Case Study

$57141 Pay Per Call Case Study - Flight Booking Offer

I've been contemplating posting this pay per call case study in the flight booking niche for the past year. Originally, I was going to reveal everything, including negative keywords, ads, landing pages, etc, but the value is way too high to do that for free.

So I've decided that I'm going to post the case study, but without some of the information that would literally make this campaign copy/paste. Overall, this campaign generated $57,141.80 in revenue and $23,035.23 in profit.

Pay per call case study overall reporting from Invoca
Pay per call case study overall reporting from Invoca

At the start of 2018 I was highly motivated to conquer a new vertical that I haven’t had success in quite yet. It was the beginning of the year, so why not, right?

I spent a few weeks doing some research in various verticals such as student loan consolidation, random home services, and flight booking.

I noticed that a lot of networks were starting to get into flight booking. Each day I’d see in Skype groups and on Facebook several affiliate managers searching for more volume for their travel campaigns.

I liked the fact that many different networks had offers, as that meant that I would be able to easily find offers to split test against each other.

Flight booking is a vertical that I tried in the past with break even results, but I thought I’d give it another shot and see if I could do any better.

Week 1 - PPCall Campaign Setup

To start my campaign I only got two different offers from two affiliate networks. I didn’t want to have too many offers to start with because then my affiliate managers would be blowing up my Skype daily wondering why they aren’t getting many phone calls.

Learn how to find pay per call offers that don't suck here.

The offers I selected allowed both new bookings and changes to existing flights. There are some offers that only allow for new bookings, but it was obvious the offers would convert better if they also allowed changes to existing bookings.

Nearly all of the offers want you to only send them calls for particular airlines, such at American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines and sometimes Air Canada.

I made a very basic AdWords campaign to start off with. I generally don’t like to spend too much time setting up the initial test campaign, as I’ve done that in the past to find out that there is no way possible to make the niche work on AdWords.

If the niche can’t work, you just waste a ton of time setting something up you’ll never use again.

I only used a handful of keywords in phrase match that I thought people would type in if they were trying to book a flight. I let the campaign run with about $100/day budget.

Week 2 - Loosing a Lot of Money

After the first week I was for sure losing money. I got a few phone call conversions, but they were costing me around $50 each. The payout was only $10 - $12 per conversion.

I was trying to bid for the airlines the offers wanted (United, American, Delta, Air Canada) and quickly found out that was going to be next to impossible.

There was just way too much competition on those keywords. The only airline that I could bid on and come close to a potential profit was Delta Airlines. I decided I would focus my time on Delta and forget about the other airlines for now.

Obviously the costs were way too high on the campaign, but I decided I would let the campaign keep running. I did this because many times the costs can stabilize over time. Also, I was getting good insights into what was working and what wasn’t in the search terms report.

Using the search terms report I was adding airlines that weren’t what the offer wanted to increase my call quality in hopes of a pay bump.

Toward the end of the week I added some new keywords in broad match and left the initial keywords running to see what happened.

The blue line was the cost per conversion
The blue line was the cost per conversion

Week 3 - A New Approach

By now I knew that the keywords that I started with in phrase match just weren’t going to back out profitably for me. I paused them by the end of the week.

The broad match keywords that I added in week 2 were doing ok, but I was still basically breaking even here.

I added a bunch more negative keywords I discovered in my search terms report and also made new ads. I needed a better click through rate if I was going to turn a profit.

Weeks 4, 5, and 6 - The Ah HA Moment

Over the next few weeks I left the budget the same ($100/day) and just worked on making better, more relevant ads so I could lower my costs. Ad extensions can help a lot!

I continued to monitor the search terms report, as the keywords I was using now were a combination of broad match and broad match modifier, which can send you a lot of random search queries you’d never think people use.

I also listened to many of the phone call recordings to see what intel I could gather to further improve the campaign.

From listening to the phone call recordings I found out that the call center was booking tickets for people not on the 4 airlines the offer required.

I asked my affiliate managers about this and they said the call center can book flights on any airline; they just prefer Delta, American, Air Canada, or United because they make more money selling those tickets.

This was a huge ah ha moment for me. The branded keywords were expensive and by adding so many negatives for random airlines it was tough to up my call volume.

I removed the specific airline names that I had been adding to my negative keyword lists and only used broad match/broad match modifier keywords.

Week 7 - Finally Turning a Profit

I was now getting a good volume of calls and making a very good profit. My cost per conversion in this week was just under $4 and I was getting paid $12. That’s a 200%+ ROI.

I was getting capped out on the number of calls I could send, so I couldn’t go too crazy with the volume yet.

I needed more buyers.

Week 8 - Improving Call Quality

After the nice week of profits my affiliate manager notified me to improve my quality because at this point I was getting search queries for a ton of different airlines.

From the previous weeks I knew the only airline I could come close to profiting/breaking even with were the Delta Airlines related keywords. The other airlines were just way too expensive for the payout I was getting.

I created a new campaign for Delta Airlines only. I also made a landing page specifically for Delta Airlines so I could have a better quality score. This campaign wasn’t a call-only campaign, but one that links to the landing page. This was cheaper for me than a call-only campaign for branded search queries.

