A Closer Look at Pay-Per-Call Search Marketing

AOL recently 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. If you’re not familiar with it, pay per call is worth a look.

Pay-per-call advertising’s premise is straightforward. In response to a query, pay-per-call ads display a toll-free telephone number rather than a sponsored link to an advertiser’s Web site. When the searcher clicks on the pay-per-call ad, he sees a brief information page about the business.

This 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 a plus to any business that performs best with a high-touch presence. When people are motivated enough to pick up the phone, they are often closer to making a purchase decision than those who 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, according 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, VP and general manager of AOL search and navigation.

Pay-per-call ads are generally more expensive than pay-per-click ads. Advertisers must decide for themselves whether the return on investment (ROI) warrants the program’s greater expense.

Currently, AOL displays just a single pay-per-call ad per SERP (define), but this could 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. And like Google, Ingenio distributes pay-per-call listings to multiple properties beyond AOL. Ingenio partnered with FindWhat.com in September 2004. This distribution deal gives exposure to pay-per-call ads on properties such as Excite, NBCi, Search.com, MetaCrawler, and SuperPages.com.

For more information, check out Ingenio’s FAQ 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.

Join us for Search Engine Strategies in Toronto, Canada, May 4-5, 2005.

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