Natural Search Blog

Print Yellow Pages Vs. Online Yellow Pages / Local Search

I was noticing that Paul Haahr, an engineer I met at Google Dance last September, mentioned on his blog in January that he doesn’t like traditional print yellow pages. He consideres them to be something of a dinosaur, and his attitude is clearly communicated by his habit of leaving them to be turned into a pile of gray sludge by the rain on his doorstep when they’re delivered to his neighborhood. (I’m okay with him neglecting his directory in this way, since it’s an AT&T phone book.)

As a longtime employee of Verizon’s yellow pages directory company, I probably should act completely horrified at Paul’s disparagement of the well-established printed books, but I have to agree with his take on the matter. Print yellow pages don’t give me all the info I’m wanting any more, and the book has become something of an annoyance. It takes up space in my house, and it seems like the new replacement is always showing up about the time that I’ve only just gotten around to shelving the previous one. Online yellow pages and internet search sites have given me everything that I need.

Paul’s take on the matter is so amusing to me because it strikes a resonance with my own feelings about the whole thing. It’s a bit ironic to me (and it feels slightly disloyal!), because when I started at SuperPages nine years ago, I couldn’t really conceive of throwing away my phone books. Back then, we almost couldn’t imagine people choosing to use our online YP, because it was faster to look stuff up in the books rather than trying to use our online service!

But, stuff’s changed a whole lot. People have continuous and speedy connections to the internet, and our site responds back to queries a lot faster than in the old days. I can’t even hope to find everything I want in the print directory any more — it can’t tell me what theatre, store, restaurant, etc. is closest to my home or office. Since I live in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, I’d likely have to page through about 10 small city directories and perform distance interpolation on a map to figure out which businesses were closest to me! Fun (and geeky!) exercise, but I don’t have time for that.

Considering all this, why haven’t print yellow pages disappeared altogether? For that reason, why do merchants still spend significant amounts of their advertising budgets to have presence in the books? Are the printed books still a good business proposition? Surprisingly, they are indeed still worthwhile — read on and I’ll explain.

There’s still lots of situations where people use printed phonebooks. I use them when I find them in hotel rooms, when I’m travelling. When looking for a business in an unfamiliar neighborhood, people sometimes stop at a gas station, convenience store, or grocery store, and look the info up in a copy of the yellow pages they may have on hand. Finally, there are people who either don’t have internet service still, or who just use the printed book instead of online because it’s more familiar to them.

How do we know that people are still using the printed books? Well, quite simply, some businesses use phone numbers that are only appearing in particular printed directories, and they still are getting business through them. There can be other clues, too, like specially promoted discounts or coupons that may only appear in the directories.

Print yellow pages may be on the decline, but they continue to be a highly profitable business, and current analysts’ predictions suggest they may be around for another ten years at least.

But businesses had better not be too complacent, even so.

Those of us who are converted to only using online directories are a highly-desirable consumer demographic, so businesses who currently only focus on print need to wake up and broaden to include online advertising in their promotional repertoire.

Print YP may be a dinosaur, but it hasn’t breathed its last gasps yet. For now, print and online continue to thrive simultaneously.

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16 comments for Print Yellow Pages Vs. Online Yellow Pages / Local Search »

  1. MyAvatars 0.2

    Here’s another thought:

    Offline brand awareness often leads to an increase in web traffic and online conversions.

    Comment by Shimon Sandler — 5/26/2006 @ 6:45 am

  2. MyAvatars 0.2

    Print Yellow Pages will be around for much longer than the next 10 years.
    It is the most convenient way for customers to find any & all types of businesses.
    Just stay away from the Yellow Book. They are the most misleading & unethical yellow page company across the board.

    Comment by Tom — 9/6/2006 @ 9:43 am

  3. MyAvatars 0.2

    You say and I quote,” Paul’s take on the matter is so amusing to me because it strikes a resonance with my own feelings about the whole thing. It’s a bit ironic to me (and it feels slightly disloyal!), because when I started at SuperPages nine years ago, I couldn’t really conceive of throwing away my phone books. Back then, we almost couldn’t imagine people choosing to use our online YP, because it was faster to look stuff up in the books rather than trying to use our online service!”

