Survey: Print Yellow Pages More Trusted Than Search Engines & Social Networks

Who still uses yellow pages? San Francisco has even banned delivery without permission, assuming no one wants them. But a yellow pages industry group has a new survey saying that yellow pages are more trusted, more widely used and perceived by consumers to be more accurate when it comes to local information than search engines and social networks.

The San Francisco Ban

San Francisco has effectively banned print yellow pages delivery. The city recently passed an ordinance that requires residents to “opt-in” to receive print yellow pages. In other words, if they don’t ask for the books, they won’t get them on their doorsteps.

The ordinance is fueled in part by the perception that people no longer use or want the print yellow pages. San Francisco says it’s trying to reduce waste and “blight.”

The Local Search Association, formerly the Yellow Pages Association, says the ordinance unfairly targets one advertising medium and has sued. Though conducted before the ordinance was past, a new study from the LSA gives it some pro-yellow pages findings.

Yearly Usage Nearly Matches Search; Monthly Much Less

The study, conducted by research firm Burke among 8,000 US adults over a year long period, gave yellow pages (combined print and internet) more usage that internet search engines, with 84% saying they used either print or internet yellow pages over the past year to find a local business, versus 76% who said they used a search engine.

Print yellow pages on their own weren’t that far behind, at 74%:

For usage over the past month, search engines came out on top with 67%, with combined online/offline yellow pages just behind at 62%. Print yellow pages were much further behind, 55%, according to the survey.

As for social networks, they were used only 32% of the time over the past year and 23% of the time in the past month to find a local business.

Printed White & Yellow Pages Slightly Lead On Trust Metrics

The survey also looked at perceptions of trust, accuracy and other subjective factors. Print directories (yellow and white pages) edged out search engines as being more trusted, 45% to 41% — and social networks were far behind at 1%.

For accuracy, print directories were again ahead at 45%, followed by search engines just behind at 39% — and social networks barely registering at 2%.

Print directories were also found easier and more convenient than search engines (46% to 39%), though the gap closed on questions of which is used first (print 45%; search engines 42%) and getting “best in class” local information (print 44%; search engines 42%). In all these questions, social networks only gained 2%.

I was not involved in the research and so don’t have the verbatim questions. My sense, however, is that the strong legacy “brand” association between yellow pages and local is partly driving these results.

There is, of course, the obvious concern that any survey paid for by an organization might seem slanted to favor that organization’s aims. But the survey actually isn’t that favorable to pure print yellow pages, which were found used far less than search engines. On trust metrics, for whatever reason, no “pure print yellow pages” figures are provided — and the combined white/yellow pages figures aren’t that dramatically better than search engines.

Meaningful Demographic Differences

The study showed demographic usage differences by age, income, education and residential location.

Age: Those under 34 were more likely to turn to search engines for local information; those over 55 were more likely to use print yellow pages or other traditional media such as newspapers.

Rural/City: Print yellow pages are more popular with rural residents that suburban or city residents.

Gender: Men turn to search engines more than women.

Education: Those with more than high school education were more inclined to use search engines or online yellow pages.

Income: Those with higher incomes ($60,000+) tend to use search engines than printed yellow pages and traditional print media.

On average the study also found that consumers use two to three sources when researching local businesses.

There were 11 billion print yellow pages “references” and 5.6 billion internet yellow pages searches in 2010. Google, by comparison, generates just over 2 billion local searches per month on the PC.

I offer some additional analysis on my personal blog Screenwerk.

Stock image from Used under license.

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Google: Maps & Local | Search Engines: Maps & Local Search Engines | Stats: comScore | Stats: General | Top News


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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  • Aaron

    How is this particular survey relevant … to San Francisco? As the data suggests only old people and people in the boonies use the print Yellow Pages. Thus the data is not relevant to a contemporary, high-population-density, heavily wired location.

    What about the other problem – duplicate directories? There’s Yellow Pages, Dex, etc. I get 6 different directories to my office door every year. In fact, they deliver these to every office in our building and 100% end up in the recycling bin.

    But let’s not forget the issues behind this … the waste of resources to provide something that is readily available in another format.

