Numbers Show Search Has Changed, But Not How You’d Think

If you want to get a snapshot of a specific era in American society, I’d suggest the Yellow Pages industry is a good place to take that picture. The companies and headings listed can provide a footprint in time for people’s needs and interests of the day.

In the 130-year history of the Yellow Pages, categories have come and gone, they’ve gained and lost popularity. Typewriters gave way to personal computers. Recycling services seemed to sprout up out of nowhere. Do you think pet grooming was a top heading 50 years ago as it is today?

While some people might think phone directories are a thing of the past, those of us who understand search know that people will always need a way to locate goods and services. Certainly online search plays an important role, but the data show a large number of people still turn to print directories.

An interesting recent study illustrates this point by comparing Yellow Pages search results from 2007 with those from 1997, a time when the Internet was beginning to find its legs in the U.S.

Research from CRM Associates found that the top Yellow Pages headings actually received at least 20 percent more references in 2007 than they did 10 years earlier. Of the 700 headings with 1 million or more references, 250 experienced that kind of growth. In fact, the median of that group showed references had doubled.

Some might scoff and say that’s not true for the younger generation. Again, though, the numbers are illustrative.

A look at the headings most popular among millennials, those in their mid-20s and younger, reveals some of the biggest gainers. References for tattoo parlors as well as ear piercing each have grown nine times more popular than they were 10 years ago. Dating service references have increased even more; they are nearly 11 times more popular. The number of references for video games has grown 80 percent.

What were some of the other headings that saw spikes in searches, and what do they say about us?

How we celebrate Parties and events no longer are being held primarily at banquet halls and similar facilities. People are taking those festivities outside or hosting them at their homes. The study shows headings for renting tents are 18.8 times more popular now. Similarly, the number of references for games and game supplies has multiplied by 15.2 times.

What we drink The proliferation of coffee houses and increased popularity of tea in America has helped the coffee and tea heading experience the largest growth among food products in the past 10 years. References for that heading have grown by a factor of 9.6.

How we relax Do you think yoga is more popular now than it was 10 years ago? Try nine times more popular, according to its Yellow Pages references. Searches for golf carts saw a sixfold increase.

What our society will look like in another 10 years is anyone’s guess, but I suspect the Yellow Pages headings will provide a good indication for what has changed.

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

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Local Search Column

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About The Author: brings nearly three decades of Yellow Pages and local search experience, as Director of Research for the Yellow Pages Association (YPA). Larry spearheads and advises on all association-driven research activities for the industry, as well as blogs about the industry on the InsideYP blog.

Connect with the author via: Email



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