Natural Search Blog

New Print Yellow Pages Usage Stats from comScore-TMP Study

Print Yellow PagesTMP Directional Marketing and comScore announced their annual joint “Local Search Usage Study” today, and there were some interesting statistics:

Now for the inevitable questions from me: how representative are these findings for overall consumers in the U.S.? As you recall, I recently questioned the accuracy of yellow pages usage statistics from a Yellow Pages Association (YPA) -sponsored study because it failed to include a major, growing demographic: cell phone users who have no landline phones at their residences.

First, this new TMP Directional Marketing & comScore study are possibly not any more representative of overall population than the YPA study, because it was only based upon an “…online survey of 3,000 respondents…” — so, it missed inclusion of stats involving people who do not have internet access — and, that’s likely still a significant percentage, I’d assume.

However, this new study is more believable to me than the earlier YPA study, because the findings fall more in line with what we might reasonably expect. The TMP-comScore study indicates that 30% of respondents rely on print YP for their local biz research sources (compare with the YPA study which states that 87% of the U.S. population used print YP last year). This doesn’t compare apples with apples, I know, but the figures are measuring somewhat similar things, and the TMP/comScore study also indicates that there was a 3% decline from 2007 to 2008, while the YPA study showed no major decline at all — something that seemed odd to me, considering the 7.6% downward slide the year previous.

While conventional wisdom holds that print YP can expect some percentage of usage decline with internet and mobile local search usage increasing, one cannot always trust conventional wisdom — one needs to check assumptions with actual research. In this case, though, the YPA study left out cellphone-only households which could reasonably be expected to use print YP less, and that might explain why that study showed no decrease in overall print YP usage from the year previous. In comparison, the TMP/comScore report likely does include both landlined and cell-only household respondents, and it shows a continued slide in print YP usage.

Do not get me wrong — I believe based on a wide comparison of statistics that print yellow pages remains a very important part of the local search marketing mix, and usage of yellow page directory phonebooks is statistically significant. I’ve mainly been questioning some industry statistics regarding how much overall usage of print YP there is, and it appears questionable when those stats don’t show some ongoing erosion of print usage.

Greg Sterling notes that print usage is going to vary by regional area and by business category:

In terms of the outlook for print usage, it’s going to be market by market and category by category. It will be very strong in some markets and categories and quite weak in others. Mobile’s impact is a bit of a wild card at this point: does it cannibalize print, Internet or is it largely “additive” to either or both.

I’d agree with that completely. Some business categories have seen a much more sudden shift from print to internet search as a referral source for their customer base. Variation by market is interesting to consider — I can see that there’s likely a more rapid shift in larger population areas than in small towns — small towns having far fewer businesses to select from and thus consumers there not needing greater research capabilities. There’s also likely difference by regional demographics as well, since more affluent markets might see greater shifts from print to home computers and mobile. Perhaps there’s also some side effect involving communities which are more internet-savvy as well.

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13 comments for New Print Yellow Pages Usage Stats from comScore-TMP Study »

  1. MyAvatars 0.2


    I was looking up your blog to reference it with regard to expertise on IYP’s and YP’s relative to an piece I’m going to write with regard to a very recent 2 visits from IYP salespeople to one of my SMB’s.

    I got a cold call visit from one person…listened to his sales pitch, told him I was interested in something else and got a return visit on the same day from the sales person and a manager.

    I’m more aware of SEO then most business operators, with a series of sites that are highly ranked in their categories ( locally, regionally, and fortunately industry wise).

    The pitches were intersting.

    First the sales reps represented one of the 2 leading IYP’s (by traffic) (okay–that means superpages or

    I asked a lot of questions, got to see stats on a competitor, though I didn’t get to keep them, saw other stats about other businesses in the region, and of course got their sales pitches. Along with that I got advise on “how to get my site ranked higher in the search engines.

    Boiling it down I was told:

    1. IYP’s represent 1/3 of all searches for local businesses.

    2. In order to get my site ranked higher in organic searches I needed to:

    1. Increase to the max the number of keywords in my meta section
    2. Have videos
    3. Get reviews

    (that was for ranking higher in organic searches).

    I tend not to believe the first point–the 1/3 of all business searches.

    Traditional yp’s and I suspect IYP’s might work better in some consumer products and topics than others.

    I hate that concept of traffic into the IYP’s.

    Here is what I found 2 years ago and based on subsequent topics.

    I hand searched a couple of topics off the AOL dump of data on some 20 million plus searches from 2006.

