How to use a mailto link with a Google Ad Manager creative (and why you probably shouldn't)

10 January 2022

This article looks at using mailto (email links) with creatives in Google Ad Manager. We consider one approach that should work but doesn't, then step through an alternative solution. Finally we consider whether an old-fashioned contact form might be better after all.

Mailto links in Google Ad Manager - the challenge

Usually, as a publisher, you would set a Google Ad Manager campaign to open a web page when clicked. But what if you (or one of your advertisers) wanted it to open a new email instead? This is something that a client asked me for help with recently. You can imagine how it might be used in a lead generation campaign, for example.

On the face of it, it should be a very simple thing to do. When uploading your creative to Google Ad Manager, couldn't you just specify the 'Destination' to be an email address rather than a URL? Unfortunately that doesn't work. Google Ad Manager gives you the following options for the 'Destination' field:

  • Click-through URL
  • Click-to-app URL
  • Phone number (for mobile ads)

...but not 'email address'.

Let's say you try to put an email address value as a click-through URL anyway. Sadly, when you try to save it, GAM will give you an 'invalid URL' error (not once but twice!):

Invalid URL error in GAM

This error also appears if you prefix the email address with 'mailto:' (the standard way to specify that an HTML link should open the default email client when clicked - in fact, email links are often called mailto links or mailto: links).

Why link shorteners won't work

So if Google Ad Manager requires a URL, couldn't we use a link shortener to convert a mailto link into a regular web link and then use that? Not all link shorteners work with mailto links, but one that definitely does is the generally excellent Linkly. (You do need to sign up for a Linkly HQ account, but your first 1,000 clicks are free.)

So you could turn a link like mailto:name@domain.com into a web link like https://l.linklyhq.com/l/hYlC. Linkly even lets you predefine the subject line and body of the email that gets generated on a link click:

Linkly edit tracking link

This would be useful in all sorts of situations, but sadly not with Google Ad Manager. GAM will let you add the link to the creative and save your changes. The link works when you click 'Test', and you will even be able to set your line item live. So you may be fooled into thinking that all is OK.

However, when a user clicks on the live ad, they are likely to just get a 403 error (which means that the server understands the request but refuses to authorize it):

403 error

As the publisher, you may then receive an email from Google Ad Manager informing you that you are in violation of the "malvertising in landing page" policy:

Malvertising notification

I think this is a consequence of using a link shortener rather than anything related to the mailto link specifically, as redirects (especially multiple redirects) can in other circumstances be an indicator of suspicious activity. But in any case, this bright idea is a dead end. So what can you do instead?

Solution: 'Custom' creative type

One option that does work is to use a 'Custom' creative type rather than an 'Image' creative. Here's how:

  1. First you'll need to host your creative image asset somewhere. You can host it on your own website if you like - for example, if you have a WordPress site, you can upload it to the Media Library and then grab the 'File URL'. Wherever you host it, what you want is a URL pointing directly to the image like this: https://www.technicallyproduct.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/300x600-test.png

    You'll need this URL in a later step.

  2. Set up your Order and Line Item in Google Ad Manager as usual, up to the 'New Creative' stage. (There are lots of different ways to get to 'New Creative', and I can't really give you precise instructions here unless I'm familiar with your workflow - which I'm not.)
  3. Under New Creative, choose Custom (rather than 'Image'). This creative type lets you add your own custom snippet of JavaScript or HTML.
  4. Give your creative a name
  5. Make sure Standard code type is selected (it's the default, so it should be).
  6. In the 'Standard' field, paste the following snippet of text:

    <a href="mailto:name@domain.com" ><img src="https://www.technicallyproduct.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/300x600-test.png" height="600" width="300"></a>

    You'll need to change some of those details! The mailto: should point to the email address you want to send to. The img src should be your URL from step one. And the height and width should match your image size (in pixels - but just put the numeric values).

  7. Below the 'Standard' field, you will see a warning:

    In order to track clicks correctly, you must insert a click macro.

    If you aren't interested in tracking clicks on your creative, you can safely ignore this (but remember, you won't then be able to report on clicks or CTR to the advertiser, and it might suppress your overall CTR.) If on the other hand you do want to track clicks, you'll need that click macro!

    The macro should be inserted immediately before the mailto link - ie between the opening double quotes and the word mailto. Click your cursor exactly there, then click INSERT MACRO and Click. This will insert your click macro like so:

    Click macro

  8. Just a couple more settings to go now. Leave the field 'Click-through URL' blank...
  9. ...And make sure you untick 'Serve into a SafeFrame' (it's now the default for new creatives, so you will need to untick it).
    Serve into SafeFrame
  10. Now you can Save your creative.
  11. After that, I recommend you click on the Preview tab and make sure you can both see and click on your creative. If you have added the click macro correctly, you should see a confirmation message like so when you click on your creative:

    This is an intermediate preview page that confirms your click can be successfully recorded by Google. This preview page will not be seen when served live on publisher sites. Instead, a click will be recorded by our servers and then immediately redirected to the destination page.

    Destination URL: mailto:name@domain.com

  12. And finally, traffic your line item!

Mailto links versus contact forms

Now you are able to use a mailto link in a Google Ad Manager campaign. But does that mean you should? I would argue no. A 'mailto' link opens the user's default email client, but some users may have the wrong default client set. For example, a user may send all their email using GMail but clicking on a mailto link actually launches Outlook for them - which then prompts them to 'add an account'. At this point I guarantee that they will get frustrated and give up.

Also, it is rather unusual for any ad campaign to make use of mailto links. So there will be a disconnect between what the user expects to happen based on past experience (a web page opens) and what actually happens in this instance (their email client loads and a new email is opened for them). Again this could result in a high level of drop-off.

So what's the alternative? The most obvious route would be to build a contact form and embed this on to a dedicated web page. Then set the URL of this page to be the click 'Destination' of the creative (using a regular Image creative type).

In other words, the user clicks on the advert, gets directed to a contact form, then completes and submits it. More likely than not, this will send an email on their behalf anyway (to a sales rep, for example). It also has the added benefit of being able to capture more detail (or at least specific details) from the user. You could even pre-populate some of the fields on the form, such as the enquiry message.

Using a contact form may seem more complicated than using a creative with a mailto link, but platform-agnostic no-code form builders such as Wufoo make the process straightforward. Alternatively, your platform or CMS is likely to have its own built-in solution or third-party addons (here on Technically Product, we use a WordPress plugin called Forminator).

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