Archive for the ‘PPCall’ Category

Yelp’s ‘Hidden’ PPCall Opportunity

June 6, 2010

Pay per call is not something that Yelp currently sells, to my knowledge. However this little bit of data caught my eye in a Yelp blog post last week:

Last month, over half a million calls were made to local businesses directly from our Yelp iPhone App. That’s about 1 call every 5 seconds to a business as a result of Yelp.

Imagine if Yelp were to start to monetize these calls. There are several challenges in doing that of course (e.g., they’d be intercepting calls going to those businesses arguably anyway). But the volume suggests the company has an opportunity with PPCall.

And when other smartphone platforms are included the call volumes could approach a million monthly calls.

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Related (though nothing about the data above): Mercury News interview: Jeremy Stoppelman, Yelp CEO

Yext Launches Rep Mgmt Platform

May 25, 2010

Today Yext launched a reputation management platform that it hopes will be broadly adopted by not only SMBs but also some of its competitors. Here’s Yext’s description of its new Yext Dashboard:

The Yext Dashboard is a one-stop destination to manage online reputation and advertising services. The Yext Dashboard contains a real-time feed that shows the constant flow of reviews, tweets, Facebook wall posts, alerts and other information, allowing business owners to monitor and manage how their reputation is being affected in real-time. The Yext Dashboard also allows third–party providers to develop tools and services that integrate into the Yext Dashboard and feed.

The interface is elegant and simple. There are basically three views:

  • Feed (all activity from covered sites, including Facebook and Twitter mentions)
  • Rep (this shows the sources of the various mentions and reviews)
  • Ads (this can show ads and/or calls if you’re  a Yext subscriber)

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The interface allows users to sort by source, time and locations (if you own a multi-location business). There are also some non-traditional sources. SMBs can filter by specific source, as mentioned, to see only the comments coming, for example, from Yelp or Foursquare or Superpages, etc:

Like other comparable products SMBs can see where there listings appear and where they do not — and go right to those sites to update, add or correct them.

The “Ads” view will hypothetically show ads from any third party site, but will also show “calls” (recordings/transcripts) from Yext. Yext hopes that it will boost advertiser adoption of Yext but CEO Howard Lerman  also said that he hopes others, including Yext competitors, will write apps that can appear in this dashboard.

Many reputation management products now in the market, including Marchex, Yellowbot and Steprep, among others, are being sold directly or bundled as part of premium packages. The Yext Dashboard is free.

I’ve had three calls in the past 72 hours with companies offering reputation and/or presence management products for SMBs. It’s very clear to me that reputation management and related services are quickly becoming a mandatory part of the SMB offering.

Marchex Launches PPCall ‘Exchange’

May 11, 2010

Marchex has gone public with a “Pay-for-Call Exchange,” according to a press release out this morning:

The Marchex Pay-For-Call Exchange combines a robust telephony platform with campaign creation expertise and call filtering technologies to create, manage and optimize advertiser campaigns across more than 50 publisher partners in online, offline and mobile media. Additionally, advertisers have access to rich call analytics and customer intelligence, including caller geography and call recordings.

Advertisers that have joined Marchex’s Pay-For-Call Exchange have experienced significant ROI, including an average call conversion ranging from 20 percent to 30 percent for many advertisers, with some seeing as high as 50 percent; typical consumer engagement on the phone averages more than eight minutes, with certain categories and advertisers experiencing up to 12 minutes; and typical advertiser budget increases have averaged 200 percent of their initial commitment. Additionally, companies that have joined Marchex’s Pay-For-Call Exchange have been able to monetize their inventory more effectively.

While still in its relative infancy, Marchex has built a significant, growing customer and partner base for its Pay-For-Call Exchange, including leading digital agencies such as Razorfish, one of the largest interactive marketing and technology companies in the world; ADT, the world’s largest electronic security company; PRIMEDIA, a provider of online, print and mobile platforms that provide real estate rental listings; and Jingle Networks, the nation’s leading advertiser-supported directory assistance service at 1-800-FREE-411.

According to a brief discussion I had with Marchex’s COO Pete Christothoulou:

  • Marchex is acting as an agency in some respects and a network in others
  • The company is buying media on behalf of advertisers offline (including DRTV), online and in mobile
  • Marchex collaborates with advertisers on the creative
  • The company is highly conscious of the “bad calls” problem with PPCall and does “call filtering” and ad buys that seek to maximize good calls

The program has been running in a private beta for awhile. Look again at the conversion data cited in the release:

[A]n average call conversion ranging from 20 percent to 30 percent for many advertisers, with some seeing as high as 50 percent; typical consumer engagement on the phone averages more than eight minutes, with certain categories and advertisers experiencing up to 12 minutes . . .

Impressive.