    I have to say that some directories online presently do not have the search capabilities that you refer too. Capabilities to search not only fast and accurate but give the information like a consumer actually desires.

    I couldn’t help but think about radio vs. television. There is an interesting similarity of those two mediums and now between the print and online yellow pages.

    Television advertising usually produces more prospects and immediate calls vs. radio advertising. Radio is more expensive in a typical market because it cannot reach like TV does. It’s just that simple.

    Television started to take over radio in households across America in the late 40’s and had a strong impact in the 50’s as the technology and quality of television improved. The once prominent position where that huge self standing wood radio stood was placed in a less important place, much like the print copies of the yellow pages of today.

    When Television came in, radio was on its way out. Not completely, but this is an example where a newer technology drastically changed the form, representation and focus of the older technology. Sure radio is important in the car, maybe the shower, occasionally at home when you can’t see the TV. But TV is number one and radios somewhere far down the list. The easiest ways to see how prominent TV is over Radio just go to a Best Buy, Target, Wal Mart and compare the size of the TV department to the Radio department.

    Current yellow page advertisers look to the print book in this manner, “takes more time to get in the book�, “costs are high�, “better have patience while you wait for results�, “harder to attain your R.O.I.�, “limited market�

    The new Online Yellow Pages technology is quicker if not instant to place your ad, cheaper, faster results, excellent R.O.I… Plus you can reach a huge potential market, local, national and international. Wow that’s bang for your buck!

    Old vs. New once again.

    Comment by Martin Snytsheuvel — 5/17/2007 @ 10:30 am

  4. MyAvatars 0.2

    Where are the numbers? Why is it impossible to find numbers that say how many people actually use print yellow pages?

    The only numbers out there are put out by the directories and mainly reflect how many doorsteps their books land on, not how many people actually use them.

    This is a huge industry that hides and profits from keeping the companies they sell to in the dark.

    If anyone has numbers feel free to quote them.

    Comment by Andy Wash — 7/3/2007 @ 7:59 am

  5. MyAvatars 0.2

    Every company that offers yellow page advertising that I have dealt with has shown my not only distribution numbers, but also how many people use them in that specific market. If they don’t, always ask for it. They are called usage studies and they are always done by a independent third party.
    People will still pick up their phone book 4 times more than going online to make a purchasing decision.
    The conversion ratio for closing sales is typically much better too. For example, for every 30 online impression you may only get 3-5 sales. For every 30 yellow page references, you will typically get 15-20 sales. It also depends on how good of a sales person who are once the customer calls and you get them on the phone.
    They are both valuable, and my suggestion is to not pin one against the other so much.
    Yellow pages and online searches together complement your business as a more complete marketing solution.

    Comment by Tom — 7/3/2007 @ 6:57 pm

  6. MyAvatars 0.2

    I mention before that Yellow page usage studies are always done by a independent third party. I just want to clarify that if any yellow page company falsifies that information, they can have a huge lawsuit on their hands. Yellow book and Verizon has sued each other before for falsifying that info. The only yellow page company and their sales reps that I have never experienced or heard of any unethical doings is L.M. Berry.
    And no, I do not work for them.

    Comment by Tom — 7/3/2007 @ 9:00 pm

  7. MyAvatars 0.2

    Why were my comments deleted?

    To: Andy Walsh

    The usage numbers that you’re asking about are out there all over the place. They are always done by an independent third party like W.F. Lewis and Assoc. They have to be. If it’s falsified, you’re talking about some major lawsuits.
    Most phone books that come from the local telephone company of the area typically get anywhere from 40-90% usage depending on the market.
    Independent publishers such as Yellow book tend to only achieve an average of 10-15% usage.

