As the yellow pages slowly die off, phone book companies are increasingly pushing the Internet versions of their books – both to searchers and to small business ad buyers. Which, for a small business, begs the question: is it worth buying advertising in the Internet Yellow Pages (IYP)?
Consumers & Internet Yellow Pages
A recent study released by the Local Search Association (which is a group of phone book publishers) indicates that people are rapidly moving towards online and mobile sources for local business information, which I don’t think will surprise most people.
The study also contains this interesting chart:
As you can see, people are using the online yellow pages because of the brand recognition/reputation that these sites have. Other websites (such as Google search) may have different attractive attributes, and be more convenient, but presumably do not have the same reputation for local information.
The study also suggests that people running local web searches are often earlier in the buying phase, while those using internet yellow pages may be more actively looking for business contact information.
I think this makes sense, as the general search engines have not historically done well with local business information – the phone book’s reputation for reliability makes people turn to their online version. I would suggest the Google’s of the world are improving in this respect, but that won’t immediately register with all users.
One thing the above-mentioned study does not discuss is relative traffic numbers. They say that “IYPs and local search sites exhibited strong growth with 5.6 billion local searches in 2010, a 15% increase over 2009″ but do not discuss the number of IYP searches versus the number at local search sites.
So let’s get some estimates. Compete.com and Quantcast.com both provide traffic estimates for websites around the world. You’ll notice their numbers are different – which goes to show they are estimates, but the numbers are in a similar ballpark:
These are substantial numbers, something in the 50 million range total, depending on which source you look at and whether Yelp is included. Yelp.com isn’t a IYP per-se, but it’s awfully similar.
These websites are being visited by more than 1/5th of all adults in the US, which is less than but similar to the 36% number cited in a prior study (which was criticized as biased by some because again, it was sponsored by the Local Search Association).
50 million is significant, especially considering these people are all looking for local companies. This is one of the challenges involved in local marketing today – no single source is going to hit close to 100% of the population.
Also, interestingly, Compete shows solid growth for these sites pretty much across the board:
The growth should be taken with a grain of salt, as Quantcast makes things look much more erratic.
Regardless of the trend, internet yellow pages are visited by a large number of people, and are definitely not in a rapid decline.
Looking at these numbers, it’s clear that a company wanting to cover every source has to advertise in the IYP. For smaller businesses, that just need to find the most efficient place, that’s a more nuanced question, requiring a look at the advertising rates as well.
Anecdotally, some companies do derive significant traffic from these sources, but the advertising programs can be expensive. If a high % of users use these sites specifically for finding contact info, the numbers may be under-reported due to poor call/visit tracking as well. Regardless of the effectiveness, you can, at a minimum, claim your free business listing.
If you are considering buying an ad, my suggestion would be to look at your traffic stats (you are collecting data, right?) – if some of these sites send traffic already, look at your listing there. You know people in your city must be searching the site for your industry on that site. Would a paid ad make you a lot more visible? If so, sign up, and keep careful track of the ROI.
The profusion of lead sources due to the internet can be a headache. But it also provides you with an opportunity to get a leg-up on the competition by intelligently placing using your ad dollars and time.