Jingle Networks, cited in the release, had made an effort to create a version of this at one point. But to my knowledge this is a unique marketplace. I asked Christothoulou about the types of advertisers utilizing the service. He said that currently it’s mostly national advertisers and large advertisers targeting specific markets.

PPCall has never lived up to the early hype (that I helped create) but a combination of factors, including more aggressive use of PPCall in traditional media and the rise of mobile, may mean that it finally gets the traction among advertisers that its value proposition has always promised.

Guess: Phone #s in AdWords = PPCall

May 5, 2010

Google, to my knowledge, has always allowed phone numbers to appear in AdWords ad copy. But this has not been a widely employed practice. Or maybe at one point it was allowed and then later disallowed; I’m not sure.

However last week over at Search Engine Land we were sent a screen shot that showed phone numbers in AdWords:

Google’s mobile new Click-to-Call (which translates into PPCall when you turn off the PC targeting) is widely known. But this phone-numbers-in-AdWords development seemed to be new. Indeed, Google confirmed it:

“We’re currently testing a feature with a small number of advertisers in which a phone number can be included within the ad to help them more effectively engage with customers who prefer to connect over the phone.”

However Google wouldn’t say anything more about:

  • Whether these were tracking numbers (provided by Google)
  • Whether Google was getting paid on a per-call basis

I’m going to speculate that these are tracking numbers (from Google) and that it is a PPCall billing model. The logic behind my speculation is simple.

If people see the ads and just call the phone number there’s no click and so no billable event. Google doesn’t get paid. And the presence of the phone number in the ad in fact explicitly contemplates that some number of people will just pick up the phone and not click.

To determine the efficacy of this program calls would necessarily need to be tracked with unique phone numbers. And Google probably wouldn’t say: just go ahead advertiser and use your own phone numbers and let us know later how many calls you receive. So Google is probably supplying the tracking numbers; and the model is probably PPCall.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think is going on?

Google’s Click to Call into PPCall?

April 20, 2010

Telmetrics’ Bill Dinan offers a column at Search Engine Land and thoughts on Google’s mobile Click to Call offering. He wonders:

Will national advertisers flock to the Google click-to-call model in droves and effectively out price many local advertisers? Will Google use the click pricing temporarily while it builds critical mass?

At the recent CTIA show in Las Vegas I fortuitously ran into Google’s Chris La Sala (now in mobile) and a colleague while waiting for a cab. I opportunistically asked about click to call and pricing. I’ve always said “It’s a call for the price of a click.” What I didn’t realize is that Google will allow marketers to totally opt-out of online targeting.

The above image is a screenshot from the AdWords dashboard. Advertisers can “uncheck” the “desktop and laptop computers” box and, viola, mobile-only targeting. As more advertisers realize this and embrace “Click to Call” it may become “Pay per Call” with prices rising accordingly. This is what Google would like to see as well.

There was a brief mention of Click to Call by Product Management VP Susan Wojcicki on the recent Google Q1 earnings call:

We also rolled out new formats and targeting options specific for mobile. This quarter we launched a Click to Call feature that automatically puts the phone number in the ad that is running on a Smart Phone. So if you are looking for auto insurance and do that query from your Android or iPhone the ads will include a number to call. Not surprisingly this has increased click through, or should I say call through.

Last year comScore and TMPDM reported that 46% of users who conducted a successful local business search online went on to contact that business via telephone.

Telmetrics: Google Click2Call Good for Industry

March 10, 2010

The following is a piece by Bill Dinan, President of Telmetrics, about Google’s recent expansion of its Click to Call mobile advertising program and its potential larger significance in the market. The opinions are solely those of the author . . .

While search monetization for Google has always been about clicks and measuring online activity, this move validates the complementary relationship between online search and offline consumer purchasing behavior.  Online drives offline, so clicks and calls go hand in hand. Add mobile to the equation and Google recognizes a revenue opportunity in tracking the connection between mobile searching and the resulting calls. Advertisers benefit because they get a more complete view of the response generated by a mobile advertising program.

But Google’s approach is different–other providers’ monetization models price calls separately and typically higher than clicks. You have to wonder why Google has come out with a lower price for calls, when industry experience demonstrates calls can be monetized at higher levels than clicks. Our guess is that they wanted to keep the mobile model simple for advertisers that are already comfortable with paying for clicks while still developing a revenue stream that accounts for the offline connection.

Does Google’s move into click-to-call hurt other online properties offering pay per call solutions?

No, because Google’s move is consistent with their click-based model. Google’s model is not pay per call – it is a complementary model on the mobile device but it is still pay per click. Click-to-call doesn’t automatically translate to pay per call.  However, Google’s move reinforces the need to track consumer online-offline searching and buying patterns.

Have national advertisers showed interest in mobile click-to-call or pay per call ads?

