For the last few months, you may have noticed an increase in the conversation on this blog and elsewhere about call monetizaton. Sometimes referred to as Pay-per-call (a branch of call monetization), this includes charging businesses for inbound phone leads.
Like search marketing in its early days, call monetization is picking up fast. And in a lots of ways, it’s branching out from search. In fact, Google’s efforts with call monetization are characterizing and validating the opportunity to the broader market.
The reason this is culminating now is the growth in smartphone and resulting growth in mobile search. As we keep saying, mobile search carries a great deal of commercial intent from users. And don’t forget the mobile device is also a phone.
So the result is a flood of calls being driven to small businesses, and a greater appreciation for the value of these calls. Our SMB survey data shows that businesses very much want the phone to ring. So roll it all together and this is a huge opportunity.
We’ve tackled it with lots of webinars, analyst roundtables and blog posts. This culminates in a massive white paper I’ve been working on for the last couple months. There’s lots of research, data, case studies and insights from the top players in the space.
Aside from the “Pay-per-call” aspects that most people know call monetization for, there is are growing sub sectors supporting the field. This includes all kinds of things like call tracking, analytics, routing and even fighting nefarious areas like “call fraud.”
As a teaser, check out an excerpt from the paper below. It should be out in the next couple weeks and we’re excited to start engaging over the analysis. It will also be a key topic in our 2014 conference series, starting with our Leading in Local show next month. Stay tuned for more.
Call Monetization: The Main Course
So far we’ve detailed the massive market opportunity in driving calls to businesses, and introduced terms like “call monetization” and “call based ad market.” But what exactly do we mean by call monetization, and what comprises the call based ad market?
“Click to call” — and its monetization structure “pay-per-call” — is the most common association with call monetization. Google’s work in this area has driven the phrase into the mainstream consciousness (as can happen when Google enters new areas).
Other local media and ad players are innovating in different ways to drive calls to local advertisers, including xAd and Local Corporation. More broadly, the interest and excitement around phone leads is even compelling companies like Twitter into the space.
Specifically, Twitter is testing a click to call button with a few of its brand advertisers. Using its expandable card-based format for multimedia within promoted Tweets, these call buttons will show up in similar fashion to “click to subscribe” buttons seen previously.
There are other components meanwhile developing to unlock value in call monetization, such as call tracking and analytics. There’s predictive modeling to determine caller intent and route calls accordingly — for instance to an automated system versus a live person.
These are all important and growing areas we’ll detail in the sections below. It’s important to see how they come together in a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” manner. As these areas develop, they are fusing together in more holistic ways.
Pay-per-call has existed for years in traditional media such as newspapers and Yellow Pages. Dedicated metered numbers track and attribute calls back to a given ad campaign, or even a given placement within a campaign. Advertisers can often be charged per call.
Today, call tracking not only measures calls, but “call quality” based on variables like call source, keyword spotting and other factors described in the following section on “call tracking.” At more basic levels, call frequency and duration can be proxies for quality.
Pay-per-call has evolved in step with digital media like search. As noted earlier, search’s high-intent use case aligns with the consumer need to make phone calls to qualify purchase decisions. Search also supports and co-exists with calls as a “lower funnel” user activity.
But during search marketing’s tenure on the desktop, conducting calls was cumbersome for users given that the PC and the phone are physically separated. Beyond the tech savvy minority using Skype, there was little direct connection between search results and calls.
But the smartphone has since come along to fuse the search device to the calling device for a more intuitive handoff between the two activities. Hardware aside, the high intent nature of mobile searchers explored above drives higher quality billable leads to businesses.
This has all created an environment ripe for mobile pay per call. Phone numbers in search results and local apps like Yelp and YP mobile are hyperlinked to launch phone calls. Many of these apps have responded in turn by charging advertisers for calls driven from the app.
This can happen on per-call basis, usually powered by companies like Marchex or Telmetrics that work with publishers and advertisers. It can also be positioned as an incentive to buy into a premium subscription-based ad package that’s proposed to drive higher call volumes.
Currently, many online marketing and presence products (websites, social media, local listings, and email marketing) employ the latter. Call monetization in these cases happens in more of an indirect way through subscription service. Yelp is one example.
In either case, several models developing to monetize calls show high value leads resulting from mobile search, app usage, and overall mobile engagement. Analytics providers such as Marchex can qualify ROI in more granular ways, as explored further below.