Relying On Print Yellow Pages? Most Local Customers Turn To The Web!

Online marketers have been predicting the death of print yellow pages for years. While that will never happen, print yellow pages are no longer the primary way that people seek local information. In fact, the internet collectively — through search engines, local search sites, online yellow pages and other venues — is the top way consumers look for local information. A new study underscores this change and documents with hard numbers why local advertisers have to take the internet into account when trying to reach customers.

The study

The shift from print to web was captured by advertising agency TMP Directional Marketing, which commissioned comScore to perform a study in May 2007 about local search user behavior – online and off. The stated purpose was to “understand the use and value of on- and offline local search sources,” including Internet yellow pages, print yellow pages and search engines. That study involved behavioral observations and survey responses from 3,000 members of comScore’s US consumer panel.

TMP followed up that original study with a second one this year, in July 2008. The results were released late last week. This overview compares the topline findings from the previous study and those just published.

Internet now ‘primary’ local information source

When asked about their “primary” source for location business information, here’s how survey respondents answered:

In the 2007 findings, print yellow pages were the single, leading source for local business information. However the internet, in the aggregate, was used as a primary tool by almost twice as many respondents. In the 2008 survey, search engines (e.g., Google) have pulled ahead of print yellow pages, while internet yellow pages (e.g., saw growth and local search sites (e.g., Google Maps, Yahoo Local) experienced a slight usage decline.

Usage frequency among the various sources was consistent in the two surveys. Print directory usage is typically less than once a week, while online sources are used at least once a week or more frequently.

Local search leads to action

A very high percentage of local searchers go on to take some sort of subsequent action. Accordingly, the following chart reflects 2008 responses to the question: ” Which of the following activities did you do as a result of this online local business search?”

The finding above that immediately jumps out is the one showing internet yellow pages users like to pick up the phone, after doing a search. That makes sense given that one of the primary uses of yellow pages sites, that the study also found, is to obtain a business phone number.

Another major finding is that a large majority of local search users take some type of action, period — a phone call, an in-store visit or something else — local searchers go on to do more. By type of local search site used, here’s the breakdown of what percentage of searchers seek further after viewing an initial listing:

  • General search: 66 percent
  • Local search: 72 percent
  • Internet yellow pages: 80 percent

While a telephone contact can be tracked, internet-driven in-store visits are harder to measure and remain one of the vexing challenges in local.


The internet and search engines have grown as competitors, which means long gone are the days when local advertisers had only to place ads in the print newspaper or yellow pages and be confident that they were reaching most of their intended market. The web must be considered.

And when going out onto the web, local business need to ensure they’re measuring the web’s impact in their real-life activities. When people call by phone or visit a store — the top two actions after an online local search — is someone in the store asking about this? Asking about whether particular online sites were used may help local businesses better understand the potentially “invisible” drivers of traffic that they’re not aware of.

This article is part of a series where Search Engine Land writers are exploring small business issues. The series is sponsored by LookSmart’s Thought Leadership Series site.

Related Topics: Channel: Mobile | Features: General | Search Engines: Maps & Local Search Engines | Search Engines: Mobile Search Engines | Stats: comScore


About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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