    Comment by Tom — 7/4/2007 @ 8:04 pm

  8. MyAvatars 0.2

    Your comments weren’t deleted. We have moderation turned on so we must manually approve all comments. It’s a drag, I know, but it keeps the comments from getting spammed up.

    Comment by Chris Silver Smith — 7/4/2007 @ 8:19 pm

  9. MyAvatars 0.2

    Tom, I am a business owner. Besides all your comments. You and verizon are the most unethical and annoying people out there. You are only there to get the money not to help us! I was with you guys at one point and it was such a horrible experience I switched to the Yellowbook and my business wouldn’t exist without that book. So, instead of bashing companies look in the mirror. I think your company(Verizon) will be hurting once everything catches up to you people!!!

    Comment by mike — 11/9/2007 @ 2:33 pm

  10. MyAvatars 0.2

    And you and Verizon forget to mention that you only drop your book off to “your” customers. Meaning land line Verizon customers. Atleast Yellowbook drops it at every door and at a lower cost!!!! You and your company are a fraud!

    Comment by mike — 11/9/2007 @ 2:35 pm

  11. MyAvatars 0.2

    Uh… Mike – I don’t think you read very carefully. Tom doesn’t mention who he works for, so I wouldn’t assume he’s necessarily to be lumped in with your bad opinion of Verizon.

    Also, note: Verizon no longer owns the yellow pages books — they sold off that service late last year. There are still Verizon-branded phonebooks, but they’re printed/destributed by the spun-off company that retained the rights to be their official phone books in Verizon phone/service territories.

    I think you’re inaccurate with the bit about the Verizon phone books only being distributed to customers, too. I know for a fact that they distrubute wider than that — and on the face of it, that wouldn’t make sense, would it? The advertising rates in those phone books are justified in part by the distribution range, so they’d shoot themselves in the foot if they didn’t distribute sufficiently in an area. For instance, in the Dallas area, both Verizon and AT&T have portions of the city as their territories, and they both distribute phone books throughout, even into the addresses where they don’t handle the landlines.

    Comment by Chris Silver Smith — 11/9/2007 @ 4:20 pm

  12. MyAvatars 0.2

    I own and ad agency and have been searching for research regarding the yellow pages and find that most discussions, as all those above, miss the mark.

    First, it may be true that the yellow pages are rated by distribution, but thus far there is no accurate way of telling which of the many books in each market is specifically used,except by casual and less than perfect surveys. One book may have a circulation of 10,000 but loses half the year because a different book comes out from its competitor. Also, businesses frequently get more books than they can use and discard some of them, but the distribution numbers are still based upon the dropped books, some of which go in the garbage The yellow pages sell ads in the general distribution and then sub-divides to particular counties which in effect lessens the effectiveness of the general book which means you are paying them twice to compete against yourself.

    The information I seek is similar to that which was done for a study called the “Starch Report”. This shows that frequently, smaller ads are read more often than larger ads and that people generally look from back of a section to the front, which goes against how the yellow sales people sell you space. Color does add readership when reading a newspaper, but not effectiveness when in the yellow pages.
    Full page ads are not read as often as smaller ads such as 3/4 page, and in some cases 1/4 page. In fact, many people are scared to call those who can afford to advertise a full or double page ad for fear they wind up paying a higher price to that advertiser because the advertisment is so expensive.

    The research I am looking for does not report that the yellow pages is bad, nor that it is not read, but it does give reading habits which can improve your use of the pages for advertising.

    By the way, some of the dirty tricks I have read about and have seen are:

    The contracts are written in so many codes that people get frustrated and often sign just to get past the effort. Most yellow page documents will not give you phone numbers to call for questions as they want you to be confused by their paperwork. Sales people are paid more if they sell you up to a bigger size. They will sometimes offer free bonus prices for the first year. They do this because the management is betting the person they contact the following year will not remember that the upgrade, which was free last year, will cost them more the next time. Then the sales person will ask; “Do you want to do the same thing you did last year?”. Boom! the cost has risen and the cycle continues.