National advertisers have showed interest in mobile advertising, but more importantly they are looking for more transparency and performance-based advertising across all traditional and digital mediums to validate their ad spend.

Click-to-call provides similar data to a click-based model and those advertisers already used to pay-per-click via Google will find that click-to-call is a natural extension and complementary. Those advertisers already using call-based metrics either through pay per call or subscription programs will still be looking for true call response data which by virtue of the information attached to calls provides richer data about consumer behavior.

Google Expands ‘Click to Call’ Program

March 2, 2010

Google has decided to let all advertisers utilize its Click to Call program (only mobile, on high-end smartphones). Before you needed a physical address (i.e., local business). You associated a phone number with an address as part of Google’s location extensions in AdWords.

Now you no longer need a physical address and can use any phone number in your ad. So the call can go to a local distributor, store or national call center, however the advertiser would like to route or handle the call.

Google is still only charging for the click. In other words there’s no additional cost or separate bidding for the inclusion of the phone number. Google has done this to avoid complicating its system. But the company hopes that savvy advertisers will “get” the value of this and start bidding up the price of keywords and ads that contain phone numbers.

National advertisers apparently were seeking access to the program, so Google decided to expand it. These ads perform quite a bit better than conventional AdWords on smartphones, according to Google.

This is the PPCall program that everyone has waited for Google to implement, except that it’s a deal right now because you only pay the cost of a click. Early adopters will reap the benefits and the relatively low cost of these calls.

I’ve also written about it at SEL.

Yext Is for Real

February 15, 2010

I met briefly with Yext at the Borrell show after months of emails back and forth. The company partly showed me and further described an elaborate and impressive calling platform directed at new customer acquisition exclusively. The company doesn’t currently offer a product for CRM or loyalty.

All calls are recorded, analyzed and, then, merchants are only billed after the fact for good leads. Analysis of the calls is done with speech-to-text technology and data mining for various key words and phrases to determine caller intent. Traffic comes from syndication, SEM and Yext’s own directory. Yext participates in CityGrid for example.

In terms of business models, it’s an interesting variation on PPCall that remedies some of the problems of the model. Conventional PPCall just looks at call duration to determine whether to bill. For example the old Ingenio (now operated/owned by AT&T) billed after 30 seconds. This product involves a great deal more sophistication to determine the actual content of calls as a prerequisite to billing. It pushes closer to a model that is more “risk free” for advertisers, though not as far as a HelpHive or LocalTop, which take a commission upon completion of a project.

Yext also rewards merchants that respond to calls; answering the phone is a problem for some SMBs. Those that are responsive rank higher in results than those who do not (price is of course also factored in).

I specifically asked about the $20M revenue figure floated during the recent TechCrunch event in which Yext had a bit of a coming out. Many people I speak with don’t believe that the company actually has those revenues. Not only are those revenues real, said CEO Howard Lerman, they’ll be bigger than the quoted figure this year. The strategic use of that number helped the company secure a $25 million round of funding.

My belief is that if the revenues weren’t real the VCs (who presumably do due diligence) wouldn’t have invested.

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Correction: Ingenio charges for calls after 12 seconds not 30.

Google Debuts Click to Call for Mobile

January 28, 2010

Today Google is formally launching functionality that enables a “clickable local phone number” to appear in mobile ads.  In other words a phone number appears as part of the ad copy and consumer-users can simply tap the number to initiate a call (see image below). It’s a call for the price of a click on mobile handsets.

Not available on PC AdWords campaigns, it’s only available on “high-end” mobile handsets with full HTML browsers. We wrote about this initially when an email went out to AdWords advertisers notifying them that Google was introducing click to call in mobile ads.

Earlier today I was able to speak at some length with Paul Feng, Google’s Group Product Manager for Mobile Ads. He explained that the functionality is easily activated; it’s really part of AdWords local extensions.

The rest of this post is at SEL.

The Return of Click to Call?

January 25, 2010

Click to Call as been around online forever, yet it has been little used. Historically yellow pages publishers (e.g., Superpages) that offered it saw limited use vs. more conventional phone calling to local businesses.

At one time Google offered it as a feature to contact local businesses on Google Maps. But that was discontinued in 2007. Similarly the pre-Bing Windows Live Local also had “call for free” (C2C), which was later discontinued. Why? Basically because these services were not used except by a small number of people. We may, however, be entering a new period where Click2Call “returns” and becomes more widely adopted and actively used, as part of a larger movement toward VoIP services.

Two developments point toward but don’t guarantee this . . .

First there’s a new Facebook app from a company called 8×8 Connect, which places a “call me” button on your Facebook profile and doesn’t show a user’s phone number:

This launches a module (image can be replaced with profile photo) to enable people to call any number supplied by the user:

Next, Google’s browser Chome has added a Skype-like “extension” that enables click to call  through the browser:

  • Adds a button to the toolbar, which displays the number of unread messages in your Google Voice inbox.
  • Gives you quick access to your most recent messages with transcripts.
  • Lets you initiate calls and send free text messages by just typing any number or contact name.
  • Makes phone numbers on websites callable via Google Voice by just clicking on them.

