A recent article about pay-per-call advertising in online yellow pages tickled me, because it's a great example of how new ways of doing business online can filter back and change more traditional models:
Three-year-old Rhode Island-based roofing company AS Enterprises had a big, albeit common, problem: not enough customers. Owner Ann Marie Appleton had tried offering free estimates in local circulars and flyers, but her competitors were doing the same, and the resulting leads were lukewarm at best. She considered an ad in the SuperPages yellow pages, a division of Verizon spin-off Idearc Media, because of its large distribution and solid reputation, but the next edition wouldn't be delivered to homes for eight months.
Eventually, Appleton's sales representative sold her on the idea of a monthly agreement for the company's new Pay For Call service, where businesses pay for each call made to their business via SuperPages' online local search results.
Appleton couldn't be happier with her choice. The service costs around $600 a month, depending on how many times her ad is served and how many calls she gets. AS Enterprises totaled more than $240,000 in sales in 2006, up from just $60,000 the year before, and Appleton says a good 70% of that business came directly from her pay-per-call advertising.
I do think that the Business Week article above about pay-per-call gets off track when it talks about whether this is a threat to pay-per-click. I see them as two varieties of something similar; the idea of performance-based advertising fees being extended from general search to other places where potential customers go looking for businesses.
Here's the obvious next step, I think: pay-per-call in the physical Yellow Pages. Maureen and I have talked about those old dead-tree directories and how they have become archaic, but are still useful if you need a somebody local to fix your roof or unclog your kitchen sink. (Far more useful than the online versions, I've found.)
So instead of today's "place it and pray" model of advertising, why not do the same pay-per-call approach? A special number goes into the ad, and the advertiser pays if somebody actually dials it. It would bring the accountability we expect from sponsored search to the long-in-the-teeth Yellow Pages, and would make them a far more attractive ad option.