Click-to-Calls Are Clicking — And a Lot of the Sales Are Close to Home

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We knew that marketers now spend $4 billion annually to drive “click-to-calls.” But a new study from Marchex puts a dollar amount on the business generated when consumers tap on a click-to-call ad or search listing on their mobile device: more than $1 trillion annually.


Just as revealing are the businesses that get many of the calls: auto dealers, spas, dentists, locksmiths, plumbers, veterinarians and other very local services. This and a lot of other new, detailed information about click-to-calls — the good, bad and even the ugly — is in the “2015 Click-to-Call Commerce Mobile Performance Report” released recently by Marchex. The 12-year-old Seattle-based mobile advertising analytics company has built a model to help businesses get the most out of what CEO and co-founder Peter Christothoulou calls the “most direct, engaging and successful” connection with a consumer — an actual one-on-one conversation.

Many of the millions of calls that produce this trillion-dollar business originate on commercial pure-play mobile platforms, often during ad campaigns. But community news platforms, I think, are also well positioned to capitalize on click-to-call. Local merchants are their bread-and-butter. Publishers cultivate relationships with their fellow entrepreneurs. The editors — who often wear the publisher’s hat as well — often write or order up stories on local businesses. And community mobile screens now have access to technology that can stream click-to-call ads to the places that have the most glued eyeballs, in the middle of the day’s top stories.

“I think click-to-calls hold an amazing amount of potential,” says Kenny Katzgrau, CEO and co-founder of Broadstreet Ads, which does ad management and serving for a number of independent community sites. “Several of our publishers have noted that although an ad might receive .25% click-through rate, it results in quite a few calls for the advertiser. We’ve been working on a few ad formats to address this — an ad that is bold and makes clear that you can click on the ad and get in touch with the business right now. Additionally, these ads are in-stream as opposed to pushed to the bottom of a column, as most most mobile ads are.”

Marchex’s Christothoulou told me: “Any publisher looking to improve their monetization should consider click-to-call ads as part of the experience. And if they do, depending on the content, there are opportunities. They key is ensuring the ads are relevant to the content and enhance the user experience, not detract.”

According to the Marchex report, click-to-calls from mobile produce conversions — meaning sales, appointments, or reservations — four times more often than desktop ads. It’s this kind of rate-of-return that leads the report to forecast that click-to-calls will produce $1.94 trillion in sales by 2019.

The consumers most likely to do the calling are millennials — ages 18 to 34 — as these two side-by-side charts from the Marchex report show:

Age and income of mobile callers, Marches, 2015

But to benefit from this trend, community news sites have to feature content that attracts millennials, and not many of them do that consistently or well enough.

Through its technology, Marchex was able to analyze 24 million calls over 18 months. The numbers called become “mobile cookies,” Christothoulou said. (Personally identifiable information was screened out before the calls were analyzed.)

Marchex CEO Peter Christothoulou
Marchex CEO Peter Christothoulou

Christothoulou told me that his company could do this massive amount of sorting and compiling because half of Marchex’s 400 employees are in product and engineering. He said Marchex started building the technology to produce this level of analysis four years ago.

Marchex’s operations also include the Marchex Institute, whose data scientists and senior analysts “deliver customized reports and insights for clients of our Call Marketplace and Call Analytics products.”

What Marchex is doing is part of the revolution that’s reshaping marketing in the digital era — tracking all the decision points in the consumer’s journey from “awareness” to “consideration” to “intent.” Click-to-calls often come at the last stage — intent — which is why they out-perform desktop ads.

Last month, Marchex announced a partnership with Light Reaction, the mobile performance business of Group M, which does more than $104 billion worth of billings. Light Reaction will provide its clients with Marchex analytics and click-to-call products designed to take the customer’s journey to conversion.

The Marchex report uncovered what many consumers already know all too well: calls often go unanswered at businesses or produce conversations that leave the caller dissatisfied. Potential customers hung up on 24% of their calls to local businesses, the report says, because they had to wait too long or the call wasn’t even answered.

“This is a huge percentage, which should motivate advertisers to focus on the call experience,” the report says.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present and future of Charleston, S.C.