Small business advertisers that value the ideas behind pay-per-click but find themselves hard pressed to calculate a ROI for their advertising may have a new outlet available at the AOL search. AOL has announced plans this week to partner with Ingenio, a company specializing in a pay-per-call advertising platform.

The idea behind Ingenio's offering is similar to the popular pay-per-click programs offered by Overture, Google AdWords and other providers. Searchers are presented with text ads designed to match certain keyword queries, but rather than click on the ad to view a company's Web site, they are given a phone number to call to contact the company. Ingenio then routes the phone call through their system and forwards it on to the advertiser. The ads are designed to be regionally specific, allowing users to search for businesses or service vendors near their homes. Advertisers are charged a per-call fee based on the bids they make when setting up their accounts.

Because the advertisements produce phone calls and not Web site visitors, there's no need for an advertiser to have a Web site or generate landing pages for each campaign. Instead, the ads are meant to produce phone leads, which Ingenio tracks by keyword phrase to allow an advertiser to know exactly which ads are converting and at what price. The new format opens up a world of opportunities for small businesses that have not yet had a chance to build a Web site, or that have difficulty tracking the ROI of a traditional PPC campaign. The latter example is where small businesses will most likely see a benefit to testing this new advertising venue.

Businesses that rely on the Web to produce phone leads, rather than to sell products, are likely to see the benefits of Ingenio's program from the start. Funeral homes are a great example of a business that may have a Web site, but that is more likely to do business and convert leads via a phone call or personal meeting. While a funeral home may be able to use traditional PPC advertising to drive leads to their Web site, chances are high that customers will visit the site only long enough to look around for a few moments and then make a phone call. Because of this, traditional ways at measuring the value of traffic (filling out forms, selling products, even amount of time spent on a site) are not always accurate indicators of ROI for a PPC campaign. For a business like a funeral home, it's also not proper to grill customers over the phone trying to find out what search engine and what keyword phrase the customer used to find the company. Thus, the impact of a PPC campaign can be difficult to determine.

The pay per call program offered by Ingenio can solve that problem. Because Ingenio tracks which ads generate calls, companies can gather a comprehensive list of a data to use in fine tuning their campaigns, all without trying to pry information out of customers that have greater concerns than remembering exactly what they typed into a search engine. With the pay per call ads expected to be showcased on AOL Search, the Web site, AOL Yellow Pages and other AOL sites, advertisers will be able to reach the majority of AOL users.

Companies that have long relied on telemarketing to produce leads may also see the benefit of a program like this one. With do-not-call lists growing and government regulation making it more and more difficult to do traditional telemarketing, many companies are faced with making up for the loss in business via other forms of advertising. Pay-per-call advertising is one way for companies to generate phone leads without worrying about whether or not they are complying with new federal guidelines.

The expected launch date of the Ingenio ads across the AOL network has not yet been determined, but interested advertisers can get more information about how the Ingenio system works at their Web site.

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January 21, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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