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These online ads rely on telephones

Pay-per-call is finding its niche

DALLAS -- Personal-injury lawyer Frank Frasier wants the world to know about his business but didn't think much of the search-based Internet advertising that's all the rage. Potential clients wouldn't learn much about him through it, he figured, and he really can't tell if they have a case without speaking with them.

But Frasier's opinion of Internet search advertising changed with the recent arrival of pay-per-call, which prompts Web surfers looking for lawyers in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla., to pick up the phone instead of clicking an ad or sending e-mail.

''We've gotten about a dozen calls and half turned into cases," Frasier said. ''I'm a believer."

Pay-per-call could be especially powerful for businesses that ignored the Internet, advocates say.

Most search advertising now takes a pay-per-click approach.

Search engines such as Google Inc. auction the right to have a company's ad displayed alongside regular search results when a computer user types certain keywords, such as ''Tulsa lawyers." Advertisers pay each time someone clicks.

In pay-per-call, keywords also are auctioned. But instead of a link to click, the ad directs the user to the phone.

In one version, the user calls a special number that is forwarded to the advertiser's regular phone.

In another, users type in their phone numbers and get a return call from the merchant. Either way, the advertiser is billed for the referral.

America Online Inc. and smaller Web portals have partnered with pay-per-call pioneer Ingenio Inc., whose investors include eBay Inc. and Microsoft Corp. Its marketing officer, Marc Barach, said the approach is ideal for small service businesses -- florists, lawyers, contractors -- whose customers ask lots of questions: ''They do their business by phone. They probably don't have a web site, or if they do it's not transactional."

Analysts say pay-per-call won't replace pay-per-click, partly because it is more expensive, but they say it will find a niche. Kelsey Group, of Princeton, N.J., projects pay-per-call will be a $1.4 billion to $4 billion industry by 2009. That would roughly parallel the recent growth of pay-per-click.

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