Lessons in Longevity From The Original Search Engine

When you’re in an industry that is based on answering consumer needs, as all local search brands are, you’re hardwired to remain relevant. After all, the granddaddy of local search, the printed Yellow Pages, is 125 years young this year, born out of necessity in 1883 when a Wyoming business directory publisher ran out of white paper and had to print on yellow stock. And yet today, it’s a multibillion-dollar business morphing onto the internet.

Longevity in the business of local search boils down to one thing — never losing sight of our North Star, which is all about answering consumer needs. It sounds simple, but the mission can get lost in a constant rush for first-to-market status in interactive technologies.

So for emerging local search brands that are intent on starting their own 125-year story, here are some secrets to longevity:

The message is the convenience (not the medium)

What do you stand for? Do you provide the most direct way to information? The fastest? The most detailed? The most trusted? Figure out the DNA of what you offer, and strive to be the best at delivering it. Look at how the Yellow Pages has manifested itself online. Nothing too fancy there, just the information people need when they’re ready to buy. That’s what people have come to expect. What do people expect from your brand?

Innovate where it matters

We are increasingly a recommendation society, with 8 in 10 of us preferring advice from a peer vs. an expert we don’t know. So it’s no wonder that user reviews are becoming a companion piece of content for advertiser information. In January, Gregg Stewart reported that 24% of people who search locally look at user reviews before purchasing goods and services (comScore and The Kelsey Group). That’s innovation that enhances the user experience — not innovation for innovation sake.

There’s nothing wrong with being second to market. Dell became the No. 1 PC company in the 90s by installing new personal technologies only after they had proved themselves on trailblazing competitors’ products. There’s a lesson there for all of us as we excitedly entertain being first with a new feature. We have to initially ask, will it stick?

Relationships are gold

Every positive advertiser transaction and user session is an opportunity to build relationships that reward us two ways — first, it will bring the advertiser and user back, time and time again, and second, it will create ambassadors for your brand who will tell their co-workers and friends about the value you deliver.

The bedrock of local search is helpful and reliable content. Getting that content from the business should be more than a one-way exercise. Mining how people are using your local search brand to find what they need can deepen relationships, too. The local search player should take extra steps if necessary to make sure the content is organized and presented for maximum impact. The secret sauce for Yellow Pages companies is acquiring that data from a feet-on-the-street sales force. What’s your secret sauce?

Stephanie Hobbs, an award-winning print and online Yellow Pages executive with broad domestic and international experience, is the Yellow Pages Association vice president of communications. She also directs the association’s Local Search Guide, a who’s who of Local Search players and perspectives. The Locals Only column appears on Mondays at Search Engine Land.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column


About The Author: is an award-winning print and online Yellow Pages executive with broad domestic and international experience, and is the Local Search Association vice president of communications. She also blogs about the industry on the Local Search Insider blog. Follow @localsearchassn on Twitter.

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