Click to call: New revenue models from Mobile Search


This is the first post from Chetan Sharma

“What we find changes who we become” – Ambient Findability, Peter Morville

As the discoverable content increases in depth and breadth, it is inevitable that mobile search will drive user navigation on devices. Whether it is by user keying in a few keywords or short cuts or search engine generating a personalized, to-the-minute “always-active” user interface that directs user navigation, mobile search strategies will start taking center-stage for most consumers.

There are several differences between Internet (aka Google) search and mobile search. While Google on desktop might return a useless list of 2M hits (the useful results are generally in the first dozen links), mobile search needs to take in more variables before it figures out the “answer” to the user input. These variables are driven by context, history, preferences, and social network. You weir off a bit and the experience starts to waffle. Understanding “user’s intent” is key.

The business models are also different. While Google might present the paid-search-results on top, on the side or even blended in the main body, search results needs to very optimized and customized to the query and context. In addition, several new models come into play like “click-to-call” or “push-to-call” where real money is to be made. Click-to-call has a simple revenue model which most businesses understand. It is conceptually same as ‘referral fees’. Some calls such as in real-estate or mortgage business can yield over $30-40 per call for referrals. Some of the emergency services like plumbers, dentists, locksmiths have up to 50-60% conversion rates. You can do the math. The provider who has the best and most updated inventory has a big leg up in the race for mobile search domination. Local inventory plays a huge role, the hard part is to keep the numbers refreshed and encourage the ecosystem to participate and update the information while also getting involved in the advertising side of the business. Click-to-call already exists on Google on the Web. But on mobile devices, it takes on a much more useful and immediate dimension due to the nature of the medium.

Advertising also takes a new dimension with mobile. The wealth of user information and the capability to have 1-to-1 relationship with the user makes it a very powerful platform for the multi-billion dollar advertising industry. Advertisers design their campaigns based on the hard and real user demographic information and also get the confirmation of a “view” which is gold for advertisers. Having said that, a few missteps can also alienate users for months. Advertisements and/or promotions will also have the “click-to-call” functionality. Several travel agencies and big brands have already experimented with clickable ad campaigns. Earlier this year, Google filed the patent application for the same. Similar functionality could be built for audio content and other pieces of content types. Click-to-call will also become a very social and viral feature.

Click-to-call in combination with automated attendant is also very disruptive to the multi-billion directory-assistance (DA) and yellow page industry. If a smart analytical engine backs up the voice recognition system (could be tied to mobile search), majority of the consumer queries can be taken care of without reaching a live person thus deceasing the $1-$2 per call charge to the consumer.

Click-to-call can also be offered as a customer service-enhancing tool by the carrier or as an instant survey or feedback tool for different industries.

The majority of the searches initially will happen via browser and by using keypad input from the user but will gradually be integrated tightly across applications and platforms and will accept voice, image, bar code, and others input mechanisms. Mobile search will also renew the “dumb-pipe” debate, disrupt the value chain, and force players to form new alliances that weren’t conceivable before. New business models such as “click-to-call” will bring new sources of revenue to the wireless industry. In the end, mobile search will help drive quality of content and better user experience.

I welcome your thoughts on this model and others in relation to Mobile Search

Image source: SEO roundtable


  1. rajAT says:

    Hi Chetan,
    What are your views on physical world connection kind of applications like QRcodes and Mobot.
    I think generally while interacting with things in physical world causes needs as in interest among people. And these applications provide a very easy way to satisfy those needs. That kinds of take away a big share of mobile search.
    What are your views on that ?

  2. Rajat,
    QRCodes and Image-recognition will be (are being) used as an input to mobile search engines. We are already seeing them getting integrated with mobile search. In scenarios where codes or image works better than finger tapping (and the economics are about the same), users are quite likely to use such mode of input.