind, advertisers wishing to use message extensions must have a phone number that’s capable of receiving and sending SMS.

Setting up message extensions is relatively straight forward for those already familiar with AdWords, and entails entering a few pieces of additional information under the Ad Extensions tab in AdWords. Once you’ve done this, customers searching on Google using keywords that a company is already paying to be aligned with (.e.g. “hotel in New York”) will now see a little message icon alongside the ad.

When the customer taps this, their default SMS app will open with a pre-populated message — this message is configured by the business through AdWords in advance, though the customer can of course edit this themselves to suit the nature of their enquiry.

Click-to-message ad (example)

Above: Click-to-message ad (example)

That Google is pushing mobile messaging as an extra channel for customers to converse with companies isn’t entirely surprising. Indeed, it comes at a time when rival Facebook is ramping up its own Messenger app as a customer service platform, and it has previously revealed that it’s working on a similar click-to-message ad product. With more than a billion users globally, Facebook Messenger is a formidable force for sure, but SMS remains a popular communications vehicle too, with Pew research from last year suggesting that 97 percent of smartphone owners in the U.S. text at least once a day — and this may explain why Facebook recently opened up its Messenger app to serve as the default SMS app too.

Still, mobile messaging apps are on the ascendancy and Google’s efforts here would no doubt be boosted with more of a real-time internet-based platform such as Messenger that’s not only capable of showing that a message has been received, but also that the recipient is currently typing a response.

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