Internet Yellow Pages: Worth The Effort?

Here at the end of 2007, it’s painfully obvious that the local search advertising market remains highly fragmented. Numerous local search experts attending the recent SMX Local & Mobile Conference reiterated the observation that businesses seeking to target local audiences have a plethora of options, and identifying and selecting the right locally-focused sites can be an overwhelming task for small business people who have limited time to devote to the task.

So, where should you choose to devote your time and budget? What’s the minimum number of sites you should appear in and which are the best for you? This article is geared towards businesses targeting local audiences, rather than businesses who do nationwide advertising—and specifically, how to choose the best internet yellow pages (“IYPs”) for your ads and those where it’s important to spend time optimizing your free listings.

Online Yellow Pages This might seem ironic, considering that I’ve suggested that sites which are little more than online yellow pages might follow the expected decline of traditional print yellow pages. But, internet yellow pages overall continue to enjoy very high traffic according to independent reporting agencies, and IYPs are evolving to stay relevant in a post-print era. Also, there’s fairly solid industry research that shows that true conversion rates (sales) are higher associated with referrals from internet yellow pages compared with many other channels, including major search engines.

So, local businesses can and do derive value from promoting themselves through IYPs.

There are quite a number of online yellow pages sites out there—thousands, in fact! The barriers to entry for this type of information site are pretty low, since a programmer can easily get a database full of business listings (by buying them, stealing them, or slowly developing them) and slap a web interface onto them. Ideally, your business listing would be represented in every last one that provides info for your locality, since maximum findability might allow for maximum sales. But, let’s assume you’re lean and mean and don’t have time to promote yourself in all IYPs—and many of the less popular sites might not even be worth any amount of your time or money.

Yellow pages sales reps who show up on your doorstep may blast you with tons of statistics on why you should buy their company’s ads versus those of competitors or other media. The stats always sound good, but you’ve been in business long enough that it’s hard to trust anything coming out of a sales rep’s lips. So, what do you do? If you live in a major metro area, the whole thing is compounded by the fact that you likely get jabbered at by sales reps from a few different yellow pages companies who all have books in the same area, and who all have online business directory products as well. They all spout different numbers at you, and they can’t all be the best, most used, and most worthwhile, can they?

The best approach here is to focus on what you need. You need for people who are looking for your type of business to be able to find you, and you want herds of them. Sales reps try to get you to mentally equate their quantity numbers with the idea that those quantity numbers will directly equate with you getting large quantities of business. The trouble is that the quantity numbers they may be using might not have a direct correlation with the quantity numbers you need.

This is nothing new—Yellow Pages sales reps have historically loved to play tricks like making you believe that you should choose to advertise in their books over the competition’s because their books are bigger/fatter. The premise is that if more people are advertising in one book, it might be bigger, and if more people are advertising in one book over another, maybe they all know something you don’t, right? Wrong! Unfortunately, a classic con job when starting to distribute books in a new territory involves the company printing books on thicker paper, making their books appear to be bigger than their competition’s. Even if they had more ads, all that means is that the particular company sold more ads than the other—not that more people actually would see those ads, necessarily.

Many online internet yellow pages companies use similar tricks, unfortunately. “Our site has more traffic,” can be one of them. Since many of these IYP sites provide info for many different localities, you can’t expect to have all their millions of users see your ad—only a subset of their users will need your type of product or service, so only a subset of those will search for it, and only a subset of those will be looking for it in your particular area. What you really need to know is: which IYP sites have the most traffic for the type of business in your area?

In many cases, you may not find free independent data on the relative market share for the yellow pages sites providing info for your region.

Very generally speaking, the yellow pages associated with the major telephone services provider for your area will likely have the most users in your area. This is because local consumers may have higher name-brand recognition for those yellow pages because they’ve seen the name and used those books for years, and they may assume that the local phone company’s book may be more “official” or more “complete.” For instance, R.H. Donnelley’s Dex Knows site has been reported to be the dominant IYP for the 14-state region where the company offers print yellow pages service, according to past comScore reports. So, if your business is located in this region you might reasonably figure that more of your consumers will likely be using Dex Knows than other IYPs, and if your business is outside of that region, your audience might not have a clue as to what Dex Knows is.

You can purchase comScore reporting to figure out which site is the top IYP for your area, but you can also use my rule of thumb: the top IYP for an area is generally the one associated with the local phone company’s printed book.

There are some exceptions to this rule, and this is an area where knowing your audience could make a lot of difference. For instance, yellow pages reviews site Yelp has been growing like gangbusters, particularly in San Francisco and California, and might have even edged out the local IYP incumbent in terms of market share:

pYelp search requests according to Google Trends

You should probably also be represented in the major non-regional internet yellow pages, as ranked by overall market share, to hedge your bets. Major IYPs are used by a great many people, and those companies syndicate their listings and ads through a great many other sites, increasing the potential reach of your information. comScore reports are lumping in all sorts of sites where people perform “local searches,” so the previous report I mentioned is also including various search engines which include regular keyword search traffic that might contain some sort of “local component” like mentioning city names or postal codes. I think that usage figures like this Hitwise report indicate that the top IYP sites by traffic/market share would be: Yellowpages.com, Superpages.com, Yahoo Yellow Pages, and Yellowbook.com:

Hitwise charts on IYP market share

There are also some highly specialized yellow pages which target particular interest groups that might prefer your business over many others in the same category. If many of your potential customers speak a foreign language or if you are a minority-owned business, consider seeking out yellow pages sites which focus on those audiences. Examples:

There are other specialized business directories targeted to particular local areas, so look for ones that might fit you.

Hopefully, these tips may help you focus on the yellow pages sites which could be the most beneficial to you. You’ll still have to decide how much exposure you need in your selected directories—to achieve desired exposure you might need to purchase some level of advertising package. Alternately, updating of your free business profile might suffice for you. There are also a number of articles out there on how to improve your business listings in local directories, so once you’ve decided where you want to spend your effort, read up on how to effectively manage your listings and profiles.

If you do a lot of print YP advertising, you might also consider reading a book by Barry Maher, entitled, “Getting The Most From Your Yellow Pages Advertising” (review). That book covers a great many print YP advertising basics which also can translate somewhat over to online directories.

If you’re still overwhelmed or uncertain by the task of marketing via IYPs, you might consider going to a local search marketing agency and have them advise you. These folks know what they’re doing, and they know what’s effective versus what’s mere exaggeration on the part of sales reps. They could save you some money in this space while getting you the exposure you need, so consider this option seriously.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column | Search Marketing: Local Search Marketing | Stats: Popularity

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About The Author: is President of Argent Media, and serves on advisory boards for Universal Business Listing and FindLaw. Follow him @si1very on Twitter.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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