Of course Skype has similar functionality, and is/was being used by European Directories as part of a local/Maps SEO strategy.

As a momentary digression, imagine how Facebook might implement its own version of this: free calls domestically and low-cost, Skype-like calls outside the US. And imagine how this might facilitate “leads” to local businesses via Facebook. Although it might be hard to charge on a per-call/per-lead basis given the availability of the 8×8 Connect free service (or others that might crop up). Still this C2C capability potentially makes Facebook even more useful to local businesses as a marketing platform. The line between C2C and PPCall is a thin one, of course.

We’ll see if these new services and/or others like them “take” this time around. My guess is that the market is now better conditioned to understand, accept and use these types of services.

More CPA Action from Google

January 6, 2010

Barry Schwartz at SEL posts on a new lead capture form that’s shown up on Google:

Apparently the advertiser will pay a maxium CPC price for the lead submission. This is another version of what Google previously showed with AdWords Comparison Ads:

This leads to this:

That ultimately leads to this:

Google recently introduced PPCall/Click2Call in mobile and is obviously playing with lead-gen and other variations on its traditional CPC model.

Telmetrics 2010 PPCall Trends

December 16, 2009

Here are Telmetrics’ top pay-per-call trends for 2010 (verbatim):

  1. Agencies buy ads and bill per call: With so many different media options available, advertisers are challenging agency media plans and demanding more pay for performance ad models. In 2010, agencies will buy ads via subscription and bill back to customers on a pay per call basis.
  2. Online media continue to adopt pay per call: Recognizing that calls are a cross media metric and a metric that small advertisers quickly understand, digital players will continue to add pay per call to complement existing pay per click campaigns.
  3. Quality of calls closely evaluated: As pay per call moves from infancy to mainstream, advertisers will want a more clear definition of call quality.  Publishers and agencies will have to carefully consider what defines a billable call, evaluating call duration by media type and category and looking at repeat callers over variable time intervals.  Also, there will be a continued emphasis on call recordings for assessing leads.
  4. No shift to pay per conversion: Pay per conversion – in which advertisers only pay for advertising if a sale is completed – will not take off this year. While calls make it easier to track conversions, the model presents too much risk for publishers and agencies as it relies on advertisers to convert calls to sales after the lead has been delivered.

I agree with #2-#4.

There are a number of interesting conversion-based experiments going on the local space: booking, RedBeacon, HelpHive’s model and a few others. But conversion-based billing shifts the risk to the publisher from the advertiser and so there’s resistance to going that way. True PPCall is a hybrid approach: calls sell for more but they don’t always turn into sales; many are purely informational. Recoginizing that, Yext has moved to focus on call quality and thus beyond strict PPCall.

What do you think about the above?

Why Did Google Remove The Phone Numbers?

November 5, 2009

Google appears to have removed the phone  numbers from map listings (7 Pack) that show in response to local queries. Here’s a typical recent local search result for “dentist, San Francisco”:

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Look at that same query this morning. Yes, it’s much cleaner looking but the phone numbers are gone (from all but the Local Listing Ads):

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Several things are interesting about it: 

  • The absence of conventional AdWords (this is very interesting and worthy of independent further exploration and discussion)
  • As mentioned, the presence of phone numbers in the Local Listing Ads but their absence from the 7 Pack

This appears to be a global change. Here’s what shows for “sushi, London“:

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No phone numbers on the first page. If you click down, the phone numbers are there:

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The change appears also in mobile but somewhat inconsistently. Below are variations on the query for “sushi” with and without location from an iPhone:

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It may be difficult to see, but there are no phone numbers on the first page in any of the three left queries:

  • Sushi, London
  • Sushi (Web)
  • Sushi San Franciso (Web)

In the final screenshot on the right (“sushi” using the Local tab), we do see phone numbers. Otherwise they’re not present — though they were as recently as a day or two ago. The question is: Why has Google made this change?  Is Google trying to drive calls to advertisers rather than organic listings, which now “bury” the phone number below the click:

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Is Google trying to combat or prevent this:

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The second image is a screen from the European Directories-Skype deal that uses phone number recognition to “activate” (free call) the numbers of European Directories advertisers and overcome the problem of diminishing SEO visibility for local, organic third party links on page one “above the fold.” The removal of phone numbers from the “7 Pack” effectively kills that deal’s value. There was reason to belive that Skype and other directory publishers in the US and around the globe would have done or are working on something similar. If the purpose of removing the phone numbers from the 7 Pack was to kill the directory-Skype deal scenario it would raise anti-competitive issues I believe. 

