When it came to marketing your business locally 30 years ago, whether to advertise in the Yellow Pages was an easy question to answer. While newspaper ads, mailers and billboard space all had their advantages, nothing offered the kind of reach and convenience to potential customers as a well-placed and highly visible Yellow Pages listing.
The concept of “local search” began in 1886 when Reuben H. Donnelley started The Chicago Directory Company by partnering with the local telephone company to publish a list of customers located in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. When Donnelley expanded the company in 1906 to include markets such as New York, Wisconsin and suburban Cincinnati, an industry was born.
Donnelley’s legacy and company still live on today as the Dex One Corporation, whose DexKnows.com website and print yellow pages continue to offer services similar to what the company’s founder pioneered over 100 years ago. However, in an age driven by Google, Bing and Yahoo searches, how much value do companies such as Dex and other yellow page firms have to offer local businesses looking to attract new customers? Let’s take a look.
What’s the Value of Local Online Yellow Page Advertising?
Whether online or print, the value of a yellow pages listing remains the same as it always has – to attract local business. The question now becomes, do enough consumers still use their local yellow pages to warrant spending valuable advertising resources on a listing? This question takes on even greater significance when dealing with a limited online advertising budget that can only support promotion through one or two mediums.
While Dex and other yellow page companies offer a variety of online services, such as search engine optimization (SEO) of existing websites, web and mobile site construction, and reputation management, the driving force behind these types of companies remains directory listings of local businesses.
For a monthly fee, businesses will receive an ad in the local listings for their particular business or industry. Standard packages offer a company profile, website link, map of your location, and most importantly, placement above basic and free listings. More expensive monthly packages offer a few more perks, but the number one selling point is that businesses receive an even higher listing than those paying for a lesser package. Ultimately, the more you pay, the higher your business will rank in a listing among the competition in your industry.
So what are the selling points for paying for a premium spot in an online local yellow page listing?
According to the Local Search Association, a trade organization that represents online and print directory listings, interaction and action remains competitively high for consumers using Internet yellow pages. Approximately 79 percent of Internet yellow page searches resulted in a same-day contact of a business found through a directory listing. Consumers who use a yellow page directory also seem ready to make a purchase, as 65 percent of searches that resulted in a sale came the same day as the search, according to the LSA.
Online yellow page directories, such as DexKnows.com, YP.com and SuperPages.com, received over 5 billion searches combined in 2012. A high placement in a local directory should conceivably place your business in front of a lot of motivated consumers ready to buy or take action. When viewed from this perspective, paying for a listing with a company like Dex or SuperPages makes a lot of sense when it comes to maximizing a return on investment for your marketing dollars. But while these numbers look competitive today, search and market trends suggest the future is less bright for online yellow page marketers.
A Shift in Search Trends
Another way to view yellow page directories is like a shortcut around what it takes to organically rank at the top of a Google search. To become the number one listing in any organic search result means satisfying the requirements laid out by Google’s search algorithm, which, simply put, means having a quality website loaded with original content. Unfortunately, many small business owners don’t have the time to regularly update their website with new content or make sure it scores highly in SEO related keywords so they can achieve a higher search ranking.
With a yellow page directory listing, it doesn’t matter how nice a website your business has or where you rank in a Google search. The more you pay, the higher your business listing becomes, a simple and hassle free solution that offers a lot of appeal. However, as with most things, taking the shortcut has its disadvantages.
While 5 billion yellow page searches a year sounds like an impressive number, Google averages nearly 6 billion searches a day, according to the digital tracking firm ComScore. Furthermore, based on data from Google Trends, the number of users searching for sites such as DexKnows and other yellow page directories continues to decline.
The graphic below illustrates the decline in interest by Google users for the search term “Dex Knows.” From its high point in May 2009, Dex Knows has seen a near continuous drop in the number of searches it has received, and has begun to plummet rather dramatically since December 2011.
Taking a look at the graphic below for the more generic “yellow pages” search term, you can see a continuous drop in interest from August 2004 to today.
While it’s impossible and unwise to make any kind of definitive judgment on the future viability of yellow page directories simply based on search trends – any number of factors can greatly influence why people search for a particular phrase, and Google Trends doesn’t disclose the actual volume of search results a phrase receives on a yearly basis – this information does suggest that users are drifting away from relying on yellow page listings when searching for a local business.
As a business that pays for a listing on DexKnows.com, YB.com or SuperPages.com, a decline in usage of any of these online directories would mean less visibility for your business. In other words, how much value does ranking number one in a yellow page directory fewer people use every year really offer your business? The answer to that question greatly depends on what industry your business is in.
Does Online Yellow Page Advertising Have Any Value?
Online yellow page directory listings still rank as a worthy investment for certain types of businesses. According to the Local Search Association, the top ten businesses for Internet yellow page searches between 2009 and 2012 were: restaurants, beauty salons, physicians, pizza, food products, automobile repair, local government offices, supermarkets, Internet service providers and state government offices.
What the majority of these businesses have in common is the consumer’s desire for local proximity. Searches for nearby restaurants, grocery stores, municipalities and beauty salons indicates that when people use a yellow page directory, they want to find service-related businesses located in the neighborhood. In many ways, this suggests that the primary benefit of yellow page listings hasn’t greatly changed since the days of R.H. Donnelley; they still rank as a valuable way to promote your business within the neighborhood community.
Where the value of online yellow page listings becomes less clear is with retail or non-service related businesses that don’t heavily rely on neighborhood business. Hardware stores, real estate brokers, computer repair, wine shops, pest control, lawn care and taxi services are all examples of businesses that received less than ½ of 1 percent of all yellow page directory searches. If you operate a business in a field outside of the hospitality or service industry, paying for an online yellow page listing may not offer the same kind of return on investment as establishments that draw a lot of their business due to being “in the neighborhood.”
Businesses without a neighborhood identity, especially those trying to develop or increase Internet sales, may want to explore alternative means of online advertising. Pay-per-click (PPC) service, such as Google Adwords or Bing Ad,s can bring traffic to your business’ website and have several advantages over yellow page listings. Running a pay-per-click campaign means only having to pay when someone clicks on your ad. Therefore, every ad dollar you spend leads to a direct client or customer interaction with your website. You also receive the benefit of advertising through Google or Bing searches, which receive billions of user interactions a day.
Ultimately, your marketing budget should probably decide whether you pay for a yellow page directory listing. The exposure your business will receive within the community does carry value. However, that value probably doesn’t exceed the reach offered by running a PPC campaign on Google or Bing. So if your marketing budget makes it an “either or” proposition, the answer of where you should advertise becomes fairly clear.