In Push to Measure Mobile ROI, Marchex Beefs Up Call Analytics

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Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 7.54.55 AMIf there’s one vestige of the yellow pages days that remains relevant in local marketing, it’s the concept of calls as conversions. With more than 20 million calls made through Google ads each month, users still turn to calls to engage with local businesses.

Marchex, the publicly-traded call analytics firm, has released two new products this morning aimed at improving its ability to attribute calls to mobile actions and to determine the actual quality of a call. The move comes as a number of advertising technology firms have launched new attribution services in recent months, scrambling to measure return on investment for increasingly interested, but skeptical, brand advertisers.

The attribution product, Dynamic Tracking, improves on existing click-to-call capabilities, allowing advertisers to determine the mobile or web-based action that drove a user to a call. Advertisers can use the service to find the search keywords, for instance, that drove the user to call a business, and then optimize its campaign accordingly.

But it’s the new measurement service which has the most impact for advertisers. Often, the technology challenge for click-to-call isn’t what happens before a call; it’s what happens after. The new product, Call DNA, uses pattern recognition software to analyze the quality of call, going beyond traditional metrics like length-of-call to account for variations within the call itself. The service, for instance, is able to tell whether a caller spoke to a representative, clicked through an automated system, or left a message for a business.

“The problem we were running into was that the way we were measuring calls was that most of the industry does it, which was based on duration, didn’t work,” Ziad Ismail, SVP of product and engineering at Marchex told Street Fight in an interview. “The general philosophy was that if you get a lot of calls and lot of those call last a long time, that’s a good campaign. It turns out that’s not true: just because the check-out process at a retail store is long, it doesn’t mean that the experience was great for the customer or the person selling the product.”

The company spent the last year working through the problem, identifying the patterns in calls, which the technology uses to determine key activities. For instance, if a call begins with a long ring time, then hits a short speech from the advertiser, and then the caller speaks for a short time, that call is most likely a voicemail (and thus less valuable to the advertiser). The company is working on more in-depth analyses, but Ismail says that the company cannot yet use semantic analysis to determine whether a user ask for business hours or place a reservation.

Today, the call tracking industry is in a precarious position. Thanks to the growth of mobile, and increased investment by brands in locally-driven campaigns, the market for online-to-offline metrics has never been larger, and calls are by a large the most accurate and scalable soliton. However, as the richness of local content increases, and brick-and-mortar business adopt online commerce capabilities to allow consumers to make reservations, buy online, or order delivery, the need for a consumer to call a business decreases.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.