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Book Review: Getting The Most From Your Yellow Pages Advertising

Last year, I criticised a press release promoting a book by Barry Maher titled “Getting the Most from Your Yellow Pages Advertising, saying the press release was self-serving and irresponsible [1]. I disparaged Maher, referring to him as a “so-called expert” and calling the press release “self-serving”. Maher’s press release touted advertising in print yellow pages and questioned the value of advertising online in comparison, so I was highly critical of it since I believe there’s significant value in advertising online. At the time, I thought I was justified in my criticism, since I felt he was promoting his book at the expense of bad advice to small businesses.

However, others pointed out some irony in my criticism — after all, self-promotion is by nature supposed to be beneficial to one’s self, and it’s not at all unusual to emphasize a bit of controversy to make press releases more interesting to readers. Further, Maher’s responses and comments to my blog posting were well-written, wonderfully mild, and professional — leaving me to wonder if I’d been unreasonable in my attack of the press release.

Getting the Most from Your Yellow Pages Advertising [2]So, I bought the book before Christmas from Amazon and have now finished reading it. I find that I agree with Maher’s book far more often than not, and I feel I should now apologize for my attack. While I believe in the value of online advertising and still will defend its viability, Maher’s book doesn’t attack it in an unqualified manner, and my attack on the man versus his ideas or statements was unjustified and just low. I prefer debating ideas in a logical manner, and I can’t understand why I also stooped to attacking the person in my post. I’m sorry about that, Barry!

As for the book itself, I found it to be very valuable for small businesses, particularly newbies who’ve never done yellow pages advertising before. Even the business owner who thinks they already know it all ought to read this and check some of their assumptions. Read on for a further review of the book.

The book does a really great job of briefly outlining the history of yellow pages directories, and segues nicely into describing how yellow pages ads work. Most people may not realize it, but a yellow pages ad is an instrument — it’s a machine for educating a user about your business, and persuading them to come to you instead of going to your competition. Fine-tune the ad correctly and you increase your customer base and profits. Slap the ad together in a haphazard manner and you’ll needlessly waste money and lose out to the competition.

For a great many businesses, the yellow pages was and is the first doorway through which customers arrive. Many small businesses are skeptical of the worth of various types of advertising, but for many types of outfits (like plumbers, contractors, auto repair shops, etc) the yellow pages ad is a life-or-death necessity. Nearly every year, there are newspaper stories from around the US about how some entire category of businesses or individual companies have accidentally been dropped from appearing in that year’s edition of their core yellow pages directory — just read those stories or ask those business owners whether this negatively affected their business and they’ll tell you that it had a major impact.

Maher’s book, Getting the Most from Your Yellow Pages Advertising: Maximum Profits at Minimum Cost, provides a detailed education on all major aspects of advertising in the yellow pages.

The book has some great advice on how to choose what size of ad for your directory. Ad size and type are the two factors that play most heavily into the cost of YP ads.

It provides advice on how to handle your directory sales rep, and how to get them to assist you with choosing your ad by getting them to bring a few previous years of directories with them when they come to call.

The book further describes how to choose in which directories for your area to advertise, and how to design your ad to function best for you. Where should your ad appear on a page? What copy and visuals should appear in the ad? What text is vital for seducing a potential customer to choose you?

This information is the classic grand-daddy of search optimization! “Local Search” was originally when consumers picked up a yellow pages hardcopy book, began thumbing through it to find a business that would fulfill their need, and then selected one from the listings. Optimal ads will attract more attention, and convert into more customers.

Some other surprising stuff found in the book:

So, what does the book actually say about advertising in online yellow pages or with local search? Maher says that online usage is growing while print is declining. He says that it’s worthwhile to have an online presence, and to make sure your listing info is correct with the major listing aggregators which power the data for online directories and local search engines. He says to get a good website and submit it to the search engines. He also says that one should advertise online if the numbers from the sales rep look good.

The basic message Maher has regarding online advertising and advertising in general is that small businesses should do what works, and reduce expenditures for stuff that doesn’t work. (I agree with this philosophy whole-heartedly.) He provides cautions and recommends conservatism about online advertising based upon research that indicates large numbers of consumers still use print, compared to numbers of consumers using online.

I still don’t like comparing online usage metrics with offline usage metrics, because the stats are each arrived at by very different means — comparing their separate numbers is a bit like comparing apples with oranges. I think most of his basis for his stance is correct, however. Print directories still have a large usership and will for some time longer. I may quibble some on the comparative numbers of users, but this isn’t Maher’s fault — I think he used some of the best stats available. Anecdotally I can agree to some extent — I can see loads of people in my city who don’t have ready access to the internet — travelors who don’t carry laptops, less-affluent people who don’t have computers or internet connections, consumers away from their homes without quick internet access, etc.

I do think that travel-related businesses and businesses targeting the middle to affluent classes will enjoy greater success with online advertising than some other types of businesses, though, and they likely have already clued-in to understanding the need for online marketing. Maher doesn’t disagree — he basically just says experiment with it, and use it if it works for you. Good advice for anyone, for any type of advertising.

He further says that the advice he gives in the book on ad design and ad copy should also apply to online. And, he’s right — much of online optimization is based on the classic ad optimization techniques found in the legacy print product.

I could wish that the book had a much larger section on how to optimize ads for local search and online directories, but it’s entirely valuable to small businesses as-is. Perhaps Maher will expand out this section in a future edition.

I highly recommend this book as a guide to businesses considering how to optimize their yellow pages presence. The book contains priceless information on how to tune advertising to get more converting customers for a business. At less than a hundred bucks, it’s much cheaper than paying an ad agency’s rates!

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