A few weeks ago Google introduced sponsored listings into mobile search. Yahoo followed last week. Now Microsoft has partnered with Ingenio to deliver pay-per-call listings into Windows Live Search for mobile. But unlike the other two programs this is not being launched in beta.
Ingenio's advertisers are the only paid listings that will appear when users conduct a geotargeted search on Window Live for mobile. There will only be one advertiser shown for any given search and Ingenio's entire inventory will be funneled into Windows Live. When there are no relevant Ingenio advertisers, no sponsored listings will appear. (The company has existing mobile distribution through Jingle Networks' 1800-Free-411 and go2.)
Since Ingenio announced its original deal with AOL (see example) more than a year ago it has been steadily building distribution with smaller players in the local market. This is obviously a very significant relationship and may be a prelude to a broader deal with Microsoft. Ingenio wouldn't comment on that possibility, however.
Microsoft currently offers "call for free" click-to-call functionality on Live Local.
All three of the dominant search providers have now flipped the switch on sponsored listings in mobile. We should see a continuing acceleration of product development and competition in the wireless space. Early evidence argues that response rates (clicks/calls) in a wireless environment will be much higher than clicks on sponsored listings online because there are fewer competing advertisers (due to smaller screens) and users' needs are typically more immediate.
While the number of users conducting searches in a mobile environment is currently a very tiny fraction of what it is online, mobile search will be a significant channel in the next several years as the user experience improves.