    Often yellow page sales people are told to call the advertiser when the deadline is upon them so they feel pressure to agree quickly to continuing. They also frequently give false deadlines for layouts and signing.

    They now offer ads with white backgrounds at higher prices. In essense, you pay more for the natural color than to add color. You offer by the amount.

    I believe the Yellow Pages has a place in the marketing world, but I don’t like the tactics nor the lies that are involved.

    With all that said, I must also say, from a marketing point of view, these people are geniuses.


    Comment by Gary Firestone — 8/13/2008 @ 8:42 am

  13. MyAvatars 0.2

    I own a service business with a long track record of the traditional DEX yellow pages advertising in Portland, OR. We ask each and every new caller how they found out about us.

    Six years ago, the percentage was 50%. Now it is 10%, about the same as the very targeted local Gay and Lesbian yellow pages.

    We traditionally had a 1 inch listing. Two years ago we went to a 3/4 inch listing with no effects other than continuing the downtrend rate already prevailing.

    This year we are going to a boldface only listing with our web site in lieu of the address. Except for a few types of companies–DUI attorneys, plumbers, and tow truck operators come to mind–I think most small businesses are bambozzled or bullied into continuing to spend money at traditional rates on this gradually dying venue; note that even as the effectiveness has gone down the prices have stayed the same or even gone UP. We have increasingly found that yellow pages callers to our business are poor quality leads–lots of “cattle call” bid situations, “tire kickers” and so forth.

    Fastest growing lead sources for us are Angie’s List where we have dozens of great reviews and “found on web by Googel or others”–this last is very fast growing despite lack of a Google Adwords campaign. We intend to begin one soon.

    Comment by GaryK — 8/23/2008 @ 4:14 pm

  14. MyAvatars 0.2

    Great comments & posts by all. A message for Gary Firestone… I have worked at Idearc Media (Verizon publisher) for a few years and I really analyze our data. You say larger ads don’t produce more calls, and from the real numbers I’ve seen they usually do. There are some exceptions, content of the ad is always the most important, but I always look at the call counts and then research the history of the advertiser. That being said, in today’s world business owners HAVE to have a decent web presence. You can’t imagine how many geezers don’t believe in online advertising… what will happen to those businesses when the printed book goes away, I don’t know. I have also come accross more people who have been jerked around by online advertising companies, than Verizon, AT&T or YellowBook.

    Verizon delivers to every door step in a service zone + when a person activate a Verizon service.

    By the way, advertising agencies usually don’t like yellowpage companies because they usually don’t pay a commission like Radio/TV/Magazines.

    To me, I’m pretty honest… I don’t believe that yellowpages will make you a millionaire in a year, but consistency and frequency are good traits of an overall marketing strategy.nn1nn1

    Comment by YP Guy — 8/18/2009 @ 4:43 pm

  15. MyAvatars 0.2

    I had an interesting conversation with someone who was balking at the upfront cost of doing local search lead gen using PPC. Instead, he was thinking of a partnership with an online yellow pages site.

    From what I understand, some big lead gen companies still find about 15% of their leads coming from print yellow pages. While it’s dying, it definitely ain’t dead yet.

    – This coming from an SEM guy…

    Comment by About Results Marketing — 8/20/2009 @ 5:36 pm

  16. MyAvatars 0.2

    I own a window cleaning company in Southlake,TX and HAD a well optimized google listing… meaning I was within the top 3 of local or maps results, top 3 organic results as well as running a Google Adwords campaign. The return came from the local listings or maps results and they were very signigicant bringing from 2 – 10 calls per week. The adwords didn’t produce many leads at all. I am now investing in a dominant full color dollar bill size ad in the ATT YellowPages. I use to think that yellowpages were obsolite, however my demographic is typically older than 40 years old so this might actually be a better medium for reaching my market. I would love to see the statistics for google vs. printed yellowpages to see who generates the most contacts.

    Comment by David — 7/30/2010 @ 1:42 am

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