Following the lucrative search advertising market, America Online is expanding its online search offerings, opening up new opportunities for advertisers on the Web portal.

Following the lucrative search advertising market, America Online is expanding its online search offerings, opening up new opportunities for advertisers on the Web portal. For real estate companies, that means more potential places on the Web to catch home buyer and seller eyeballs.

The company today announced new AOL search functions and new technology partnerships, including plans to work with Ingenio, a San Francisco-based company offering pay-per-call advertising through the Internet.

Ingenio Pay Per Call drives targeted phone calls, rather than clicks, to businesses displaying ads on a search engine. The model is similar to pay-per-click services in that advertisers pay only when they receive a phone call, and they bid for keywords and placement among search results.

“It picks up all the great things pay-per-click (advertising) has done and made some critical changes,” said Marc Barach, chief marketing officer of Ingenio. He added, “The next innovation is why should companies be restricted to only buying clicks?”

The pay-per-call model uses keywords to target consumers, but advertisers don’t have to create and monitor the keyword combinations themselves. Advertisers choose a geographic location to target, which can be as specific as a two-mile radius from their office or as broad as national, and like pay-per-click, they name their price for calls.

The pay-per-call product is not meant to drive traffic to Web sites, but to capture those consumers who are ready to talk to a person.

“We’ve researched the market and seen that 53 percent of folks who pick up a phone intend to make a transaction,” Barach said.

A special toll free number is inserted within the pay-per-call ad. A prospective customer who calls the number is forwarded to the advertiser’s business telephone. Advertisers also can have calls forwarded to their cell phones when they are out in the field and can turn the feature off when they’re unavailable to take calls. Barach also noted that sequential calls don’t result in an additional charge if say the same customer calls back after hanging up to get directions.

The pay-per-call service also enables users to monitor their accounts to track return on investment.

Ingenio’s technology has been available since last fall through a partnership with FindWhat.com, a company that offers lead generation, customer conversion and retention services. Ingenio was founded in 1999 and currently has about 93 employees.

Advertisers using Ingenio eventually will be showcased in a sponsored link search results area on AOL Search, AOL.com, AOL Yellow Pages and other AOL properties. But AOL and Ingenio have not released the date when this service will launch.

To draw more consumers to use its search portal, AOL today announced search enhancements including a new sorting and “clustering” feature that helps users find exactly what they are looking for more quickly and efficiently. AOL has licensed clustering technology from Vivisimo, which automatically organizes relevant search results by topics and displays them alongside the list of general Web search results. This approach enables users to zero in on more specific results and find exactly what they’re searching for.

AOL also added the AOL SmartBox suggestion tool that automatically presents relevant choices to narrow a query. The SmartBox tool helps users refine and clarify their search, increasing the accuracy of their results. For example, typing in the word “eagles” into the AOL Search query box presents the opportunity for users to hone their search to “The Eagles” (the band), “The Philadelphia Eagles” (football team), or “Eagles” (the bird). AOL Search will also display a user’s most recent searches to save time when they want to look up the same searches again.

The Web portal today said it plans to expand its local search capabilities, which fits with Ingenio’s pay-per-call platform. Pay-per-call targets small, local businesses to use the service because it doesn’t require companies to have a Web site to advertise on search engines and many of these businesses are better equipped to transact business by phone than by the Internet.

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to jessica@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 133.

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