  • Priit Kallas

    This can only relate to internet yellow pages. The paper ends up in the bin most of the time. Well, this is my “Perception of Non-Use”. Even in Europe it’s only used in retirement homes.

  • Joanna McDonald

    I wonder if there’s much difference in how much people spend based on how they find the business, and if/how conversion rates differ.

  • Koleen Singerline

    I agree, the survey must include online yellow pages search. We see the books in front of every office door in our building; no one evens brings them to their desk. I use local coupon books for area vendors such as pizza and oil change; for anything else the internet has the information. I haven’t picked up a phone book in two years.

  • Brien Charlton

    Very cool. Can I ask about your source for demographic info in the article, Greg? I couldn’t find it in the Local Search Assn study report. Thanks

  • Michael Dorausch

    Here in Los Angeles Yellow Pages activity has been dead for business. Just last week someone walked in to deliver a printed book and one of my clients commented how surprised she was to see delivery being made. She gave the guy a rough time (don’t shoot the delivery man) about how printed books were a total waste.

    Now, for a friend of mine in the boonies (Lancaster California), print yellow pages are reportedly bringing him great results, and he plans to continue advertising as long as they do.

  • Greg Sterling

    Michael: Urban areas are dominated by online for selected populations.

    Brien: The LSA gave me the demo information but I can’t republish in the form they provided. I provided a summary.

  • Jon Aston

    Wow. “The LSA gave me the demo information but I can’t republish in the form they provided…” …pretty much confirms my suspicions that this research is a steaming pile of biased BS. By the way, you linked to the *press release* above, not the study. You know: The one the Yellow Pages publishers who paid for it don’t want everyone to scrutinize.

  • D.Q.

    I call BS on this study. No way you can trust a study funded by “The Local Search Association, formerly the Yellow Pages Association”. Reminds me of all the studies that we’re funded by big tobacco that said smoking was good for you.

  • Kathy Long

    Was this really funded by Yellow Pages? Well then that explains the disparate information from what I see on my street where about many phone books have been sitting on top of mailboxes in their plastic bags for the last 3 weeks. Apparently, no one cares about them. Trusted resource? Not here. But I will say that a friend of mine just moved to a new location. She is an SEO and internet marketer by trade. However, she told me she used the phone book to find local businesses close to home.

  • David Knockton

    As soon as I started reading this article I thought “What’s the age demographic of people sampled?” It was always going to be the over 55 year old group….. Each year I get our Yellow Pages directory delivered and it gets thinner and thinner… and one day it will disappear!

  • monne

    Here in Denmark yellow pages is fast decreasing and the net is taken over.

  • Paul Tobey

    There is a multi-million dollar campaign on in Canada re: Yellow Pages branding themselves “trust Yellow Pages SEO Specialists.”

  • Natalie Wuchenich

    I’m the research director for the Local Search Association. We conduct research which provides our members and advertisers with insights on usage of directory products and other local media. To provide value, our research must be unbiased, valid, and reflect real consumer behavior. The Local Media Tracking Study was conducted by Burke, a highly-respected, global research firm. This is referred to as “third-party” research, which means we didn’t influence the study.

    Print directories continue to receive much higher usage than people think. Greg is right to evaluate the demographics data because yellow pages usage varies by age, region, income and other characteristics. But, overall, usage is actually quite high among U.S. consumers. The Burke study shows that performance of search engines is very strong, and Internet Social Networks are a smaller but important medium for consumers searching for local business information.

    The study also shows that consumers consult 2 to 3 sources when searching for local businesses. Our view at the Local Search Association, based on this data and other studies, is that print media has declined somewhat in reach, but still generates high-quality leads for businesses.

    We think local businesses need an integrated approach and can’t afford to ignore any media medium. Print, Internet, search, social, and mobile all must be considered.

  • Matt McGee

    Thx for chiming in on this, Natalie. May I ask: Who wrote the questions that were used in the survey/study?

  • Dan Closson

    I use yellow page directories and on a regular basis…still find it easier to use…and have all the information I need right in front of me. I may use search engines from time to time to research purchases…but will return to the directories to find someone to visit or talk to. It is just too easy…and I buy lots of stuff.

