The Search for VoIP

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Just when we all thought that the only new thing to come to the world of communications after the telephone was e-mail, the phone world and the e-mail world merged. They created VoIP. If you're breathing, you've probably already realized this.

What you've also probably realized is that demolishing the traditional phone companies is the raison d'etre of today's VoIP world. VoIP providers are less regulated, the argument goes, and so they're cheaper. So you'll want to use them.

And the traditional phone companies' biggest goal? Putting the VoIP genie back in the bottle.

So much for what you've realized. What you may not be aware of is that one of the VoIP companies' biggest arsenals against Ma Traditional Phonelines -- and against each other -- is paid search.

The stats. Before we tell you anything about the reasoning behind the VoIP/SEM merger, though, let's just go through a few of the numbers. They should give you a good sense of what the phone wars look like.

· In April, on the Yahoo-run engines alone, there were 1,229,441 searches for the term "VoIP."

· At the time of this writing, on the Yahoo-powered engines, seven companies are willing to pay $4 or more per click for the term "VoIP." By comparison, the term "phone service" gets a max bid of $2.92 (the max bidder happens to be Vonage).

· Also at the time of this writing, also on the Yahoo-powered engines, the max bid on the term "Verizon" is $1.19. The max bid on the term "Vonage" is $2.19.

In other words, there are people out there who are determined to milk the PPC potential of VoIP for all it's worth. Now let's talk about why that makes sense.

I is for online. To understand why you would spend so much effort using search to find VoIP, the first thing you need to look at is what VoIP operates through. It operates through the Internet.

Yes, Vonage has some great TV ads, but the bottom line is that all the VoIP operations are online (hence the "I" in "VoIP"). This means that, when people think about researching VoIP, they're thinking about researching something that's on the Internet. And when you want to research something -- anything -- on the Internet, you go to the search engines.

That's different than the way people would think about researching the traditional phone companies. Because traditional phone companies are an offline experience, people won't necessarily treat search as the obvious way to think of them.

This isn't to say that traditional phone companies aren't also prime targets for search. We're just saying that, in contrast with traditional telephony, search is closer to being inherent to the VoIP experience.

Hello, what's this? There's another reason that VoIP gets so much search engine visibility: It's new. And search, at its base, is about learning more about things that you don't know about. Or, rather, it's about learning about things that you think you don't know about. People think they know a lot about traditional telephone service, so they would feel less of a reason to find out about it with search.

But VoIP is entirely new to most people. Most people don't even know the names of the key brands (with the possible exception of Vonage). They just know that there's a thing out there called VoIP. That kind of interest/perceived lack of knowledge mix makes VoIP a prime candidate for search.

And the people bidding over $4 a click on the term "VoIP" agree.

How exciting. And it's not just that VoIP is a prime candidate for search overall. The people who sell VoIP -- and the people who don't necessarily sell VoIP, but who do sell to VoIP-interested consumers -- realize that VoIP stands to gain greatly from paid search in particular.

Two weeks ago, we wrote about how search engine optimization is more about making your brand a part of a searcher's world, while search engine marketing is more about selling through pizzazz. Apply that dichotomy to VoIP, and you'll understand the SEM-heavy thinking behind VoIP sales.

What do we mean? If you want to make something a part of a searcher's world, then there needs to be a mental "place" in that searcher's world for that thing to go. People can think about movie stars easily because everyone goes to movies.

VoIP is entirely new. The only frame of reference we really have is the traditional phone, but the whole point of VoIP is that it's not traditional telephony, and so VoIP's only legitimate frame of reference is taken away. There's no "place" for VoIP to go in people's minds, in the way that there's a "place" for a movie star to go.

And if you can't tell people that, deep down, you're the friendly voice over Internet protocol provider that they've known all along, then there's only one alternative you can really turn to: show people how exciting you are.

To excite people, you'll need to turn to paid search. And, again, the people bidding $4 for a click on VoIP get this point.

What to do. The moral of the story is that, if you're working in the phone business and you haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet, the only thing left for you to do is to roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath and plunge yourself headfirst into the thick of paid search. Because if you're in VoIP and aren't using the search engines to your benefit, then you're busy losing massive numbers of potential customers to your competition.

And if you're in traditional telephony and aren't using the search engines to your benefit, then you're busy losing massive numbers of potential customers to the competition you've always dealt with, and you're losing out to VoIP.

Either way, keeping out of the game just won't cut it. And doing a second-rate job won't work, either. You have to enter into the game, and win. So act today, and act now. SEM operators are standing by.


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