A Closer Look at Pay-Per-Call Search Marketing

Last spring, 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, particularly with those targeting a local audience. 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 to an advertiser’s Web site in response to a query, pay-per-call ads display a toll-free number. The searcher clicks on the pay-per-call ad and 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 to 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 call, they’re often closer to making a purchase decision than those who simply click on a sponsored listing. And phone reps can answer questions and overcome objections more quickly than most Web sites can.

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 must decide for themselves whether the ROI (define) warrants the program’s greater expense.

At this point, AOL displays just one pay-per-call ad per search result page, but this may change 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, and 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 Google provides sponsored links to AOL. Like Google, Ingenio distributes pay-per-call listings to multiple properties beyond AOL. Ingenio partnered with FindWhat (now MIVA) in September 2004. This distribution deal gives exposure to pay-per-call ads on properties such as Excite, NBCi, Search.com, 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.

This column was adopted from ClickZ’s SearchEngineWatch.com. A longer, more detailed version is available to paid Search Engine Watch members.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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