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Pay per call, PPCall and Call On Select marketing guide.

(first published January 2006)

Pay Per Call, aka Pay-per-phone-call (PPCall), click-to-call and Call On Select are  relatively new marketing technologies that are sure to start getting more attention in the coming years; especially in the world of local search. Even if your products and services aren't necessarily targeted towards a local market, these are still options worth considering in order to increase online sales conversions.

While many businesses still haven't dabbled in pay per click advertising for various reasons, the vast majority of businesses have phone lines and rely heavily on that medium to generate business.

According to the Kelsey Group, 71 percent of small to medium businesses would prefer a phone call than a click in a performance-based advertising model. The Kelsey Group has also predicted that pay-per-call advertising spending will grow to between $1.4 and $4 billion by 2009.

What is Pay Per Call?

It's pretty simple stuff. PPCall online ads encourage the user to establish phone contact rather than sending them to a web site - and this is where the real potential lies. Pay per call advertising cuts down on the number of clicks that a user has to make in order to gain the information they need on a site. 

Whereas a web site needs to take a more "shotgun" or scattered type of approach to induce a potential customer to purchase, a phone call allows for a merchant to quickly identify a customers needs and tailor a pre-sales discussion around that information. Even if a web site is involved with a purchase, the merchant's sales team can step the client through on how to make a purchase, lessening the chances of shopping cart abandonment. The big advantage that I see with PPCall is in relation to time - less time needed to convert a client and less time for the client to be possibly distracted by a competitors offering.

How does pay per call work?

A PPCall ad is set up much like a Pay Per Click advertisement, except with a phone number added and highlighted.

There's two main models:

a) A toll free number is provided to the user which allows the ad network to track calls made to the advertiser. 

b) The user enters their phone number, clicks a button and the ad network dials the advertiser and the user simultaneously. The user picks up their phone and can hear the connection being made. As the advertising network is handling the connection for the call, the user is not charged for it. This also allows added privacy for the user as the advertiser is not provide with their phone number.

As in pay-per-click, the pricing of a pay-per-call leads is determined by a bidding process on keywords and keyphrases. The highest bid gains the highest listing on relevant queries.

Advertisers are charged not on clicks to the listing, but only when a call is made.

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What is Call on Select?

This is really new and as far as I'm aware, there's no service providing this option as yet. A senior Google research scientist filed a U.S. patent application (document no. 20060004627) in June 2004 for the "call-on-select" process.

This process is the delivery of advertising to a cell phone (or other similar device) based on the characteristics of the device. The call-on-select feature is where an ad is selected, instead of a web page loading and then a telephone number associated with the advertiser can be  automatically dialed instead, connecting the user to the advertiser.

Stay tuned on this one, given that so many people in the USA are increasing switching over to cell phones as their primary telephone connection, this is sure to be a huge marketing opportunity for advertisers.

Who are the pay per call players?

As with any new marketing technology showing promise, there are many startups vying for a slice of the pie, but probably the best known companies with decent market saturation are the following.


Google commenced testing Pay Per Call late in 2005, calling it "Click to Call". In some Adwords ads, a green phone icon is displayed. When the icon is clicked, a form appears prompting  a user to enter their phone number. When the number is entered, Google calls the advertiser and the user and a connection is made between the two parties.

At this point in time, I'm not sure how advertisers can sign up for Click to Call; if you're interested, contact Google via your Adwords account.

Update August 30 2006 - Google and eBay announce click-to-call partnership


Ingenio provides toll-free numbers in Pay Per Call ads which forward directly to your business phone number. Ingenio charges on the first call from an identifiable phone number within a 30-day period. Subsequent calls to the toll free number within that time from the same number are free. Ingenio doesn't charge for short calls, hang-ups or unanswered calls. Ads appear on AOL Search, AOL Yellow Pages and other large search and directory sites. Late in 2005, Yahoo Local was also rumored to be running pay-per-call ads being served by Ingenio.

FindWhat (Miva)

FindWhat, now under the brand name of ecommerce giant, Miva, works a similar model to Ingenio; i.e they provide a toll free number for users to call. Miva's network includes Lycos, Search.com, SuperPages and InfoSpace.

What does pay per call cost?

It's not cheap by any means, but given the traditionally higher conversion rates of "hot" telephone leads, it may even work out to be more economical for your business. In most cases, as with pay per click, the setup fees are free, but you'll probably need a much higher opening account balance with the companies that offer a toll free number. 

It's my understanding that the average top spot bid is anywhere from $2 to $20. I have seen figures quoted as high as $50 for the top position. It's really not all that much to pay if you have a high value, high margin product and your telephone sales force are good at what they do :).

More pay per call related statistics

  • A 2004 Jupiter Research independent study, requested by Ingenio, showed that 48% of the participating small businesses were interested in PPCall and that they would pay 5 to 15 times more for a phone lead over a click. 

  • In terms of conversions, the Kelsey Group has reported that verbal discussions with a prospective client are 45% more effective than without that form of contact.

  • comScore Media Metrix qSearch data for August 2005 states the number of local searches, queries related to geographically distinct places, was close to 450 million. Local search statistics are of interest in relation to Pay Per Call as local potential clients are more likely to call an advertiser before purchasing or visiting their bricks and mortar storefront.

While Pay Per Call, PPCall, click-to-call, or whatever you'd like to call it is still in its infancy, if you have a crack sales team and good margins on your products or high value products, it's well worthwhile considering as an addition to your marketing arsenal.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
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In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.

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