Back in 2004, I laughed and laughed and laughed, and I told coworkers that it was a huge waste of money, because, I said, “they won’t be able to buy themselves into the top position for searches for ‘Yellow Pages'”. SuperPages.com  long held that distinction under my SEO direction, and I knew that purchasing the term in a domain name alone would not depose all the work we’d done to rank tops for it. As time passed, however, yellowpages.com has indeed deposed the Superpages forerunner.
Still, the domain name didn’t accomplish this alone. There were a mixture of factors involved. AT&T used a considerable war chest of new capital to gain marketshare in the YP space. I believe they likely undercut other players and made major traffic deals with partners in order to gain greater traffic — so, some of their position was purchased. Also, the AT&T company has much greater prestige and far more customers than the previous owners of the “yellowpages.com” domain name, and they could leverage their print phone book covers to further promote the URL. This meant that far more people were inclined to link to them, and the domain name itself, embedded in all those inlinks, gave AT&T a defacto advantage in the PageRank game.
Further, Google itself shifted ranking factors slightly between now and 2004, placing a bit greater weight upon keyword terms within domain names.
And, after I left the Superpages, a number of my recommendations for ongoing SEO were neglected to some degree by the people overseeing such work. This resulted in Superpages getting deposed from its longtime slot as first position for “yellow pages”, and Yellowpages.com has been occupying that position for a while since.
Just for the sake of egos and prestige value, it might appear on the surface that AT&T’s investment in the yellowpages.com domain name was justified in order for them to achieve top ranking. But, this is the world of business, and considering the direction in which society and commerce has been shifting, their purchase of that old domain name and the more recent purchase of YP.com appear to be at a hyper-inflated cost that is way out of whack with any good business rationale.
First, I know for a fact that they never have gotten sufficient value from that original $100 million dollar domain name. Knowing exactly how much traffic goes to the top position for “yellow pages”, I know that it’s never paid for itself, and it’s unlikely to do so. (Okay, so I know that they also got a number of other business assets along with the domain in that original $100 mill price-tag, but even considering that, this domain was a very bad buy.)
I’ve written previously about the decline in user searches for “yellow pages” , and that decline is continuing:
(Google Trends graph shows ongoing erosion of user searches for “yellow pages” )
Fewer and fewer users are typing “yellow pages” into Google, as this graph demonstrates. It would’ve taken “yellowpages.com” a good many years to repay for itself even when the traffic for “yellow pages” keyword searches was good, but with this declining trend in those searches very apparent, this is no longer a realistic longterm investment, and it will turn more rapidly into a major capital loss.
Considering this ongoing, downward trend, the monetary worth and traffic-bearing value of both “yellowpages.com” and “yp.com” are declining. Many feel that the overall concept of “yellow pages” could be fast disappearing as well, and that will leave these as very dated-feeling trademarks only a short ways down the road. I’d say there are a very good number of young consumers today who don’t even know what “yellow pages” is! So, even the brand name value of these appears very short-lived.
I’m doubting that even the short term, ostensible existing traffic of YP.com is worth this $3.85 million price tag.
If I were an AT&T stockholder, I think I’d be mad enough about this to demand an accounting. With a number of major yellow pages companies experiencing significant business problems  currently, this purchase is just incomprehensible. But, since AT&T’s yellow pages business unit is still attached to their telephone company, perhaps they have the luxury of wasteful spending on this piece.