    IYP traffic represented 2 types. Some people clicked on IYP’s because they were highly ranked. Some people went directly to IYP’s on topics.

    The volume of quality IYP traffic is dramatically less than any of their statistics show. If the IYP’s aren’t highly ranked for a topic in organic search…there search traffic on that topic drops dramatically.

    Alternatively, if the topic is sold to many competing SMB’s in a topic….and they have high organic listings within the topic….go to that IYP page….and cripes you are looking at another long list of vendors. Its a less than quality opportunity.

    Pricing in my mind continues to stink. I’ve heard this from others in different markets. They take a metro region, slice and dice it…and if you want metro coverage…it means buying a variety of territories.

    Finally, as an SMB…I hate those 1 year contracts. Its too long to test a medium. Its a long term investment in a very questionable service.

    Finally….last observation from the sales pitch….and I found this somewhat ironic and funny…..

    The IYP giants sell their strength in part on their networks of alternative on the web YP’s. Buy into or and with it you get a lot of other internet yps.

    Well when we looked at some of the network, some clients from months ago….weren’t showing.

    On others…it was sort of silly. They were buying networks from google, networks from something else….and you were seeing competitng “sponsored ads” from different networks for the same business. Horrible looking duplication.

    Man, that is a crummy product, IMHO.


    Comment by Dave Oremland — 10/15/2008 @ 10:43 am

  2. MyAvatars 0.2

    I just completed a “Restaurant Yellow Page Usage & Trends” report. Over 215 restaurant owners responded and said they were dramatically reducing their advertising expenditures in the YP and opting for the free listing. The report is on my blog at

    Comment by Joel Cohen — 11/5/2008 @ 6:24 pm

  3. MyAvatars 0.2

    Good Article. According to me, Yellow Pages are going to be absolute in coming years. Sooner or later it is going to happen. Only people searching for new business, will use it in some parts of world,because their business does not require lots of internet usage or they don’t want to use it. And, Normal people, they will use tollfree numbers or internet to search for anything.

    Comment by Sandy — 1/9/2009 @ 5:05 am

  4. MyAvatars 0.2

    The phone book is dying, and the IYP’s are a companies worst nightmare. Why would you want to be on a page that compares you to and lists you with all of your competitors? I think that proper SEO and organic placement of websites owned by the local business is the way to go.

    Comment by Internet Marketer — 2/13/2009 @ 12:31 am

  5. MyAvatars 0.2

    I like the article, it at a minimum validates that you are making assumtions most of the time. Basic point is the more immediate need base a small business is the more the print book will apply. With out a doubt professionals are finding the print more successful than internet. ie: attorneys, docs and dentists. I have put the programs to the test tracked call volumes etc and the cost per call is not there at times with SEO. I manage alot of it and it is great but to reccommend a business close there eye to yellow pages what a mistake! I see it all the time, some guy spending 400 a month on a display ad back of the heading and thinks that is going to be the answer to all his problems on the internet. Does not work and the customer kicks and screams that the advertising didn’t work on the internet and is off to the next solution. I tell you want really needs to be talked about here. Let’s just say this- 1st a small business needs to understand what there unique selling proposition is, why should people do buisness with them. 2nd they have to answer the phone and sell the caller. When that happens they need to buy a realistic program some industries more internet less print and others less internet and more print. But, you have to buy enough to be seen and selected, it really isn’t rock science. Finally, we can’t assume anything and results need to be tracked and determine an ROI and realize that the business cost of doing business are there with or without the program.

    Comment by SEO Specialist — 3/11/2009 @ 6:07 pm

  6. MyAvatars 0.2

    Hey, Sherlock (“SEO Specialist”) – it’s no great deduction on your part that I’m making some assumptions. Since I state that absolutely in the article.

    The point is/was that the entire industry cites overall, generalized statistics about usage demographics so that people may make educated assumptions PRIOR TO THE FACT about whether it’s worthwhile to do business in a certain medium or not.

    I’ve always urged advertisers to carefully measure results and go with what works for them. So, I’m not sure what your point is here.

    BTW – I approve comments, even when they don’t agree with me, so you needn’t call yourself “SEO Specialist”. Of course, from your comment on another post on this blog you posted a short while ago, it’s clear you’re a yellow pages company employee and have a real axe to grind. It should be noted that I’m generally “pro-YP”, but I don’t like bad statistical sampling methodology used and then have industry wags wave those numbers about wildly while common sense indicates something quite different is going on.

    As I clearly stated in this article: there continues to be significant usage in print yellow pages, so businesses may find some value in being represented there. Now, is representation in print YP worth as much as it once was….?

