SearchTHIS: Moving Search to the Next Level

In the year 2010, we will have made contact with searchers in ways previously thought unimaginable. Ad formats such as local, paid, unpaid or otherwise will be distant memories. In and on demand will converge into one platform and advertisers will be saying, “Pay per click? Ugh, that’s so 2005.”

In case you missed last week’s phalanx of announcements relating to AOL’s enhanced search experience, among the big innovations included in the news were enhanced search snapshots for a richer search experience, an outsourced desktop search tool and new ways to help searchers refine results.

Largely unnoticed in these announcements was a breakthrough for a small California start-up with a sharp way of bringing performance-based advertising to businesses without a need or desire to have a Web site. Ingenio -- the brains behind many of the telephone-response-based ad platforms in existence today -- may just have the fuel search needs for continued large-scale growth in 2005 and beyond.

Finding a home for paid call services
AOL is losing subscribers every day, so it’s important for the dominant Internet service provider to find new sources of revenue. Pay per call ads by Ingenio will appear on the AOL Web site, AOL yellow pages and AOL search. Paid search provider has had Ingenio’s pay per call platform on its site since the third quarter of 2004. Clearly, pay per call is on its way, but is it really necessary to reach into pay per call if you already have click-based advertising?

Digging deeper into shopping habits locally provides the answer to this frequently-asked and seldom-answered question. When advertisers ask about new ad formats’ effectiveness what they really want to know is how an ad format will enhance the interaction between advertiser, target audience and the point of sale.

Also last week, The Dieringer Research Group (The DRG) released its 2005 Web2Store (W2S) Benchmark Survey results that provided some key insights into the interaction between buyer and seller in transactions that are inherently local.

For one thing, the report indicated that W2S shoppers visit sites they trust for information. Among those sites are -- you guessed it, search engines. Also, for every dollar spent online shoppers spent $1.60 offline. Shoppers with incomes of $75,000 or greater spent $1.98 offline for every dollar spent online.

While it’s important to remember the DRG study focused its effort on retail, the data clearly indicates that a local offline purchasing experience is worth nearly twice the online experience for more affluent audiences, and the influx of pay per call will facilitate a human connection between searcher and purchase point for all local audiences.

Speaking of connectivity

So let’s say you are plumber. You have a computer with Internet access but may never have a Web site. The Internet is a distant thought for advertising behind refrigerator magnets, word of mouth and the ubiquitous yellow pages. Assuming your computer hasn’t been infected by spyware and you haven’t given up on the Internet altogether, you need a new way to reach out to prospective consumers without clicking into your non-existent Web site. 

“Because many local businesses need to close over the phone, pay per call will be inherently appealing to a wide segment of the small business marketplace,” says The Kelsey Group’s Greg Sterling. “The challenge, of course, is gaining adoption. There's a great deal of inertia in the SME marketplace. But the AOL deal will definitely help build awareness and generate momentum.”

One of the key elements of the offline connection to search or other directive advertising opportunities in the local space is the penetration rate of broadband -- something research firms like The Kelsey Group and The DRG are watching very closely.

The DRG survey results indicated that 50 percent of U.S. online households went to broadband and projects that nearly 80 percent will go high speed in 2005. A connection available without the baggage of having to dial in makes online directories and search sites a much more efficient access point for locally orientated commerce. I find it interesting that users dropping off the dial-up telephone map might just be the tipping point for pay per call, since phone lines will no longer be tied up.

Pay per call tracking has actually been around for quite some time. Advertisers have used unique tracking telephone numbers to help valuate ad spends long before the Internet arrived on the scene. Ingenio’s format however, is a great deal more than simply tracking the number of calls to come in from an advertisement.

Tomorrow: Getting into the nitty gritty of how Ingenio works.

iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization, and several regional non-profit organizations.

Ryan serves as Executive Vice President at the search engine marketing specialist agency, Did-it.Com.