A Place for Pay-Per-Call

First published September 27, 2006 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

People who buy radiators online are unique. For one thing, they don’t really research their purchases beforehand. When your radiator blows up, you know you need a new one–fast! Secondly, when you’re shopping for a new radiator, it’s not a click and buy type of item. You pretty much need to talk to someone who knows their stuff, because every single make and model of car may have two or three radiators that could fit. As John Thys, president of Radiator.com says, it’s a different market. And for this market, pay-per-call is just the right thing.

“Every lead for us ends in a phone call,” says Thys. “It’s always what we’re driving towards. We need to speak to our customers. So pay-per-call is by far our most cost-effective channel. The quality of these leads is way ahead of pay-per-click.”

Pay-per-call is an alternative channel that’s growing rapidly. The Kelsey Group estimates this market will more than double for the next five years, with revenues topping 3.7 billion by 2010. That makes it a revenue producing opportunity which more and more online publishers are beginning to pay attention to.

Ingenio really pioneered the idea of the search-based pay-per-call market, and I had a chance to chat with CMO Marc Barach. “We seamlessly bridge the Internet and the telephone,” Barach says. “And for a lot of businesses, that’s a perfect match.” The pairing of old and new communication technologies does open four distinct opportunities for both Ingenio and advertisers.

Four places for pay-per-call:

First of all, businesses that don’t have a Web site. Pay-per-call allows them to tap into search as a source of lead generation, yet field the lead in an effective way (conversion rates in some categories are eight times what are typical for pay-per-click ads). And for Ingenio and its competitors, that’s a vast market. InfoUSA and the Kelsey Group estimate there’s about 350,000 Web-based businesses, with another 4 million businesses with so called “brochure-ware” sites. That leaves almost 10 million businesses with no Web site at all, many of them local businesses.

The second opportunity takes advantage of the nature of longer buying cycle. At certain points in that buying cycle, consumers appreciate different options in contacting vendors. Early in a high-consideration purchase, consumers prefer to remain anonymous and quietly kick tires on Web sites. But at some point, they may search online with the intention of finding a way to contact a vendor, and in that case, a pay-per-call ad provides them with exactly the right message at the right time.

The third opportunity is moving lead generation off the desktop to a phone near you. Pay-per-call adapts nicely to 411 directory assistance platforms and mobile use. Other potential expansion markets include podcasts, radio and TV.

The fourth opportunity is the one that Thys at Radiator.com is taking advantage of. There are certain items or services that are needed suddenly, without advance warning. And by their nature, they require interactive contact with a knowledgeable service representative. This is prime yellow page territory, but increasingly, the bulkiness and geographic limitations of the printed directory are being supplanted by online versions. While Radiator.com acts like the local radiator wholesaler, it does business around the country. Pay-per-call is the perfect match.

Calling all search engines!

While Thys still does pay-per-click because of the sheer volume of leads it produces, he also loves the effectiveness of pay-per-call. “There’s no comparison. Pay-per-call’s conversions and quality of lead blow pay-per-click away. If I could get pay-per-call leads from where I’m getting pay-per-click ones, I’d be in a much better place,” he says.

And that’s the current challenge for Ingenio. As Thys says, “It’s all about the networks.” You need to get these compelling calls to action in front of a critical mass of motivated consumers. Currently, Ingenio’s distribution network includes online yellow page directories and AOL. The AOL deal was a major turning point for pay-per-call, especially since AOL carved off the prime real estate of the search results page for Ingenio, right at the top of the listings. But Barach has his sites set on expanding that network substantially over the near future. He won’t be alone. Google is quietly testing pay-per-call as well, and it would make tremendous sense to incorporate it in its local listings.

Pay-per-call has its feet firmly set in both the new and old worlds of marketing, and that makes it very appealing for a large number of consumers and marketers. For consumers, it gives them a quick way to connect with a vendor and start an old-fashioned dialogue. And for marketers and sales professionals, it gives them a sense of control. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the comment from a traditional salesperson: “I just want them (the consumer) to call me. Once I get them on the phone, I can sell them.” The balance of power on pay-per-click ads is far too much on the side of the consumer to make these sales professionals feel comfortable. With pay-per-call, the ball’s back in their court.

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