I’m going to ask Google to comment and I’ll post any response I receive from them verbatim.

Mihm Counterpoint on Call Tracking

October 30, 2009

After reading Telmetrics’ response to his Search Engine Land article, which was highly critical of call tracking, David Mihm asked if he could respond to the Telmetrics post. The following is David Mihm’s unedited response (the opinions expressed are his exclusively):

As I said in last month’s Search Engine Land column, the idea of call-tracking in Local Search is terrific.  The fragmentation of the space and the ability to provide easy-to-understand, real metrics for small business owners should make call tracking a natural evolution in Local search marketing.  It’s just not a good idea yet.

In his response, Telmetrics president Bill Dinan strongly defended the use of call tracking, but personal experience with actual small businesses has left me unconvinced of his points. The local search ecosystem simply has not evolved as fast as Telmetrics’ (and other providers’) technology.

Dinan assets that “all of the Local Search feeds have room to accept both the main business number and the tracking number.”

First of all, I’m not sure this is true.  There’s certainly a place for an 800-number in the submission process for Localeze and infoUSA/Acxiom/Universal Business Listing, but I’ve not seen the column in these submission areas for a secondary local tracking number.  Perhaps there are special arrangements for providers as large as Telmetrics but my column was written from my perspective as the owner of a small SEO agency.

Some local listing aggregators may be “working feverishly” as Bill says to accommodate local tracking numbers, but the fact is not everyone is there yet, on either the aggregator or the call tracking provider side.  For instance, infoUSA’s phone verification process may not be compatible with all companies’ offerings, even if it works with Telmetrics.  And Localeze’s Gib Olander has stated at more than one industry conference that “listings are not the place for advertising.”

Secondly, and I think this is a key point, not all information in the Local ecosystem comes via a feed. Jonathan Cohn of Acxiom mentioned in August on a Search Marketing Now webinar (27:00 onwards) that YellowPages ads are “keyed and scanned every year” by Acxiom. He also showed this slide showing even more places from which Acxiom pulls business data.

From personal client experience—if you use a tracking number in the YellowPages, it’s highly likely to get picked up by Acxiom (or another aggregator) and into Google’s index as a unique listing.  And every time Google gets a fresh data feed, I have to help clients who use tracking numbers claim and attempt to consolidate each of those call-tracked listings.  It requires constant attention.

In fact, just this month, a “new” listing popped into Google Maps for a friend whose website I helped with over the summer.  Here is the search for his company in Tualatin, Oregon.  Note that even though both listings contain the word “Creekside” in the business title and use the exact same address, Google Maps has not merged the two.  Which, yes, is somewhat surprising—we’ve seen them merge with much less matching information in the past.

I asked my friend Brent via email earlier this week if he was still including that business name and phone number in any of his ads with AT&T, Verizon, or Dex; here was his response:

“[I] might have listed with all three (above), but no longer advertizing there…we do advertize on Nickel Ads locally …… but I can’t imagine that would reach to cyberspace.”

The ecosystem is amazingly complex, and as Brent’s example proves, you just never know where one number is going to end up, or how long it’s going to stay there. Not only does this situation affect visibility in Google Maps, but it significantly undermines the granularity of analytics data that call tracking is supposed to provide. If a phone book number or an Internet Yellow Pages number is getting picked up by Google, the supposed volume of calls from those destinations is going to be exaggerated.

Thus, consistency of business information throughout the Local ecosystem should still remain a best practice.

As far as which is more important to a small business owner, getting traffic to their business via Google, or knowing “which advertising is producing the highest-value calls,” I find it a stretch to think that any revenue-oriented SMB is going to opt for tracking.  Business owners call me every day asking “how do I rank my business next to the map,” not “can you help me figure out where my calls are coming from?”

Regardless of whether Google has explicitly confirmed that mentions of primary business information help with ranking in Google Maps, according to Google Maps’ patent, local search experts, and a quantitative study of Google Maps they do.

Yes, the algorithm will continue to evolve and take into account richer data signals like link graph data, reviews, and other user-generated content.  But for millions of small businesses without any website, or a poorly-optimized one, the phone number IS their identity.  Phone numbers (and addresses) are as fundamental for Google Maps’ business index as the link graph is to its organic index.  Google wants a direct representation of real-life business information, and a call-tracking number doesn’t satisfy that criterion.

As to the notion of number recycling, I agree with Bill that it might not occur “often.”  It sounds like Telmetrics  tries to act in its clients’ best interests if they end their contract, but that doesn’t prevent less scrupulous companies from switching numbers instantly.

It is a short-sighted strategy to counsel small business owners to “focus on what you can control, and that is paid advertising.”  What happens when prices skyrocket or inventory becomes limited?  Ignoring organic optimization and social media—neither of which you can control—is just as foolhardy as ignoring paid search options in a successful online campaign.

