For the purposes of this article, the term “yellow pages” is meant to refer to any non-specific telephone directory of businesses that was commonly printed on yellow paper (of which there were many) and their present online assets.
There was once a time when the yellow pages reigned supreme. This was probably 20 years ago (in 1992), right about the time that Delphi began offering the first full Internet service to its customers, before AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe came online. Back then, if your business wasn’t listed in the in the yellow pages you were effectively undetectable to your potential customers. But that was before the advent of the internet and the web as we know it. Before 14.27 billion indexed web pages. Before affordable, high-speed internet access for all. Before pay-per-click (PPC) advertising brought Google billions and billions in annual advertising revenues.
Interesting notes: Some print directory industry insiders have publicly stated that use of the yellow pages has declined in exact correlation with the adoption of high-speed internet access across the nation. Additionally, trending for yellow pages online directories is worse today than it was in 2004 (according to Google Trends).
Perhaps it is too easy to say that the days of paging through the phone book and pouring over ads for a plumber that makes after-hours service calls during a holiday weekend are over. Then again, who among us would go to all that trouble if the plumber we needed was just a click away?
As more and more homes became wired for lightning-fast access to search results and information, it is easy to assume that very few people would choose to trudge to the hall closet and pull out that thick book of yellow pages and spend half an hour looking through a mess of tiny listings for a plumber that suited their specific needs – especially not when Google can give you about 2,000 results for a local plumber in 0.21 seconds, as well as location information, service rankings and search ads with money-saving coupons.
In 2008, there was an article written by a marketing manager for one of the largest phone directory publishers in the nation, in which he stated that the yellow pages was only relevant to two population groups: the lower social-economic segment of society and the over 50 years of age market. He went on to suggest that the yellow pages was probably a valuable place to advertise if either of those two groups was a primary demographic for a business owner. Ouch.
Given the significant decline in printed directory usage, the old yellow pages publishers have moved their operations online – getting onboard with ads that run in both the print directory and their new online directories. Problem is: It’s hard to compete with Google search. The barriers to entry are now too high for a simple search directory to have any significant draw or lasting effect. With mobile devices the default search settings are set to use Google or BING. Thus, we can only assume the separation between online directories and rise of major search engines is a trend that will continue as mobile usage increases.
So let’s look at the comparison to PPC advertising. What makes PPC advertising such a valuable asset to a business owner (of any size) when the yellow pages are calling?
- Targeting – PPC advertising enables you to target hundreds or even thousands of people looking specifically for businesses just like yours. By targeting people as they search, you’re reaching prospects who are ready to make a buying decision. You’re not buried in a three-pound book at the top of a hall closet or in an specific online directory under your competitors listings.
- Cost – PPC advertising allows the business owner to set their own budget. Simple as that. No more escalating “rate card charges” for annual placement in a book or online directory that fewer people are turning to each and every day. No costly online ad contracts.
- Tracking – PPC campaigns, married with FREE website analytics, will tell you how many clicks you received from your ad and what those visitors viewed on your website. Unless a caller tells you that they found your ad through the yellow pages, how would you ever know?
- Controlled Exposure – Want PPC ads to show in one part of town but not another? You can control exactly where your ads show through geo-targeting.
- Content that Changes – PPC ads, much like web content, is something that is quick and easy to change. How many times have you seen business ads with the wrong phone number, address or hours of operation? That kind of incorrect information can cost a business dozens of potential customers over the course of a year.
- No Contracts – Sweet Spot’s PPC management is month to month. With a yellow pages directory, a 6 month contract is typcial.
- Share of Voice – With a print or online directory, you’re competing with every other plumber who has a listing. With PPC ads, you compete only against those who are on the first page at Google.
- Market Share – A simple numbers game: All yellow pages properties combined probably represent about 2% of the total search market share. Google, BING and Yahoo control ~95% of the search market. Where are you going to put your marketing budget dollars?
- Impressions – Your yellow pages directory sales representative will tell you that they have an extraordinary amount of impressions for their pages. Count how many individual listings are on that page and divide. Are those impressions for your area of the city specifically? Divide again. Try to get out of the CPM buying model. Calculate your expected Cost-Per-Click (CPC) for Yellow Pages, and you might find it to be twice (perhaps more) as high as your PPC costs.
- Transparency – With a PPC campaign, the business owner has the ability to track everything through reporting. This is important when factoring in PPC offered by the yellow page directory sites. They may want to drive the clicks you paid for to your business listing on their URL and not your actual site.