Imagine driving on a remote stretch of interstate highway when you hear something in your car go “pop.”

You quickly realize that something’s wrong with the car, but you don’t know what. You also don’t know exactly where the closest town, let alone auto repair shop, is located. So you pick up your phone. You can easily search for a nearby auto repair shop, make a phone call directly from that search, ask the mechanic serious questions about your problem and make sure he’s got time to take an automotive emergency.

For many products and services, such as insurance, auto repair, plumbers or even florists and the bakery, a phone call to a local shop has been, and will likely always be, the best way to match consumer with merchant. Even with ready access to the web, these industries—and many more—thrive on phone calls to generate business and sales.

Now, a full decade into the new millennium, the telephone call and person-to-person verbal connection are stronger than ever, thanks to ongoing advances in internet and mobile technology. As the PC and phone converge, making calls from an internet search is easier than ever—all it takes is one click to call. In fact, according to a recent TMP Directional Marketing/comScore study, a phone call is the most frequent consumer action following a local search. And as a result, marketers are recognizing once again the value of the phone call to doing business.

More than 23 billion phone calls are placed in North America annually, according to the BIA Kelsey Group Free 411 Study 2009, and more of those calls are being made by mobile devices and voice over internet protocol (VoIP)-based services, while consumers increasingly drop their fixed land lines.

As much as 21 percent of the U.S. population uses a cell phone as their only phone, according to a February report from the Pew Research Center. That same report indicates that 41% of the so-called Millennial Generation and 24% of Generation X are cell phone-only.

Taking that techno-trend further is that 20% of the mobile phone users now also use their devices to search the internet, according to BIA Kelsey. Those searches are often for local businesses. BIA Kelsey also estimates that local search advertising will reach $1.3 billion in 2013 because of this.

Being able to call directly from an online search is becoming more and more convenient. With the rise of software and web-based VoIP services consumers can make these calls more easily than ever with just one click. Whether getting an insurance quote or finding contractors for home repair, using the phone has remained the primary way to make appointments and reservations, order local goods and buy services. VoIP users worldwide number in the hundreds of millions. And mobile VoIP users could rise to as many as 100 million by 2011, according to consulting firm ON World. Skype, for example, already has 20 million concurrent users at peak times.

That’s an interesting sum of parts. As Generation X and the Millennials rise to make up a larger bulk of today’s consumer market, these highly active mobile internet and VoIP-calling users are now the largest target for advertising. And marketers are discovering that the best place to reach them—or more specifically, how to let them reach the business—is through the phone.

Phone calls have always, and will likely continue to, lead to actual sales five to 10 times as often as internet surfing and clicking do. To take advantage of these changing consumer patterns, marketers need to identify how to get their advertisers—and their phone numbers—in front of buyers. The wider the distribution of your phone number, the more that number will be seen by consumers in internet searches, mobile applications and VoIP-based services.

So, what does this all add up to? Now is the time marketers are perking up to opportunities to reach target customers by promoting their phone numbers through mobile, internet and VoIP channels. The bottom line is that calls no longer happen exclusively from landlines, and this represents a huge opportunity for marketers to more widely distribute their phone numbers. Instead of just buying a listing in a phone book, marketers can make a much bigger impact and reach a much bigger audience by leveraging internet search sites, mobile applications and VoIP channels to promote their phone numbers. Effectively capitalizing on all three of these channels is an easy way to open the door to new revenue streams and customers for any marketer.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column

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About The Author: Marchex’s Senior Vice President of Advertising Services, has an extensive background in online advertising and is responsible for driving Marchex’s direct advertising business.

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