Hello, this is Google, your operator, speaking

Search giant tests click-to-call service to connect Web surfers with advertisers over the phone.

Google has begun testing a new click-to-call service that lets people speak with advertisers on its search results page without having to pick up the phone and dial.

A Web surfer can click a phone icon adjacent to an ad, enter his or her own phone number and then click a "connect for free" button. Google's service calls the advertiser's phone number and when the Web surfer picks up the receiver on his phone, he or she hears ringing as the call to the advertiser is connected, according to a Google Click-to-Call frequently-asked-questions page.

Unlike voice over Internet Protocol, a technology that sends voice transmission over the Internet, this service appears to connect two parties over the regular phone lines. However, Google declined to provide more details, including the specifics of the technology employed.

"We won't share your telephone number with anyone, including the advertiser," the FAQ states. "When you're connected with the advertiser, your number is blocked so the advertiser can't see it. In addition, we'll delete the number from our servers after a short period of time."

It was unclear how broad the test is. A few sample searches for frequently searched topics, such as "shoes," "electronics" and "mortgage," failed to turn up any of the icons. However, blogger Greg Yardley was able to obtain screen shots, which he posted last Wednesday.

Google said it pays for the calls, whether local or long distance. However, the Web surfer may incur airtime fees depending on the mobile phone plan used, the FAQ said.

"Google is always considering new ways to provide value to its advertisers and we frequently run tests of potential new features and products," the company said in a statement sent via e-mail. "We are currently conducting a limited test of a pay-per-call model, but we don't have any additional information to share at this time."

Allowing customers to reach advertisers through the computer could increase the value of online ads, particularly for companies like Google, which reaps nearly all of its revenue from advertising.

In August, Microsoft said it had purchased Teleo, an Internet calling company with the potential to allow MSN to offer click-to-call capabilities.

IBM has said it will integrate click-to-call technology from Avaya in Lotus Notes and other applications. And Yahoo has tested click-to-call in instant messaging.

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