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Small business advertisers consistently report that a phone call, even more than a personal visit to their store, is the most valuable type of new business lead. Yet many of these same businesses are confused by the dizzying array of advertising options and just as unclear about the return they get on their advertising spend as they were 100 years ago.
Pay per call (PPC) and its variants have long been available to break through the confusion and offer a clear-cut measure of performance. Yet pay per call has been hampered by a series of flaws and limitations, the greatest one being the inability to effectively distinguish a good call from a bad one. Unlike a click, the incremental cost of fielding a low-quality call is significant. For example, time spent talking to a job seeker is time taken away from speaking with a prospect. Another flaw for many has been the inability to deliver enough quality calls to support a pay-per-call business model.
BIA/Kelsey believes the pay-per-call market (which includes all forms of advertising that use call-based lead tracking) is poised for explosive growth for a few key reasons. One of these is the enormous growth in mobile, which will unleash a dramatic increase in call-based advertising inventory. In this article, we will show you what types of leads advertisers are most interested in and the places they will need to look to for growth. We will also examine how companies that fail to seize the moment will risk irrelevance as the marketplace moves aggressively to take advantage of this opportunity.
Which Leads Do Advertisers Really Want?
When BIA/Kelsey samples decision makers, about 60% of SMB advertisers consistently tell us that a telephone call from a prospective customer is the single most important lead they can receive. While advertising programs have continued to evolve, especially since the advent of pay-for-performance advertising (e.g., cost per click or CPC), this percentage has changed little — Q4’s 2011 figure was 61%. It’s clear that businesses value phone calls first and foremost.
Meanwhile, 54% of SMBs ranked “website responses,” predominantly web forms or emails, as good or excellent. Both phone calls and website responses exceeded “in-person visits” at 42%, followed by “online clicks” and “responses to Facebook pages” at 30% and 28%, respectively.
It’s worth breaking down each of these responses in greater detail. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a telephone call should be valued more than an email lead from a prospective buyer. But two of the often-overlooked reasons for this involve infrastructure and training. Think about getting a telephone lead — your business answers the phone as it normally would, with no website to manage and no new technology to buy. The telephone system is generally already in place, and employees know how to answer a phone, although answering calls the right way is a different story. Consider also that your prospective customers are not specialized tradespeople. Getting resolution to a problem may require some back and forth, and the telephone is optimal for this type of exchange (e.g., “What does the car sound like?”).
Conversely, an email lead requires a lot of extra effort. You have to build a website or landing page. Most websites are poorly optimized. A recent survey conducted for BIA/Kelsey by vSplash showed that 42% of SMB websites do not have contact information on the front page. If a website is poorly optimized, so are the downstream mechanics for responding to the email. It may seem funny to think that responding to email leads is hard, but it requires a lot of technology, including a website, email boxes, form routing, CRM, flagging for priority, and follow-up across multiple email threads. This platform and process exist at larger firms, but are almost completely absent across small firms.
If the prospective customer does manage to find a “Contact Us” form, depending on the type of business or service, he or she may not know what to ask or how to describe the problem. There is no back and forth, and no immediacy to book an appointment or sell a service.
In-person visits are category-dependent. For example, high-end restaurants generally do not like walk-in traffic and instead prefer advanced bookings. The same is true of appointment-based businesses like hair salons and spas. It’s rare for someone to walk into a plumbing or other service-based business that involves a skilled tradesperson traveling to the customer. Few people walk into a lawyer’s office to schedule an appointment. Still fewer walk into a hotel to book a room.
On the other hand, walk-in traffic is optimal for retail, where 95% of shopping still happens. Businesses like mid-tier and fast food restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets, and gas stations are perfectly suited to accept walk-in customers.
Simply put, in-person visit preference is oriented to vertical category types. However, consider how much consumers spend on categories where the telephone is optimal (Joe’s Roofers) versus walk-in traffic (Joe’s Bar & Grill). There is an important relationship between lead type and customer value.
Clicks are higher up the conversion funnel than in-person visits, reservations, and telephone calls, so it makes sense that advertising decision-makers would on the whole rate them as less valuable.
How Big Is The Call-Based Advertising Market?
In aggregate, advertising used to generate telephone leads is one of the largest, yet most fragmented, advertising markets in the world. Generating telephone calls spans nearly every media channel.
Estimate of Ads Placed to Generate Telephone Leads
Print Yellow Pages
Source: Call-Based Markets, BIA/Kelsey (2012)
BIA/Kelsey estimates that the entire local ad market in the US is $147 billion, and that $68.4 billion (46.5%) is placed with an effort to drive telephone leads to businesses. Turning to the small-business market, US small businesses are spending $41.1 billion on advertising. Of that amount, more than half — $22.5 billion (55.8%) — is geared toward generating telephone leads.
The Transformative Power Of Mobile Search
Growth in the smartphone market has a critical impact on the local search market. Historically, desktop use was the dominant way to search for local places, but by 2015, the number of local searches from mobile devices will equal those on the desktop. In 2016, mobile local searches will outstrip local desktop searches by nearly 30 billion queries.
Consumer behavior is the underlying cause of this rapid change. Looking at top-line search, local places listings in the query result currently occur 17.5% of the time, on a pace to grow to 22% by 2016. Mobile search use, by comparison, has a much greater geolocation focus, with nearly half of all queries producing a geolocation result. Therefore, less total top-line searches are producing more local searches by comparison.
Behavioral Changes Are Evident
Not only do we see a wide divergence in query volume, we also see usage patterns shifting. We have surveyed dozens of major search engines, ad networks, and local search and mobile providers, and the overwhelming consensus is that mobile drives more telephone traffic versus desktop local search. On average, call conversion from a desktop local search is 7% once a local landing page is viewed versus 57% from a mobile device. App-based solutions drive telephone calls as high as 62%.
Mobile local search to call conversion is a frictionless process. After all, a mobile telephone is designed to connect calls. For example, a consumer searching for a restaurant simply taps on the phone number to initiate a call, which is why we see such large call volumes from fairly low query volumes. Yelp’s iPhone app, for example, accounted for 2% of the site’s total traffic last year, but generated a tremendous amount of telephone traffic. This kind of activity is not isolated to Yelp and indeed can be seen in most mobile applications.
The Result? A Flood Of Telephone Calls
The increase in mobile device traffic is going to have a massive effect on relative call volumes. One of the ongoing complaints about internet advertising has been that it is difficult to achieve the required call volumes. This is about to become yesterday’s problem. Call volumes from search — including both organic and paid traffic — will pale in comparison to calls generated from mobile devices by 2016.
BIA/Kelsey is forecasting 70 billion calls from the internet and mobile to all US businesses by 2016, with most calls coming from mobile devices. These call volumes are really just the beginning. We will see hundreds — if not thousands — of new solutions and companies built around the concept of simply providing businesses a phone call. After all, telephone calls are what businesses place the highest value on, and mobile is going to break the call market wide open.
Final Thoughts: An Expansive Opportunity
Pay per call and call measurement have been around a while, offering a tantalizingly simple way to break through Wanamaker’s dilemma and prove exactly which half is working. Yet the model has always been held back by a few flaws and limitations. Are there enough calls? Can we find an efficient way to weed out the bad calls and deliver only the good ones?
Solutions are at hand. Call analytics is taking much of the guesswork out of call quality, and the growth of mobile is teeing up a huge expansion of call-based ad inventory. The nature of mobile is more explicitly local than other forms of search, and it has a bias toward calls over all other forms of leads, including clicks and emails.
Today we are looking at a marketplace moving aggressively to take advantage of the calls opportunity, and those companies that fail to seize the moment risk irrelevance.