There may indeed be a double-standard with Google’s integration of Voice with Local Listing Ads—especially since I’ve seen a handful of examples of Made-for-Adsense sites getting indexed and counting as citations!  But I fully agree with Mike Blumenthal, who responded this week:

“[While] the goal is worthwhile, until such time as Google, working together with other industry leaders, develops a system not to penalize businesses using call tracking then it should not be used.”

Online-based call tracking is not the only method of tracking leads.  As I pointed out in my original article, traditional offline methods like Excel spreadsheets and post-it notes can work just fine—and they do, for my clients for whom tracking is of central importance.

Google’s New (Local) Comparison Ads

October 30, 2009

Google tried a mortgage marketplace in the UK last year as a test drive for a range of things (Merchant Search). The theory at the time was that Google was trying to develop a separate marketplace for SMB advertisers. It then introduced (only in two markets so far) Local Listing Ads for SMBs (using call tracking with Google Voice). And now it’s launching AdWords Comparison Ads, starting with mortgages.

This is very interesting on several levels and it may appeal to both large and small advertisers. According to the Google AdWords Blog:

Comparison Ads is part of our continuing effort to make ads more relevant and useful to our users and to help you, our advertisers, reach the people who are most interested in your products and services.

AdWords uses a host of targeting and relevancy signals to determine the best ads for each query. However, sometimes a user’s query doesn’t provide enough information for us to confidently predict what they want. Take, for example, users who search for “mortgage.” Do they want a new home loan or a refinance? Do they want a fixed rate or an adjustable rate loan? Comparison Ads improves the ad experience on Google.com by letting users specify exactly what they are looking for and helping them quickly compare relevant offers side by side.

With Comparison Ads, you can also target your offers at a more granular level, leading to more valuable, qualified leads. To see how it works, let’s use our mortgage example. Users searching for “mortgage” on Google.com may see a promotion from Comparison Ads prompting them to select the type of loan they are looking for and to compare various rates.

So a search for “mortgage” triggers the ad at the top of search results. Users then click into a marketplace or screen of side-by-side offers, in this case mortgage rates and lenders:

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You fill out the fields in the left column and the data adjust according to the values (the lenders are locally relevant). If you click on one of the buttons to “request a quote” you see this form:

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You plug in your information and, viola, you receive this confirmation:

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Danny Sullivan has an explanation of how the lead delivery works:

Ads are sold on a cost-per-lead basis. When someone clicks to receive a quote, the advertiser is forwarded the information and billed. The advertiser also receives no personal information about the person. In fact, they don’t even get the person’s real phone number. Google provides a temporary bridging number that connects the advertiser to the customer. After that, it’s up to the customer to provide their own “real” number if they want follow-up, Fox said.

Indeed, the model is cost-per-action or cost-per-lead. Google has had CPA ads for some time but these ads are slightly different in that they’re delivering one-to-one leads. Certainly I can contact multiple lenders but Google isn’t selling leads to multiple lenders as some CPA marketplaces do. And the bids/prices that sellers will pay will be significantly more than what they’d pay for a click. 

As mentioned this begins with mortgages but will grow and extend to other verticals and segments. Think ServiceMagic advertisers, auto dealers and so on. The lead-gen businesses based verticals out there might have reason for concern. 

What do you think? How do you think this will play out and what categories do you think Google will move into?

Telmetrics Responds to Call Tracking Debate

October 23, 2009

Picture 107The following is an unedited Q&A interview I conducted in email with Telmetrics president Bill Dinan about some of the issues raised in a recent article by David Mihm that ran on Search Engine Land (“Be Wary Of Call Tracking Numbers In Local Search“) about some of the potential SEO problems with call tracking. I invited him to respond to Mihm’s concerns and critique . . .

Sterling: David Mihm, among others, has identified a potential problem with the use of call tracking numbers. He points out that call tracking numbers might “pollute” the “NAP” (name address phone) core business data. He cites a potential real-world example:

What happens if you give your business a unique tracking phone number at a directory that Acxiom happens to spider for its own index? That number is now considered authoritative by Acxiom, and gets pushed out to every partner that’s leasing Acxiom’s data.

First, what’s your response? Is this a real issue or concern? How likely is the scenario Mihm describes?

Dinan: The argument that using multiple local business phone numbers could pollute the local search engine distribution ecosystem is not valid. We do agree that the company should retain a main phone line in addition to their call tracking number to help validate the business content. Today, all of the Local Search feeds have room to accept both the main business number (aka Primary ID or PID) and the tracking number.

