Some Online SMEs May Not Even Need a Phone

Anyone who follows this space knows that one of my favorite sub-topics within the overall topic of interactive marketing is local search. Many analysts and others have been predicting big things for local search, especially as pertains to the role played by Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs) and small to medium enterprises (SMEs), which are the many smaller businesses that make up the bulk of our economy (as many of 80 percent of which do not have a Web site).

The idea is that the first player who can structure a pay per call program designed to place an IYP listing or other presence on the Web that can be accessed via search engines may make a lot of money. It seems simple enough, almost as simple and intuitive as the old-school Yellow Pages sale. Heck, it might even be sold by existing Yellow Pages sales people in time, as well as via the interfaces of the major search engines.

I'm filing this column from Loreto, Baja California Sur - way down the Baja peninsula in Mexico, about 200 miles north of La Pax. And while I admit that my thoughts have revolved far more around the Sailfish and Dorado we're catching on the beautiful Sea of Cortez, I also admit that none of it would have occurred without an atypical approach to local search that was necessitated by some phone troubles.



What if a business had a Web presence, a dependable clientele from all over the world, but it didn't have a phone? In this dusty town, Internet access happens to be far more dependable than telephone service. So, contacting our guide and charter service was no sweat, even though the phone service was down much of the time last week. All we had to do was go to, click on the contact button, and we were in business with no need for a long distance call.

For some reason, there are multiple hotels and charter services here that really understand the value of this kind of search. Anyone searching on "Loreto" will find the largest charter service here, which seems to own much of the city and almost all of the charter "pangas," which are the boats used for most of the fishing. Obviously, listings get far more cluttered and difficult in major U.S. cities. But, the differentiation is really the key when it comes to choosing search terms

Such will be the case as pay per call programs begin to take hold as well. How much will IYPs and major search engines charge for differentiating terms? Clearly, the sky's the limit within some industries. It's been reported that certain terms of art in specific industries, like medicine and law, are already fetching as much as $100 per click.

In this very poor fishing village, five hours from nowhere, how much would the owners of Baja Big Fish pay to ensure that their site would be atop page one? When you think about the power of pay per call, you begin to understand why valuations of IYPs and search engines, not to mention search engine marketing firms, are so high.

Ironically, a pay per call deal on the site for our hosts wouldn't have generated any revenue for the search engine we used, since the phones were down. But they still closed the deal, didn't they?

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