May 21, 2015
Case Study

Inbound Calling: Phone calls from PPC and direct mail reach 30% conversion

SUMMARY: Inbound phone calls are an important driver of new business. For Evolve Vacation Rental Network, the team believed the increase in mobile usage drove more phone calls from marketing channels such as paid search and direct mail.

The challenge with inbound calls is attributing those potential customers to individual campaigns. This is important to measure the effectiveness of campaigns and also to determine a reliable cost-per-acquisition key performance indicator. Read on to find out how Evolve implemented unique phone numbers on its PPC ads, direct mail pieces and website landing pages to improve tracking and measuring its marketing campaigns.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter


Evolve Vacation Rental Network was founded to bridge the gap in the management services offered to owners of rental second homes.

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Homeowners who rent out their second homes typically fall into either one or two extreme categories — each of which have potentially negative repercussions.

One extreme in second home rentals is the homeowner handling everything — listing the property, responding to inquiries, processing rental bookings and handling the on-the-ground services.

The other extreme is the homeowner hiring a full-service property manager based at the rental home’s location. The downside of this option is that the property manager takes a 30% to 50% fee of the rental amount.

Brian Becker, Vice President, Evolve Vacation Rental Network, said the company saw an opportunity to focus on the marketing and booking aspect of rental homes and dramatically reduce the cost with a 10% booking fee. The company also offers on-the-ground services via a fee-based network of local partners for homeowners who prefer to outsource that aspect of owning a vacation rental home.

Evolve’s target audience is owners of second homes, and Becker said its marketing goes after people who own property in vacation rental markets. The messaging targets a few different segments, including what he described as "veterans," who are already actively renting out their second home, as well as newcomers, who own property but haven’t jumped into the rental market.

Becker said the newcomer segment was Evolve’s "sweet spot" because he believes the company offers a solution that is more accessible for second home owners who are daunted about either the amount of work vacation rentals entail or the expense of hiring a full-service property manager.

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"We’re really trying to target that first-timer in a lot of instances by trying to give them an understanding of the kind of income potential that their property may have along with the minimized amount of work that’s necessary as a result of our service," he explained.


Cost-per-acquisition for new customers was an important metric for Evolve, and determining that cost for each marketing channel — such as paid search and direct mail — helped drive the company’s strategic focus. At the same time, Becker said the company was seeing a "huge increase in the number of consumers that are engaging with us over the phone."

He added that the team believes this increase is due to an increase in mobile usage.

"People with smartphones are now accessing our landing pages, our website — whatever it may be — via their mobile phone," Becker said. He added that because of this, the easiest way for those digital visitors to engage with Evolve was to "just hit the phone number and call us."

Find out how Evolve was able to reconcile the need to attribute cost-per-acquisition to specific marketing channels while receiving an increasing number of calls generated via many channels including the website, paid search landing pages and direct mail pieces.


The goal of this effort was very simple — gain the ability to track phone calls and attribute those calls to marketing channels that generated accurate cost-per-acquisition metrics for each channel.

"Mobile devices are actually increasing the amount of phone engagement that consumers are making," said Becker. "We had significant need to make sure we were tracking that effectively and accurately to understand which campaigns were, and weren’t, working."

The solution was finding a technology that provided unique phone numbers on marketing pieces and understanding that calls to a specific marketing campaign — for example, a unique number that only appeared on a certain direct mail piece — could then be directly attributed to a specific campaign instead of being considered a cold call directly to Evolve.

Step #1. Utilize call attribution in paid search

In PPC ads, the team would apply a unique phone number to individual keywords. By doing that, ads could be tracked two ways — by generating a phone call directly from the ad served and by the more traditional paid search metric of generating a clickthrough to a landing page on the Evolve website.

This tracking ability had a direct impact on Evolve’s overall paid search strategy.

Becker explained, "Our ability to get our head around customer acquisition cost is essential to understanding whether or not a campaign is viable. What we’ve found is, prior to using the keyword tool [to attribute calls to keywords in ads], we might have stopped marketing to a particular keyword because we didn’t think we were getting the engagement to a level that would justify the cost of acquisition."

He added that tracking keywords to calls helped the team understand that some keywords were actually high-performing; they just generated phone calls rather than clicks when people viewed the search ad.

Previous to attributing calls to PPC ads, the leads generated by each campaign were only measured by clickthroughs and caused the actual number of leads from those campaigns to be underestimated.

"The biggest thing its done is actually helped to justify campaigns that we thought were kind of on the margin and came to realize were actually producing a viable acquisition cost for us," Becker said.

Step #2. Attribute inbound calls to different types of direct mail sends

One obvious use of utilizing a unique number on each direct send would be to track the performance of that individual campaign. Becker explained it’s one of the only ways to have assurance the print campaign is generating a response. He added that beyond direct mail, the team uses unique numbers on other print promotions as well.

Evolve also took this ability another step further and created A/B tests with its direct mail campaigns.

"You can put two different direct mail pieces to a market and have an understanding of which one is performing better," he said.

For example, one of the earliest direct mail tests pitted the engagement of postcards versus letters when targeting its key audience in people who own second home property in vacation rental markets.

Step #3. Place unique phone numbers on PPC landing pages

Testing was also a key element of Evolve’s use of unique phone numbers on website landing pages.

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Becker said the team tested different landing pages within a single campaign and also used unique phone numbers to differentiate responses between different campaigns.

He added that PPC campaign landing pages were customized for specific keywords, such as "property manager," and also for geography.

"We obviously then attribute a specific phone number to each of those landing pages to help us track the response rate," said Becker.

Step #4. Test and share the results

Adding unique, trackable phone numbers to different marketing pieces was an important aspect of Evolve’s overall testing program.

Becker describes that program as an "ongoing thing" that continually seeks to optimize elements like call-to-action buttons, landing page headlines and even design elements, such as pages with request for information forms versus pages with buttons that lead to a form.

"We spend a lot of time trying to understand what page is producing and what page isn’t and making nuanced adjustments to try to continue to enhance the landing page so that we’re getting the highest possible conversion rate out of that page," Becker said.

He added that the executive team was highly interested in what the marketing team was doing, so they had weekly meetings to understand how various campaigns were performing and to keep tabs on what elements, such as keywords, were performing in various channels, such as paid search and direct mail.

"That’s where A/B testing comes in," Becker said. "That’s why it’s so important because you could draw a conclusion that one of those channels doesn’t work, but it might have more to do with the fact that it’s actually your ability to convert the traffic, as opposed to generating the traffic."


"We’re a small company, and we have a limited marketing budget, albeit we’re growing and able to do more and more, but we have a very strict approach to our marketing where we understand that we’re going to target a specific cost of acquisition for bringing new homeowners into our network," Becker said.

After gaining the ability to track and measure campaigns with the addition of inbound phone calls generated by those campaigns, Evolve was able to convert 30% of direct call traffic to a customer. More importantly for its ongoing marketing strategy, the team was also able to attribute that result to specific marketing channels and individual campaigns.

Becker said his high-level takeaway from this effort was the ability to make "smarter decisions."

"We’re able to really have a much better understanding of what is, and isn’t, working as a result, and it allows us to make decisions on what to proceed with and what not to proceed with much more effectively," he said.

Creative Sample

  1. Homepage

  2. Information Page

  3. Unique phone number on landing page


Evolve Vacation Rental Network

CallRail – Evolve’s call tracking vendor

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