Local listing aggregators and distribution companies are also accommodating both numbers – or are working feverishly to do so – as they are being offered a rev-share on the retail call price charged by the SEM or agency. The PID allows the distributors/aggregators to validate what disparate listing data belongs to an actual business. These progressive Pay-Per-Call advertising models are driving the distribution chain to adopt call tracking and analytics and are attractive to national advertisers, agencies, and SMBs that want to see the value their local search program is delivering. Being a part of the ecosystem means proving value which requires tracking the leads.

Sterling: Is it true that call-tracking numbers are often “recycled”? So a number used by for one business in January might be used to track calls to another local business in September?

Dinan: No – “often” is an overstatement. Recycling numbers is not a best practice, however, when it is required due to other campaign parameters, there are basic quality control processes call tracking providers, publishers and advertisers should use to ensure the line has not received any calls in a 90-180 day period.

Sterling: How can one use call tracking and avoid “confusing” the search engines (as in Mihm’s example) and third parties who might rely on such data?

Dinan: Retaining a main business line helps the listings distributors and aggregators maintain the local search data integrity as they can validate and unite disparate listing data. As long as the tracking line is tied to the main phone line – or the Primary ID – it will work for the entire distribution ecosystem and there will be no risk of “confusion.”

Sterling: Mihm also suggests that if one is using call tracking that the numbers could be “hidden” from the search engines:

If you decide that the benefits to call-tracking outweigh the possible risks to your rankings, at the very least ask if the marketing company or search portal with whom you’re engaging can hide these numbers when they display them to search engines.

In some cases, this might be done with Javascript or even something as simple as a non-alt-texted image tag. This way there’s at least a chance of picking up an address-only citation from that page; no-indexing the page isn’t really a good solution because then you’re just cutting off any chance for potential ranking benefit.

But I doubt that many companies that are providing call-tracking numbers in local search have considered their implications for ranking, so most are probably hard-coding them at present.

How would you respond to his suggestion in the paragraph above? What do you think of the viability of this approach?

Dinan: Hiding phone numbers or requiring searchers to click a button to see the phone number is not a new concept, however, it delivers a poor customer experience that has a dramatic negative affect on impression-to-call, and/or click-to-call ratios. So even if you are ranking favorably on Google Local … your call ratios just fell through the floor.

Conversely, call tracking using java script technology is getting better and better, and will be deployed more. While Google reads java script, it does not save it in the index. This technology, Dynamic Number Insertion, is used to track calls by distribution source and/or even to the keyword level. It is a technology that will continue to morph and would be a great tool for SEO companies to use. It would address any potential risks to rankings, and enable SEO companies to clearly and objectively demonstrate the value being provided to advertisers in the Local Search arena.

Sterling: In some situations, directory publishers and local search sites may be using call tracking without the knowledge of the business owner (to prove value at renewal time). How common is this practice and what do you think of this “involuntary call tracking”?

Dinan: This is not a common practice. In speaking with thousands of SMBs, hundreds of agencies, and hundreds of national advertisers, they see the value of call tracking lines and advertising performance analytics.

Sterling: What “best practice” recommendations would you make to use call tracking but avoid any negative potential SEO consequences?

Dinan: The article has an issue with the possible (not proven or confirmed by Google) affect on listing ranking (SEO) within Google Local 10 Pack.

What’s more important to an SMB? Finding out which advertising is producing the highest value calls … or ensuring that the best possible local search rankings? Even if you have the best possible ranking today, can you depend on that to have sustainability tomorrow? What happens when Google flips the algorithm again? You may be starting over. SEO rankings are significantly more dependent on keyword content, quality score to ads, and quality link associations than varying phone numbers. Focus on what you can control, and that is paid advertising. Yes, organic rankings and the related leads should be a piece of your marketing efforts that blend/cost-average with your paid search campaigns, but not something that you should do without a tool to prove value.

Sterling: Google acknowledged on its Q3 earnings call that it was using Google Voice numbers to do call tracking for its Local Listings Ads. What do you think about this? Do you think there’s any “double standard” given the SEO issues Mihm identifies?

Dinan: Both Google’s acknowledgement and Mihm’s article strongly agree with the value of ROI proof via Call Measurement. Why … because it answers the questions most important to today’s SMBs, agencies and national advertisers:

  • How many customers did you drive to me?
  • How effective was my media spend in driving quality calls?
  • What was the quality of the calls?
  • Which advertising mediums worked best for me?
  • What were the conversion rates?

