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.

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.

Signing up with Ingenio

As with most self-serve search advertising, signing up with Ingenio is a painless and brief process. Visit the registration page and follow the five step process to establish an account and begin displaying your ads on Ingenio partner search result pages.

Start by providing contact details and creating an account. Next, create your ad. This process closely resembles the process you follow to create a sponsored listing with Yahoo or Google. Fill in the Ad business name (if it differs from your registration information), indicate whether you want the ad to display the business address, and enter two forty-character lines that make up your advertisement.

In the text of ads, Ingenio does not allow website addresses (URLs) or phone numbers unless they are your actual business name.

Next, you can add optional elements to your ad, including a logo, hours of operation, payment options, coupon, and additional ad details of up to 1,000 characters. Ingenio provides specific advertiser guidelines that can help with the creation of your ad.

Now chose the geographic region where you want the ad to be displayed. This can be as few as 2 miles from your location, or 5, 10 or 25 miles from a zip code. You can also show the ad for residents of a city, metro region, state or display the ad nationally in the U.S.

Select up to five categories for your ad. Ingenio recommends choosing the categories where your business would be found in the Yellow Pages.

The next step is to set the price you’re willing to pay per call. The minimum is $2 per call. You will be charged only for the first time a customer calls. Ingenio does not chargee for additional calls from the same customer’s phone number within a 30-day period. The service does this by automatically tracking numbers and dates of all calls generated by your ad.

Not sure how much to bid? Ingenio lets you view the bids your competitors have made with the click of a button.

To finalize your ad, select whether you want an ongoing or one-time payment to be made to your account, and provide your credit card information. That’s all there is to it. Once you’ve created an ad, it takes about three days to be reviewed before it goes live. You can start or stop display of the ad at any time with Ingenio’s advertisement manager.

The system generates a unique toll-free number for your ad that redirects to any phone number you choose. Ingenio also provides an Advertiser Dashboard with real-time tracking of your pay-per-call advertising campaign. Statistics provided include:

  • Charged Calls – The number of calls from your ad(s) in a given week for which you were charged
  • Uncharged Calls – The number of calls from your ad(s) in a given week for which you were not charged (that is, repeat calls from customers within a 30-day period)
  • Average Price Per Charged Call – The average amount paid per charged call in a given week
  • Charged Call Amount – The total weekly amount spent on calls from your ad(s)
  • Total – The total weekly amount spent on all charges for Pay Per Call advertising

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.

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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