  • Brent Raymond

    What is most striking to me is that in 2007 Kelsey reported 61% of local business usage to YP which is a 10% decrease to this report of 51%. That drop combined with what is noted a reach decline and the age gap, (imho) are probably the most valid statistics for a local business to focus in on when deciding where to advertise and to focus in on who is being targeted.

  • Helen Faber

    In Canada there is a strong movement towards search (rather than letting your fingers do the walking). I don’t know anyone who still uses the print Yellow Pages. It would be great to see an independent study with Canadian stats. There is a reason that Yellow Pages in Canada is branding themselves as Yellow Pages SEO Specialists. As Paul notes it is a multi-million dollar campaign.

  • Al Yahner

    Does anyone find it interesting that the only 2 positive comments on the yellow pages is from the \Local Search Association\ (wonder why they changed their name) and an AT&T employee (Dan Closson)? Yellow Pages are a joke! The only people that use it any more are sales people to cold call from and even they can’t find current issues because the publishers keep cutting delivery budgets. AT&T makes their bottom line look better every time they \save\ money by printing and delivering less books! Arrogance and greed will continue to erode their results and finally kill that business…. the sooner the better!

  • S.C.

    I am amazed at the survey. I have never seen a man/woman/child with a yellow pages directory in their hands in the past ten years. Not even my 70 years old man use it !!! Is it the survey really a real one, or a fake ? I am doing SEO for a while now and I had the occasion to have meetings with my client, me and yellow pages promoters and the result has always been me demonstrating that the numbers yellow pages promoters have put on the tables were a fake !! Is this survey the case ? I think we’ll soon find out ..

  • Scot Small

    Wow — they think renaming the association to Local Search Association gives them some credibility. Overall most studies and Stats say what you want them to say. I have not seen in real life numbers of our clients these numbers work as they report.

    Do print YP have a place in the mix – sure – but most of them have been trying to increase their price while the value has been going down. Dealing with the reps is a nightmare as the pricing is so convoluted and they use threat and fear to sell. It is crazy.

    As someone who tracks YP results for our clients most of the calls coming in are current clients just looking for the phone number – this of course happens online as well – but I believe the average for YP calls is around $75 per call – while the average for an online lead at least in our client base is less then $10 for all types of online media – hum — let me think – where should we invest?

    Don’t get me wrong, YP do have their place in certain situations and markets – but that place is becoming smaller and smaller.

  • frostie

    Wow, all the negatives… ! Most of you missing the very obvious point about \I don’t use it\, which is the fact that you are all clearly internet driven users & are very au fait with search.
    That is perfectly ok for you & you are clearly a user market that companies cannot afford to avoid, along withh the traditional older & rural market, hence the next point, which is…..
    The fact that a multi-billion dollar company who deal with \putting buyers in touch with sellers\, & always have done this job very well, recognised long ago that on-line search was becoming increasingly important & that they have very effectively moved themselves into that market, offering a simple & trusted business search engine, The trust being based on a long time brand association. We all know that print search is decreasing, but as mentioned above, it plays a very important part in users making their decision about who to place their order with & factors such as geography, real person, touch/feel the product, playing a major part in this.
    For info, I am in my 40′s, I have an I-phone, I-pad, 2 laptops, all of which I use to do research, but having moved to a new city 3 years ago, I found that the easiest & quickest way to source a new LOCAL business ( & believe me there are times when I wish I hadn’t needed to) was to pick up that very dull & boring yellow book. If I needed more info., I simply typed in the web address & gained more information before deciding to call & spend my hard earnt money, preferably with a LOCAL company.
    Incidentally, there is a survey first published in 2002 from a well respected advertising research co (not the one above) that shows a graph going from 2002 through to 2017 about print directory share of advertising spend, which was about 6% back then, & 9 years on it is uncannily accurate, including it’s current low point. The future… ? It bizarrely shows print returning to 2002 share of the marketplace. Now, what does that say about internet search ? Does it mean that a large % of the population will find all the internet options so fragmented & confusing that we start returning to a dull yellow book ? Just a theory.

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