There’s been a ton of news on the Google-eBay announcement around pay-per-call. The message is that pay-per-call is a way to apply pay-for-performance advertising to something small businesses actually want — phone calls. The publisher now has something else to package and sell to businesses —phone leads. But what no one is talking about yet is how pay-per-call can — and is — revolutionizing the search experience for the consumer.
Consider this familiar scenario: you need a plumber (or any service-oriented business). You search online for Los Angeles + plumber. More than 8,000,000 listings appear. You add the words residential + licensed + emergency. Still, there are more than 226,000 websites listed. Try local search and you’ll find 5,600+ plumbers in Los Angeles. From here, you start dialing, and probably make several calls before finding someone to fix your leaky pipe.
Local Search is a Poor State of Affairs for the Consumer
Consumers who need a local product or service benefit when they can easily connect with a merchant who can satisfy that need. But most of local search does not make it easy. Consumers have to sort through thousands of listings based simply on name, address and phone number — there’s very little empirical data to drive relevance.
Search engines determine how to identify websites which fit each individual search or inquiry based on complicated algorithms. In local search, proximity is currently the most common metric, because technology can easily map location and little other data is available.
If the searcher uses a city name in the query, business listings are typically ranked according to proximity to the center of the main zip code of that particular city. If a consumer uses an address in the search query, results are returned based on proximity to that particular location. These results certainly make sense for walk-in traffic — if I’m attending a conference in a city I don’t know and I desperately need coffee before my early morning seminar, then sure, show me the coffee shops within walking distance.
But proximity means very little in the case of the plumber mentioned above. It doesn’t matter if the plumber is down the street or 25 miles away, as long as he can be in my basement within the hour.
Local search becomes even more complicated in other merchant categories, particularly professional services. If I need a lawyer, and I live on a farm outside the city, I may still decide I’d rather drive downtown, where law offices tend to locate. Conversely, if I am downtown and need farming supplies (hey, it could happen) I may not need results closest to the city.
The problem is that local search results are a subset of all data provided by third parties who primarily aggregate white pages listings. For listings of lawyers, all lawyers are included: large firms, small firms, single person firms, some out of business — all they need is a phone number. So someone who needs an attorney who specializes in import/export law might have to make a lot of phone calls to law firms that don’t even handle those kinds of cases.