Is Click-to-Call what Local Search Has Been Waiting For?

Click-to-call is an emerging contextual advertising format that will help spark the growth of localized search. It links online users to offline advertisers by combining Internet telephone capabilities. Although it has yet to hit its stride as a platform or even pierce consumer consciousness, the biggest interactive names, like Google, Yahoo, and eBay, are positioning themselves for a future in click-to-call. Let’s take a closer look. Click-to-call ads (CTC) are delivered, like pay-per-click, through standard online search results. They mostly resemble standard paid search ads, too. The user sees the familiar text in a box, except there is an icon that can be clicked to connect the interested party with the designated advertiser via telephone.

This process is fully online until the user activates the CTC functionality by clicking that icon delivered with the ad. Next, the user is prompted to enter their telephone number, which may or may not be already stored with the search engine. Once the phone number is entered, the search engine calls the user and connects the advertiser at no cost to the user. It should be noted that search engines will be adamant about protecting the anonymity of user phone numbers in order to placate any understandable fears of being added to telephone marketing lists. It will be imperative for search engines to build user confidence because trust is precious, especially when introducing new products. Since CTC incorporates phone use through the Internet, VoIP specific companies like Vonage and Fusion will be parlaying their niche of Internet telephony into partnerships with bigger Internet properties, as evidenced by Skype’s sale to eBay. Even an online advertising agency like has to consider the impact of a “hybrid” service, like click-to-call, will have on search marketing. Isn’t it funny how convergence, the calling card of technological progress, can make the telephone cutting edge? Experts aren’t expecting great revenue generation straight out of the gate, but click-to-call could be at the forefront of yet another giant tech-based advertising expansion.

One area that click-to-call may impact is local search. I believe CTC has enough functionality to ignite the long anticipated surge of localized search as a leading format of small business advertising. For example, if a person finally has had enough of a bad back – where do they go to find a chiropractor, the Internet? Could be. That’s where we can research and get a phone number. Just think what a chiropractor would pay per click of that icon that rings his office and the sufferer simultaneously. And you thought pay-per-click was targeted and relevant? Finding out which businesses will advertise on local search via click-to-call is an easy task – they’re the ones filling the yellow pages of your phone book. These small businesses (think: pizza parlors, law offices, florists) are already heavily vested in local advertising, yet almost none use search advertising because the format has yet to incorporate small business.

It’s believed that there are nearly 15 million small businesses in the United States today and almost none are benefiting from local search the way that it’s envisioned. When geo-targeted search is smoothed out and more popular, and CTC gets rolling, local advertising will realize more convenience and more targeting – and the world will witness another online advertising revolution. Click-to-call is even more targeted than the pay-per-click search format as we know it today. Advertisers are going to pay more for CTC because anyone who takes the time to call is certainly a higher-percentage paying customer than your basic web surfer who indicates interest. While some web surfers may click ads to satisfy curiosity, few visitors will be clicking icons to make idle talk with businesses – as far as I can tell, this isn’t an issue for businesses listed in the Yellow Pages. Click-to-call is a potent ad format and advertisers are going to shell out top dollars for it.

Keep an eye out for developments in this format and be ready to adjust your strategies accordingly. Joseph Pratt Media Analyst e: