A Closer Look at Pay-per-Call Search Marketing

Last week, AOL became the largest online service to offer the comparatively new pay-per-call format to search advertisers. Pay-per-call is rapidly gaining traction among search marketers, especially those targeting a local audience, and if you're not familiar with the format, it's worth a look.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members provides detailed instructions for enrolling in Ingenio's pay-per-call program, including ad guidelines, how to determine competitors' bids and the performance reporting provided by the company. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

The premise behind pay-per-call advertising is straightforward: Rather than presenting a sponsored link to click through to an advertiser's web site in response to a query, pay-per-call ads display a toll-free telephone number. The searcher can still click on the pay-per-call ad, but rather than visiting the advertiser's web site, the user sees a brief information page about the business.

The pay-per-call format solves a problem for the millions of businesses that don't have a web presence, but still want to be found by online searchers. It's especially effective for local businesses, since pay-per-call ads can be targeted for users in a specific location.

The format is also appealing to any business that performs best with a high-touch presence. When people are motivated enough to pick up the phone and call, they are often closer to making a purchase decision than people who simply click through on a sponsored listing. And phone reps can answer questions and overcome objections more quickly than most web sites.

AOL is spotlighting pay-per-call ads in search results, giving them top billing over paid search listings. "Being the first major player to release pay per call, we want to make sure we give advertisers that jump into this program presence," said Gerry Campbell, vice president and general manager of AOL Search & Navigation.

But pay-per-call ads are generally more expensive than pay-per-click advertisements. Advertisers need to decide for themselves whether the return on investment warrants the greater expense of the program.

At this point, AOL displays just a single pay-per-call ad per search result page, but this may change in the future if the program proves successful, according to Campbell.

AOL will also display both pay-per-call and sponsored links from the same advertisers under some conditions; no effort is currently being made to avoid duplication. This provides a unique opportunity for search marketers to gain up to three positions on a search result page—through algorithmic results, paid links or pay-per-call listings. Google provides both algorithmic search results to AOL Search. The new pay-per-call listings are provided by Ingenio.

Ingenio serves pay-per-call ads in much the same way that Google provides sponsored links to AOL. And like Google, Ingenio distributes pay-per-call listings to multiple properties beyond AOL. Ingenio partnered with FindWhat in September 2004. This distribution deal gives exposure to pay-per-call ads on properties such as Excite, NBCi, Search.com and MetaCrawler, and Yellow Pages directory SuperPages.com.

Want to know more about pay-per-call search advertising? See Ingenio's frequently asked questions page, and two reports from Search Engine Strategies panels on pay-per-call advertising: Pay-Per-Call: A New Avenue for Search Marketers and Search Advertising that Makes the Phone Ring.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members provides detailed instructions for enrolling in Ingenio's pay-per-call program, including ad guidelines, how to determine competitors' bids and the performance reporting provided by the company. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Are You Ready for Pay-Per-Call? discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

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