Ingenio Looks to Dial Up Clients at SES

CHICAGO — After much deliberation and discussion, Ingenio Inc. made the call: It took its first trade-show booth ever, and this week's Search Engine Strategies Chicago was the opening act.

The San Francisco-based provider of pay-per-call advertising used the show as a focal point to meet with its advertiser and publisher clients. It also is here with a tangible product that's live in the marketplace.

“My colleagues tell me they booked a $1,000 order on the spot yesterday [Dec. 6],” said Marc Barach, chief marketing officer at Ingenio. “It's a marketing services company looking to sell its services.”

Ingenio runs an advertising network with pay-per-call listings, letting users search for local merchants via listed telephone numbers instead of clicking through an online ad. Its partners include AOL Search, AOL Yellow Pages and, most recently, InfoSpace Inc.'s private-label search online directory.

The company's presence at SES is as much a matter of timing as it is to acknowledge a budding trend to list numbers on paid searches. Besides its partners, Ingenio also is being tested by Yahoo, the Web's No. 2 search engine after Google.

“There's a tipping point and momentum on the publishers' side in seeing how this adds value to their bottom line and their customer experience,” Barach said. “On the consumer side, we're now seeing 20 percent to 25 percent of all Web queries are local and commercial in nature. So the behavior that was predicted is actually happening.”

While Barach didn't supply figures for this year, he cited Kelsey Group research estimating that pay-per-call advertising by 2009 will account for anywhere from $1.4 billion to $4 billion in spend.

For now, there are some ways to go before pay-per-call advertising becomes pervasive.

“What we face is simply executional risk,” Barach said. “From proof in the marketplace, it's proven. Advertisers use it, consumers like it.

The executional risk is just getting enough advertisers and distribution partnerships to meet our demanding expectations. As a company we're engaged in executing those two objectives.”

Meanwhile, SES has proved worthwhile to a few other marketers. Take, a Santa Monica, CA-based search engine for small businesses with a newly designed logo that includes the two slashes sign in a URL.

“I'm encouraged that small businesses are recognizing the value of search strategies in reaching their audiences,” said Lane Soelberg, vice president of sales and communications. “This show demonstrates that the right approach to search, especially vertical search and targeted paid inclusion advertising, can dramatically increase conversions and generate truly qualified leads.”

Lee Odden, president of TopRank Online Marketing, a Minneapolis search engine marketing agency, said SES helps attendees benefit from face-to-face meetings.

“It helps you extend your network, especially in a niche space,” Odden said. “There's lots of organizations — inhouse search departments and agencies — looking to outsource.”

For Amanda Watlington, a search marketing consultant in Charlestown, MA, SES is an opportunity to meet with partners.

“Not all of my work is direct to client,” she said. “A lot of my work is collaboration. And so you come to a show like this to meet and greet with other collaborators.”

Even the line of questioning from attendees is getting more serious with each passing SES. Ask Patricia Hursh, president of search marketing agency SmartSearch, Boulder, CO, and speaker at this week's show.

“I think I like SES Chicago because it's smaller and more intimate than the New York and San Jose shows. The questions have become a lot more sophisticated over the last three years. There were a lot of agencies and consultants in the audience,” she said of her session. “So there were lots of questions on how to effectively run a search engine marketing agency and a lot of questions on where we think the industry's heading.”

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