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Using Phone Calls to Monetize Affiliate Traffic [Performance Insider]

Posted on 9.01.2013

:: By Alex Forsch, U.S. Country Manager at Affiliate Window ::


It is easy for e-commerce specialists to forget that more than 9 in every 10 dollars in the U.S. is spent offline. Forrester estimates that online sales account for only 7 percent of all retail sales, yet consumers recognize that better deals are available online. Choosing between myriad retailer offers is now just simpler and quicker online.

Fortunately, call-tracking solutions (not a new concept in the affiliate space but certainly under-utilized) may provide the answer. These solutions offer digital marketers with opportunities to bridge the often-massive gap, making their performance-based online marketing efforts a meaningful channel for offline conversions.

From Leakage to Leverage
Affiliate networks have traditionally advised advertisers not to display phone numbers on their sites, wary of affiliate traffic “leakage” and lost recognition for driving sales.

Call-tracking solutions, whether managed by an affiliate network or by the merchant directly, will dynamically serve telephone numbers unique to the affiliate who refers a customer to a retailer’s site. These numbers direct a potential customer to the advertiser’s call center, and the affiliate is credited either for the call itself (on a cost-per-call basis, with a call duration specified as the condition for the call to become payable) or the resulting sale (on a standard CPA).

What’s unsurprising is the demand for such a solution among those selling more complex items. Cruises.com’s research indicates 85 percent of its cruises are booked over the phone. But it’s not just big-ticket items. A Harris Interactive poll found that 40 percent of shoppers wanted help even when buying smaller products like software and electronic equipment. Where this assistance is not available, the impact on the bottom line is significant, with Harris also finding 52 percent of basket abandonments attributable to customers having difficulty contacting someone about their purchases.

The good news is that most retailers have the necessary infrastructure in place. In fact, the IAB estimates that 64 percent of advertisers already use telephone and call centers to convert leads. Unfortunately, affiliate marketers have traditionally lacked a technology solution allowing them to be recognized and rewarded for sales generated via phone. Thanks to new vendor partnerships existing within the performance channel, this is no longer the case.

Money Talks The versatility of a call-tracking solution makes it relevant for all publisher activity, whether the numbers are used in paid search ads, site abandonment-triggered remarketing emails, or to boost conversion from blogs and other content-based sites. These tactics have significant influence over purchase decisions, but can never answer each particular customer question. Call tracking also gives affiliates the opportunity to convert ROPO (research online, purchase offline) consumers before they step outside their front doors.

Making the Most of Mobile There is a particular opportunity for publishers with access to mobile traffic: an audience of consumers who increasingly turn to their mobile phones to search for products/services. Despite the increase of mobile-driven traffic, too few retailers have alleviated the friction associated with mobile purchases by developing m-commerce sites in order to overcome below-network average conversion rates and cart values for mobile-driven transactions (with the exception of the iPad). Particularly for those merchants who still rely on desktop sites to translate to mobile phones, call-tracking solutions help to mitigate this problem by avoiding the need for a customer to transact onsite via a smaller screen device.

Mobile consumers display an especially high level of purchasing intent, because their location is a key factor in determining where they purchase. Additionally, placing a call to purchase is usually a sign of urgency, as a customer is demanding further consultation on a service or seeking order confirmation.

Finally, call-tracking solutions enable performance marketing to expand to the offline environment. Using unique phone numbers, affiliates can explore opportunities to monetize billboard, TV or radio ads by directing their audience to call rather than click. Again, in the offline world, placing a call is easier to do than taking out a Web-enabled device, navigating to a site and clicking-through to buy.

Despite certain challenges in the use of call-tracking solutions (particularly in tracking orders from cashback and loyalty affiliates back to the individual member), the major advantage of integrating call tracking into an affiliate program is that it monetizes more traffic. At the current rate of growth, online sales will remain only a fraction of those generated offline for years to come, but call-tracking solutions provide online shoppers with another way to transact, and online marketers another route through which to run performance-based campaigns.

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