    Comment by Chris — 3/12/2009 @ 5:13 pm

  7. MyAvatars 0.2

    I’m sorry the you take offense to my comments. I’m only pro what works and have no axe to grind either way. But you know as well as I do alot that is said is false and a stretch at best. My only point is internet does not always work like it is intended, that can also be said about yellow pages or any medium. It depends on how you buy it and apply it. Some business owners can’t be helped, don’t care what you have to offer. If you can’t sell your goods or services all the leads in the world won’t save you. I actually work as a competitor to yellow pages and sell internet advertising and have done sense 1998. I actually used to tell people some of the BS I see on blogs etc, until it blew up in my face and I lost credibility from some customers. I started to really analyze how the marketing worked and got involved with some customers that had both and we looked at cost per call (somebody ready to buy). It alot of the major headings the cost per call is awesome when they buy the right program and it also sucks big time when they buy the wrong program. I changed my tune, and I found I was able to sell my product based on its own merits without trying to discount something else. Yellow Page (print) is a big target that internet advertising people like to sell against. Basicly easy to take from YP budget to fund internet program. That is all…I enjoy reading your info and not intended to make you angry. Later….

    Comment by SEO Specialist — 3/13/2009 @ 7:12 pm

  8. MyAvatars 0.2

    Right on point! It is inevitably that more people are moving to online resources as opposed to the traditional off-line sources (i.e. print yellow pages). Of course, you will still have some people that will use print resources, but as this generation moves on and younger generations become the majority, this will continue to decrease. This makes it even more important to have an online presence, whether it is on local websites, IYPs, or search engines. Anyone who thinks it’s not important to have an online presence is shooting themselves in the foot. You have to think futuristically and not just in the present if you want your business to continue to thrive for many years to come.

    Comment by Local Search Marketing — 5/5/2009 @ 9:48 am

  9. MyAvatars 0.2

    Years form now you will wish you dated your posts

    Comment by chris — 10/18/2009 @ 6:06 pm

  10. MyAvatars 0.2

    Web traffic is up and YP print traffic is down. Not sure how to capture internet traffic in the plumbing service business. Internet has diluted the traffic. too many choices/websites to search from. Before internet everyone needing a plumber looked in the print YP. Now how do you capture the customers. Anyone have the magic bullet?

    Comment by Donny — 4/26/2010 @ 6:04 pm

  11. MyAvatars 0.2

    Looking at when this article was published and still receiving comments to date, it really does lend one to rethink the idea that YP is a requirement.

    I’m still doing it, but from a differing view point than my competitors.

    Donny: Not sure if you are going to see this page “again” but I only concentrate on selling service in YP. I utilze a headline, promise fast, ontime service. Fixed Right the First Time. 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. Short, sweet, appealing to a “Need It Now” market. The market I think still utilizes the YP.

    Like you, we struggle with how to make our services and installations “Attractive” (let’s face it–it is only attractive to our techs.) We do not sell trucks, equipment is ugly unless you know what you are looking at and if like us doing residential, commercial and industrial–then your choice of utilizing people in the ad limits your “marketing” profile (because that image does lead the person to make a snap judgement.)

    As far as web: Since making our website Mobile Friendly, we have seen a real increase in traffic as well as call volume. It was an investment to go from doing something we did in house (and I will say it, had some SEO–not nearly quality SEO.) On my wish list for our partner was the mobile web (I had a long laundry list of other things to fix I knew we didn’t have right nor any clue how to make it right.) Stick to the “meeting” the need of the customer (answer to what is driving them to look beyond the plumber they have always known.)

    I still want to see some real 3rd party statistics as of TODAY though. And yes, I understand those stats usually have a nice price tag attached to the whole study so can understand how conducted…so my Internet Search continues on to at least be able to weigh in a YP in my marketing budget.

    Comment by Just another HVAC Contractor — 5/11/2010 @ 5:20 pm

  12. MyAvatars 0.2

    Just stumbled across this blog – and I would like to offer my two cents…Just this past weekend I talked to my wife’s cousin who is 20 years old. She has never used a “phone book” in her life. As an advertiser, that’s all I need to know.

    Comment by Matt — 9/20/2010 @ 8:41 am

  13. MyAvatars 0.2

    This article quotes 2007 YP claims of 13.3 billion usages. Now in 2011 what is the YP usage claim? 13 billion. No significant decline in the past 4 years? These guys are lying their butts off!

    Comment by Rich — 6/29/2011 @ 4:04 pm

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