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Search engine marketers are no longer selling calls to merchants but conversion. Prior discussions among industry insiders focused on calls, but according to a Manta survey, 49 percent of merchants named referrals as the most valuable lead source. This was among the insights shared by moderator Charles Laughlin during the mid-afternoon session, “The New Wave of Local Lead Generation.”

If referrals are preferred, than who’s getting SMB ad dollars? Survey respondents named search engine advertising as the primary source for online ad spend, a “fairly consistent” result, Charles noted. In measuring ROI, “transparency is key,” said Pamela Springer, CEO of Manta. “Ultimately, merchants want to know, ‘did they buy from me?’

In addition to the “value” of a lead source, merchants want quality leads. Adam Burrows, VP of business development for ServiceMagic, echoed this sentiment. Some consumers just browse sites with no intention to buy. When it comes to purchasing a product or service, “most qualified leads come from sites where people are [actively] looking,” Burrows said.

Certain lead categories produce more quality leads than others. Marco Zappacosta, CEO of Thumbtack, cites services that consumers don’t have completed often, such as roofing, as as one of these areas.

Looking ahead to 2012, panelist Tom Higley, CEO of Local Matters, sees SMBs being “dragged either willingly or reluctantly into the innovation circle.”





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