Citysearch Starts Pay For Call Ad Service

Citysearch said yesterday it has begun offering advertisers the opportunity to pay for consumer phone calls, rather than clicks to Web sites.

Called PFP-Calls, the new Citysearch ad product charges merchants when a searcher calls a toll-free number that is routed to their business phone. Citysearch has contracted with Cirxit, a Silicon Valley-based Web telephony company.

PFP-Calls complements Citysearch’s pay-for-performance sponsored listings program, which it launched March 2003. Citysearch has about 30,000 advertisers, including primarily local businesses. Citysearch CEO Briggs Ferguson said PFP-Calls is most likely to appeal to service businesses, such as plumbers and dentists, as well as reservation-driven businesses, like hotels and restaurants.

“There’s a fair number of merchants that either don’t have a Web site or want a higher level of proof they’re getting a response from a consumer,” he said.

Advertisers will need to pay much more for a call. Ferguson said PFP-Calls would be priced about seven to 10 times higher than a click lead. Citysearch sets pricing based on advertiser demand, the value of the service, the local market and other conditions.

“You tend to have a higher percentage of people that once they pick up the phone are more likely to transact with that business,” Ferguson said. “In general, a call is a more qualified lead than a click.”

The PFP-Calls number appears throughout the Citysearch site, on paid listings, search results, merchant information pages and Best of Citysearch listings.

Citysearch’s move to expand pay-for-performance search beyond clicks follows a similar move by, which began using Ingenio’s Pay Per Call technology in September. Like Citysearch, Findwhat is charging more for phone leads, setting a minimum bid for Pay Per Call at $2 versus 5 cents for pay per click.

Instead of bidding on keywords, Citysearch sells advertisers buckets of leads, allowing merchants to spend a fixed amount per month. The site’s optimization engine decides when to show the advertiser’s listings to spread out the leads generated.

With just 200,000 businesses using search marketing, paid search providers see the local market as a huge area of opportunity. Phone-based solutions like those offered by Ingenio and Cirxit are thought of as a way to encourage participation by less Web-dependent small businesses that are skeptical about clicks converting to sales.

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