The Best Call Is A Local One

When you call a business, would you rather dial a local number to talk to an actual human being or take your chances with the call-center mazes and lengthy waits frequently presented by 800 numbers?

What, did I give away my answer?

It’s basically an issue of human nature, and really there’s not much of a question. We want someone who will listen to us and handle our call personally, in a manner that shows our call matters, and by extension, that we matter. The majority of consumers believe they’ll receive that service, or at least get a better shot of receiving it, by calling a local number.

A recently released study from CRM Associates reveals this significant preference. Yellow Pages ads with local numbers receive more than twice as many calls as ads with only an 800 or toll-free number (It’s worth noting that ads with a local number used in conjunction with an 800 number fared the best).

Let’s put it in dollars and cents: For the businesses running those YP ads, the cost per call they receive is 2.4 times higher in ads that supply only an 800 number—in other words, because the 800 numbers generate fewer calls, the cost/call is higher when averaged over all of the calls received.

CRM Associates’ report notes that these results show up not only in this U.S. study, but the same outcome has been observed in several other countries around the world. “The results are reflective of very clear, deep and culture-independent patterns of consumer shopping behavior,” the report says.

This information is obviously useful for print Yellow Pages advertisers, but its application isn’t restricted to print media. These subconscious (or conscious) decisions that consumers make apply to the online world as well. The medium isn’t the key here; human nature is. As the report notes, “People are people, regardless of technology.”

In fact, the report also looks at Internet Yellow Page ads, and those results are especially interesting for those of us in online local search.

Listing an 800 number in an IYP ad has somewhat better results than in print. Remember, the print rate was two to one. For IYP, the rate is four calls from local number ads for every three from 800 number ads.

The problem, however, is the average cost of an IYP ad listing an 800 number is roughly double that of one listing a local number.  The cost is higher because those ads are typically designed to cover a larger geographic area. For example, a local number ad could be used solely in the Chicago market, but a business might use an 800 number ad to cover the entire Midwest. The broader, more expensive coverage helps drive the increased calls, but at an increased price.

So the IYP advertisers that take the 800 number approach are getting more calls—but still not more than the ads listing local numbers and not in the most cost-effective way. The report finds IYP local number ads have an ROI three times higher than the 800 number ads.

At the end of the day, it should be an easy call for businesses to make. They need to think local and act local by including a local number.

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: 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.

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  • chiropractic

    We’ve been seeing similar results. Local numbers (especially with the traditional prefix locals are use to) do better than toll-free (in print and online). With the increased use of mobile devices, I’m thinking the advantage of a toll free number is decreasing. In my experience, nobody seems to care about making that call, since they are often made from a cell phone.

  • nickstamoulis

    Hi Larry – You are right on with your analysis, I see this with many clients that target a local audience on IYP and even geo-targeted pay per click search campaigns as well…there is something to be said about keeping it local!

  • richrosen

    Larry – Do you know how this compares to previous studies of toll free vs local? Is the lift increasing, flat or less? I also understand that multiple local numbers (multiple locations) pull well.

  • 800 numbers

    I disagree. I think it’s more a case of people who use the Yellow Pages are looking for local businesses. If you are a local business you should offer both a local number (for targeted customers) and a toll free number (for reaching outside your locale). There are a multitude of other reasons for using a toll free number also; hosted pbx systems like make it easy to track advertising and route calls.

  • Larry Small


    This study pretty much parallels studies that have been done in prior years, i.e., local numbers always outperform 800 numbers and the best combination is a local number in conjunction with an 800 number and a local address. More telephone numbers within an ad will generate more calls because consumers are looking for the location that is closer to them.


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