Pay-For-Call: Moving Clicks To Live Sales Leads

Many local businesses have long relied on incoming phone calls to drive their commerce. This is particularly true for needs-based businesses, such as plumbers or exterminators that require an initial conversation with a potential customer to determine whether a solution can be provided and an appointment should be made. This need is met over the phone as opposed to an in-store visit and is more efficient than a form request through the Internet because it allows for a dialogue to take place.  Conversely, when a consumer is faced with an urgent or immediate need, the telephone is the primary tool he will use to connect with a product or service provider to receive instant attention.

Enter pay-for-call.

For those new to Pay-For-Call (PFC), it is a performance-based advertising medium that delivers qualified customer inquiries to advertisers via the telephone.  PFC utilizes a variety of advertising distribution channels, such as search engines, Internet yellow pages, directories, vertical web sites or increasingly, mobile sources, to reach an advertiser’s target audience with call-focused advertisements.  Phrases like “call for more information” or “call now” are used to encourage the visitor to take action and place a call to the advertising business.  Following are some examples of the types of businesses that are most likely to benefit from PFC:

Real Estate Agents
Loan Brokerage
Automotive Repair
Rental Cars
Lawn Care
Urgent Medical Care
Emergency Pet Care
Pest Control
Chimney Cleaning
Home Maid Services
Home Heating or AC
Home Security
Taxi Cab/ Limousine
Debt Consolidation
Tax Accountants

  What truly distinguishes PFC from simply a call-focused advertisement is the ability to track the specific distribution outlet that resulted in the phone call.  Every PFC advertiser can have a unique phone number for each method of distribution that is directly traced back to the advertisement.  This allows for accurate reporting of the number of phone calls delivered to the advertiser and allows the advertiser to track the new leads entering his business.  All phone numbers used in the campaign are directed to the advertiser’s business line or local office, which creates a seamless experience for the caller and advertiser. 

In addition to the new customers that PFC can deliver to a business, it can also offer detailed reporting.  Advanced PFC providers offer reporting that may include caller phone number, including missed phone call numbers, call time, call length, caller location and number of calls. Some providers offer optional call recording, which can be used to monitor the quality of the phone conversation and call itself. The recordings can also serve as a powerful tool and focus group for some businesses.

PFC is characterized as a performance-based advertising medium because the advertiser only pays when the viewer takes a desired action—in this case places a call.  Typically, a call will need to have a minimum duration of time in order to be billed.  Common minimum billable call lengths range from 10-15 seconds.  Additionally, PFC providers usually only charge for new customer phone calls and will not charge for repeat phone calls within a specific period of time.  

Why is pay-for-call important now?

Early on, PFC proved successful for only certain business types.  Dating services, insurance, lending and other business industries that naturally tend to generate customer inquiries via telephone, effectively utilized PFC to develop new customer relationships.  However, for businesses with increased competition for calls, PFC providers did not have advertisement distribution broad enough to cover a diverse range of business categories and therefore struggled to fulfill their advertisers’ budgets and deliver the desired amount of call-based leads. 

Today, the problems that once constrained PFC are being overcome by certain providers. As a result, PFC is reemerging as a powerful tool for local businesses across a broad range of business categories.  Increased consumer use of the Internet and Internet-enabled mobile devices, allows an opportunity for PFC providers to cost-effectively connect businesses with consumers that are interested in placing a phone call related to a product or service.  Consumers’ increased use of local search via mobile Internet is a perfect example of how greater call volumes can now be generated. According to The Kelsey Group’s Mike Boland, we can expect to see growth from 54.5 million mobile Web users to 63.6-73 million in 2009 alone, with growth of handsets from 266.4 million to 274.7 million.  It is also expected that searches for local information at 27.8 percent in 2008 will to grow to 35.1 percent by 2013 (source: The Kelsey Group, Annual Forecast: Mobile Local Media, February 2009).

Ultimately, what this means is that more consumers are using and will continue to use mobile Internet to search for local information.  The increased amount of consumer attention for local information through the use of a mobile device provides a clear emerging avenue for PFC providers.  It is through this activity that Pay-For-Call is increasingly driving new business and relationships for businesses of all sizes.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column


About The Author: is a Strategic Marketing Manager for Marchex. In this role, Jeff is responsible for identifying market trends and opportunities to launch and position new advertising products and services. His previous experience includes marketing for growth stage businesses.

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  • kadams

    great article. i used to work at idearc media. when pay-for-call first appeared at i became on its biggest advocates. after awhile i fell out of love for the product since there was no way to display a url in the ad. while the roi was great, there was consistently not enough traffic. the ad essentially only appealed to users that were willing to just pick up the phone.

    in short, it is worth a try, but i can’t see it replacing other forms of online ads.


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