I create my landing pages for pay per call and lead generation campaigns with Instapage.

Example landing page for a flight booking pay per call affiliate offer
Example landing page for a flight booking pay per call affiliate offer

The Delta Airlines campaign was of course more expensive than the generic campaign, but that was ok because it improved my overall quality and allowed me to stay on the offers.

I also started hunting for direct buyers since I had the volume. I found a few with better payouts than the affiliate networks.

You know what they say… always be testing. This was absolutely true with the flight booking offers. Some offers would only convert at 30%, while other offers would convert at 70%+.

The main stat that I cared about while I was testing new offers was my earnings per call. Some offers I was only earning a couple dollars, but others I was getting triple or quadruple that.

Of course, the high converting offers couldn’t take a large amount of concurrent calls, so I still had to sell some of the volume to affiliate networks.

Week 9 - The Call-Only Ad 'Hack'

During this week I discovered an epic ‘hack’ to get a 5% higher click through rate on my ads. I mixed these high CTR ads in with my other ads and my volume skyrocket.

The high CTR ads didn’t convert as well as the best ads I had before I discovered the ‘hack’, but they did help out my quality scores, which is always a bit of a struggle with call-only ads.

The ads were now getting a 23% CTR and nearly 90% of the available impressions, which was amazing.

I had too many calls and not enough buyers. It was high priority to find more buyers for the amount of calls I was generating.

The 'hack' was to not use a URL (not allowed anymore). 6-8% better CTR!
The 'hack' was to not use a URL (not allowed anymore). 6-8% better CTR!

Week 10 - Generating Way Too Many Phone Calls

I found more buyers to take my calls and got up to over 1,500 flight booking calls per day for this week. Toward the end of the week one of the bigger buyers started having issues with their call center and I got capped out again.

The struggle was real to find people to take my calls. I had to slow down the volume a bit even though I could have continued to increase my volume further.

That spike in calls though!
That spike in calls though!

Week 11 - Rest In Peace

In the final week of the campaign I noticed something odd with my AdWords account. I just wasn’t getting the volume I was before and the clicks were bad.

I couldn’t figure out the issue right away, then by the end of the week I knew what the issue was…

AdWords suspended my account for violating the misrepresentation policy.


Cost per conversion isn't accurate, as Google doesn't record all the conversions
Cost per conversion isn't accurate, as Google doesn't record all the conversions

Google doesn’t give you any insights into exactly why you get suspended. They link you to a generic page on their site about policy violations. Not much help at all.

The also allow you to appeal your account suspension, but from what I’ve seen you just get a cookie cutter response back after a few weeks.

We literally tried everything to recover the account.

I tried to relaunch everything in new accounts, but the longest I could keep one active was just 7 days. I decided to just throw in the towel, as I don’t like wasting a ton of time creating accounts, dealing with AdWords support, etc.

There are other campaigns available that are possible to turn profits.

Final Stats:

Total Spend: $34,106.57 Total Revenue: $57,141.80  Total Profit: $23,035.23  Total Calls Generated: 17,837 Total Billable Calls: 4,936 Average Payout: $11.57 Average EPC: $3.21

Pay Per Call Case Study Key Takeaways

Although this case study was about the travel niche specifically, I think there are some key takeaways that are applicable to any niche in the pay per call space:

  • A Google Ads spy tool can give you some great insights into what keywords you should be using and what types of ad copy are actually working.
  • Call tracking software is a must. It allows you to listen to call recordings, control your concurrency cap for each buyer, and quickly direct your calls to another buyer if there is a call center issue.
  • CTR is a major factor in call-only ads. The better your CTR, the more Google likes to show your ads.
  • Don't rely solely on Google's call conversion tracking to keep track of your cost per generated phone call. The metrics aren't always correct for a number of reasons.
  • Earnings per call are one of the best ways to determine what offer is making you the most money. I check in the morning what the EPC’s are and if any are below normal that offer gets paused for the day. Sometimes call centers have a bad day.
  • The flight-booking niche will almost certainly get one of your AdWords accounts suspended. The reason is that the call centers are shady. They will intentionally book someone’s reservation with an error, and when someone calls back to make changes, they charge them several hundred dollars to make that change or cancel the flight. I didn’t find this out until after I was suspended.
  • You may not know for weeks if your campaign is going to work. I didn’t start making a huge profit until week 7 of my campaign.
  • You MUST test offers against each other even if you pick good quality offers from the start. You can use call-tracking software to do this easily.
  • Start off working with offers at affiliate networks. Once you get volume go direct for higher payouts and better offers. Don’t go direct right away or you can burn relationships by not being able to deliver quality/volume consistently.
  • Test your ad copy. The smallest changes can make huge differences in CTR and CVR. Ad extensions, even on call-only ads, can help a lot.
  • Offer descriptions don’t always reflect the actual offer.
Nick Lenihan the Affiliate Marketing Wizard

Nick Lenihan

Performance marketer, consultant, and affiliate marketing wizard. Hire me or subscribe to my YouTube channel.