It’s become impossible to ignore the fact that mobile is now mainstream – in fact I bet at least half of you are reading this article on your smartphone or tablet. Every marketing expert is talking about mobile – the opportunities for advertising, huge growth predictions, practically beating you over the head that you need to be doing it. And they’re not wrong. But how you do it is even more important, and there’s one major element that must be included: phone calls.

Looking at the mobile market, we can all acknowledge that it offers a huge advertising opportunity. US mobile ad spending is predicted to surpass $7 Billion this year, fuelled largely in part by the rise in mobile search. 2012 has been the first year that desktop search queries have actually declined, and by 2013 it’s expected that mobile local search will surpass desktop.

While mobile will drive more search queries than desktop, mobile ad dollars will still remain lower, at least in the short term. There has been a tendency to date to focus on m-commerce conversions, which don’t necessarily perform as well as their desktop counterparts. Not to mention the fact that 90% of purchases begin on one device, and then end on another. This drives lower levels of demand and investment from advertisers, based on inaccurate results. In order to properly calculate the ROI of mobile ads, you need to consider other conversion steps, such as app downloads, store visits and oh yeah – phone calls! This leads to the pressing issue at hand here – what types of conversions do you want from a mobile device?

As marketers we need to take a step back and examine how consumers are using their mobile devices; which is in a variety of ways. From reading news and daily social networking activities to shopping and research, they are predominantly making it local. In fact, 94% of mobile users are searching for local info, while 70% of consumers have actually called a business after conducting a search and another 66% went on to visit a business in person.

The biggest player in mobile marketing to date is Google, and they currently account for about 93% of the US mobile search market. They have been doing some things right. They’ve created some great tools to enable local customisations for mobile search ads, and enable call extensions. They’ve also recognised and tried to find solutions for the “fat fingers” problem – trying to type in information, or click on links, on a tiny screen. Whether they’ve been successful in that regard raises other questions. Which brings us back to the original question of how customers interact with mobile ads.

Many businesses have made a priority of creating and optimising mobile websites and creating high quality mobile apps, both of which are important. Display ads were the first to crop up in the mobile advertising world, and while they can be effective when used in tandem with a mobile app or simple, intuitively designed mobile site, they are still not effective at supporting the most intuitive action from a phone: making a call. Users don’t want to fill out traditional lead forms, or click through to your website – they want to dial a number and speak to someone. The statistics above further demonstrate they want to speak with someone local. The best ad unit gives the user the option to click or call. Including that phone number is a crucial component that needs to be properly tracked and managed alongside all of your other online and mobile marketing campaigns.