SBC’s SMARTpages.com Adds Click-To-Call Product

Internet yellow pages (IYP) site SMARTpages.com, owned by SBC, is rolling out Live!Leads, a free product enabling consumers to click to receive phone calls from advertisers.

The move seeks to build loyalty for SMARTpages.com in the hotly competitive IYP arena. It’s also aimed at bringing more value to advertisers who either don’t have a Web site, or simply prefer doing business by phone.

SMARTpages competitor SuperPages.com, owned by Verizon, already offers a click-to-call product. However, Verizon charges advertisers for its product, which is powered by eStara. The SMARTpages service, powered by Ingenio, is free to advertisers.

The product was rolled out to virtually all SMARTpages.com advertisers over the last few days. It appears as a telephone-shaped icon in each company’s listing with a link reading, “Click to Call,” next to the company’s phone number. When the link is clicked, users are prompted to enter their phone numbers, which remain private. Once that is done, Ingenio technology initiates a “two-legged” call, phoning the merchant and the user and then connecting the two, according to Marc Barach, CMO of Ingenio.

User’s phone numbers are stored on their hard drives and need not be re-entered in the future when clicking to call, Barach said. Barach would not give the details of the payment arrangements between SMARTpages.com and Ingenio.

“This is an environment where the more exciting features you can roll out to your advertisers, the more you can compete,” said Barach. “Companies that stay static are going to feel the heat because the paid local search area is developing the fastest of any other companies.”

Local search is believed to be one of the next growth areas in search engine marketing, with the Kelsey Group expecting local paid search advertising in the U.S. to reach $2.5 billion by 2008.

The Live!Leads product is not to be confused with a new offering Ingenio is developing with paid search listings provider FindWhat. That still-nascent offering, announced in April, is a system whereby advertisers will pay per-phone-call, rather than per-click. The Live!Leads service on SMARTpages.com involves no fee to the advertisers. Ingenio simply facilitates calls between consumer and merchant.

“Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is the way they made it available for free to their advertisers,” said Greg Sterling, program director at the Kelsey Group. “It’s something they could have sold, it’s a potential revenue opportunity and they decided to implement it across the board.”

The move will benefit consumers and hence draw more traffic, Sterling said, which will in turn attract more advertisers. Also, it will provide a better return for advertisers because it facilitates another form of contact between the merchant and the consumer, he said. These elements should help SMARTpages win advertiser loyalty, he said. “It’s a win all around.”

Since most consumers use only one or two IYPs, “in some ways, all the IYPs are competing for user and advertiser loyalty and awareness,” Sterling said. Competing IYPs include Verizon’s SuperPages, SBC’s SMARTpages.com, Dex’s YellowPages.com, BellSouth RealPages.com and Switchboard.com, he said.

Even more significantly, there’s Google’s beta version of local search. “Google Local is definitely an Internet Yellow pages-like application. It’s IYP data and Web search combined. This has to be seen at least from a pure usage perspective as a competitive player also,” Sterling said.

Also, Yahoo has rolled out a search function, called SmartView, that allows users to find local businesses by proximity.

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