Another Take on Telmetrics’ Call Data

October 5, 2009

Picture 245Telmetrics’ Bill Dinan released data a couple of weeks ago about leads and calls coming out of print yellow pages, direct mail and online. Dinan argues that print yellow pages should move to a PPCall model and his data support that position. The top-level data put out by Telmetrics were the following:

  • Print Yellow Pages ads average 20.5 calls per month at 2.7 minutes in length
  • Internet Yellow Pages ads average 20 calls per month at 1.3 minutes in length
  • Direct Mail ads average 8.4 calls per month at 1.7 minutes in length
  • Interactive/SEM ads average 6.4 calls per month at 1.3 minutes in length

Richard Rosen a call-tracking veteran, who now runs FastCall411, made several comments on my post reporting the data, not about the wisdom on going to a PPCall model for print yellow pages but about why IYP calls were half the length of print (so are SEM ads). He offers his own thoughts on the data in a blog post:

With several years in the call measurement space serving Yellow Page publishers, I concur that Print YPs deliver leads and should not be afraid to report them. However, the difference in the data – average call length of IYP (1.3 mins) vs PYP (2.7 mins) – strikes me as unusually high. I look at the Telmetics data above and I do not see the superior quality of PYP leads and an argument for pay-per-call, I see a fundamental issue with IYP call tracking and an opportunity to solve the challenge revealed within the data: Why are IYP leads 50% in quality compared to PYP leads?

Rosen’s full post is here.

Yext Scores a $25M Round of Funding

October 1, 2009

I guess presenting at the recent TechCrunch conference was a big win for Yext, to the tune of $25 million. Reportedly the money will be used to hire sales people and expand the range of categories that Yext is going after. Any direct sales effort to the SMB market is dicey but Yext claimed at the show to be on track for $20 million in revenue this year.

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It’s not entirely clear to me how they’ve reached that revenue level without a brand and much visibility in the market, but I’ll find out.

Also, here’s another seemingly immutable principle of the VC culture on display: if you’re already succeeding there’s plenty of money to take you to the “next level” — or should I say “yext level.”

Telmetrics Argues for PPCall for Print YPs

September 23, 2009

Picture 156Telmetrics President Bill Dinan argued (at the Kelsey show) that yellow pages publishers should shift the print directory to an entirely performance-based model, specifically PPCall.

The call-tracking company released data from its aggregated customer records to argue that the industry needs to adopt a performance-based pricing model for the traditional printed directory to be more competitive with online.

Telmetrics put out a press release that asserts that “yellow pages’ average monthly call volume and duration is still ahead of other mediums indicating higher quality leads”:

  • Print Yellow Pages ads average 20.5 calls per month at 2.7 minutes in length
  • Internet Yellow Pages ads average 20 calls per month at 1.3 minutes in length
  • Direct Mail ads average 8.4 calls per month at 1.7 minutes in length
  • Interactive/SEM ads average 6.4 calls per month at 1.3 minutes in length

Even though there are many PPCall experiments and efforts going on it print, it would be a radical move to go totally PPCall. Do you think that print revenues would hold up? What categories would grow revenues, which ones might fall?

Calls would need to be priced differently by category and territory or geography. An auction would take care of that and be self-regulating, but would probably be too complex for the bulk of YP advertisers.

Yext: ‘Like a Google Voice for Local Businesses’

September 18, 2009

Picture 135I finally watched the Yext demo from TechCrunch50. The technology (identification and transcription of relevant keywords w/in calls) was impressive. The company has been around (originally as Alpha411) since 2008 and is changing from a PPCall model to a “pay per action” calls model (a subset of calls received).

The critique Yext offers of PPCall online is valid (spam calls get through, not enough volume). So now it’s only sending a subset of calls to advertisers, who can see transcripts and presumably listen to recordings of those calls. Irrelevant calls wind up in a spam folder but can also be examined if desired. Only “awesome” calls (leads) are billed to local merchants. Indeed, the word awesome is overused in the demo.

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The company says that it already has 20K advertisers is generating $20 million in top-line revenue. The call volumes are apparently generated through IYP distribution partnerships and via Google SEM (on behalf of Yext itself). The company doesn’t resell SEM to local advertisers. However they employ the same pitch to SMBs: we’ll be your onramp to the broader Internet. Listed partners include YellowPages.com, Local.com, Topix.

Here are the two programs Yext offers: one for businesses and one for third party publishers. The company apparently has a direct sales force and claims “very low churn rates.”

The best question of the follow up panel segment was asked by Google’s Marissa Mayer who wondered about Yext as an IT platform vs. an advertising platform with a consumer aspect.  She was suggesting that the company should offer its services to others who in turn sell to SMBs. She also pointed out correctly that the “core innovation” Yext appears to have developed is the merchant calls in-box and the related categorization and analysis of calls.

It seems that despite the startup label Yext is already a success (if the revenue and merchant numbers are true). The simple math indicates advertisers are paying on average $1k annually for the service.

Yext will probably eventually be acquired, as Mayer suggested, for its platform capabilities. This is largely what happened with Ingenio and AT&T. That acquisition was reportedly north of $300 million, but Ingenio also had a big revenue generating business in Keen, which drove the overall price up.

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Some of the comments on my earlier RedBeacon posts suggest that a winning combination would be a “mashup” of that site with Yext.