2011 Yellow Pages vs. Online Search Usage Survey

The Local Search Association (formerly Yellow Pages Association) has released a new survey regarding how people find local businesses. I know readers have found this info useful in the past, so read on for the highlights and some commentary.

The Data

The first set of data is looking at the sources used by US consumers for finding local businesses.

Take in mind that this is from an industry group representing the Yellow Pages (and I have no idea how the questions were phrased):

Local Media Source Used in the past year Used in the past month
Yellow Pages (print & Internet) 84% 62%
Search Engines 76% 67%
Print Directories (print Yellow Pages & white pages) 78% 55%
Print Yellow Pages 74% 49%
Internet Yellow Pages 57% 36%
Store Circulars, Email Promotions, or Coupons 68% 47%
Print White Pages 63% 36%
Newspapers 58% 36%
Internet Social Networks 32% 23%
Magazines 33% 17%


Yellow pages (including both print and Internet) fall at the top of this list, with search engines close behind. Interestingly, if this had been ranked based on data for the prior month, search engines would have come out first.

In order to better illustrate this, I calculated the difference in those that used a particular source in the last month versus in the past year (it’s not surprising that all are negative, this is over a much shorter time span):

Local Media Source Used in past month – used in past year
Yellow Pages (print & Internet) -22%
Search Engines -9%
Print Directories (print Yellow Pages & white pages) -23%
Print Yellow Pages -25%
Internet Yellow Pages -19%
Store Circulars, Email Promotions, or Coupons -21%
Print White Pages -27%
Newspapers -22%
Internet Social Networks -9%
Magazines -16%


Search engines and Internet social networks are the only categories avoiding a double-digit decline. This either indicates that they are gaining usage at the expense of the other sources, or are used more frequently (if you only pull out the yellow pages once a year, but use Internet search weekly, the monthly numbers will flatter the more frequently used source).

The other piece of survey data concerned the degree of trust/convenience/accuracy for different sources:

Statements Yellow Pages
(print & Internet)
Print Directories Search Engines Social Networks
Is the source I trust most for finding local business information 51% 45% 41% 1%
Is the most accurate source for finding local business information 53% 45% 39% 2%
Is the source I go to first for finding local business information 49% 45% 42% 2%
Is easy to access and convenient for finding local business information 52% 46% 39% 2%
Is the source that is “best in class” for finding local information 50% 44% 42% 2%


In this chart the yellow pages to hold an edge over search engines and social networks. I’d suggest this will change as local data in the search engines continues to improve, and consumers gradually realize it is improving. But time will tell.

Does this data fit with your personal experience? Let me know in the comments.

You can find the full survey results in local search association’s press release. Thanks to Search Engine Land for finding the story.

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47 Responses to “2011 Yellow Pages vs. Online Search Usage Survey”

  1. TJ June 13, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    They must of surveyed people in nursing homes or in jail. I go with gut and feet on the street experience. The only thing saving print/internet yellow pages is them selling search and packaging it together. And the only way they get users is by showing up on search engine results and SEOs using their sites for citations.

    Clients tell me that they have seen a steady decline in calls every year from the phone books and when I ask what they personally use to find things they need their first response is Google.

    • Chris June 13, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

      TJ – Thanks for the comment.

      Selling search along with yellow pages is definitely a big part of the business – as you can tell from the renaming of their association. Still, surveys have repeatedly shown that some people still use the phone books. But as I allude to above, it may be that they only pull out the phone books on occasion. Also, there is a demographic divide in terms of income/age/education/and urban/rural that influences how successful particular businesses are advertising online versus off.

    • bob June 15, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

      Interesting point about this survey…80% of respondents were from online panel. So, tainted toward Goog users. Still, majority say YP works better. Funny how the facts counter the misperception.

      • Chris June 15, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

        Bob – I’m not sure where you found the 80% number, but if true, it could skew the results somewhat – although more than 80% of Americans use the Internet, so I’m not really sure that would be a source of bias if the study was done properly.

  2. TJ June 13, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    No problem Chris and nice mod by the way with WooThemes Biznizz theme, We use Canvas on most of our sites. Agree with you on the demo divide and it would seem in the more rural areas and with older people you would still see usage but I’m noticing even then people are going more digital. I’m totally for holistic marketing approach but with my sales person hat on I can’t sell what I don’t believe and have many friends that left the YP industry because of that reason. Sometimes I get the feeling these surveys are bought so they can fill marketing decks of new reps.

    • Chris June 13, 2011 at 11:06 pm #

      I was just checking out a couple of your sites, if that’s Canvas I didn’t even notice, very nice.

      I imagine it must be tough being in yellow page sales – seems more and more companies aren’t seeing the value, and I’m not convinced most reps have had enough training to really sell the newer YP services (plus they have more direct competitors there than they did with the old books). There are some YP reps that read this site, and at least one told me he’s doing it partly to better understand what he sells.

  3. Peter L Masters MCIM June 14, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    I loved TJ’s comments!

    I agree, hardly anyone uses Yellow Pages anymore, it’s a fact!

    They ‘allegedly’ oversold their services to a business friend of mine a while back and I didn’t like their tactics. Got the guys to spend a fortune at the start of the recession, not nice!

    Google does it for me & most people I know!

    Best regards, Peter

    • Chris June 14, 2011 at 9:21 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Peter, I’ve enjoyed connecting on Twitter.

  4. TJ June 15, 2011 at 4:22 am #

    Thanks Peter I appreciate that. I have learned to go with my gut and own experience and take “surveys” with a grain a salt.

  5. Andrew Edwards June 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    We had the Yellow Pages company in our area put tracking numbers in last years and this years ads. We had about 40% more calls this year than last year to date. I was quite surprised. It seems that the average call time was up also. I guess the real key here is to find the best usage with the most efficient costs.

    • Chris June 15, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks for the comment Andrew. Were there a lot fewer competitors in the book this year? I’ve heard a few companies whose results with the yellow pages have dramatically improved in the last year – but it’s usually because most of the competition dropped out or shrunk their ads.

      Too bad that in my experience, you don’t usually know how much competition there’s going to be when purchasing your ad.

  6. Andrew Edwards June 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    It seems about the same. A new person/business was added but I believe it was a small business or an individual. I’m just wondering if people are fixing more than buying and are more price sensitive than they have been in the last year or so. I have noticed that the non-utility book seems to be growing more ads and ATandT book is getting smaller. ATandT is just getting too expensive and their book/quality is crappy. Our ad zings in the other book and looks blah in the ATandT book….just FYI. We keep thinking that maybe ATandT is not so much as a good buy anymore. Why does it seem that ATandT keeps looking worse year after year? Is paper less available or the quality of it?

    • Chris June 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

      Maybe the AT&T book is suffering from cost cutting as revenue falls? The price of bulk paper does vary a lot but I have no idea what it’s at these days…

      We’ve got a couple votes against the YP in these comments, and at least one for – anyone else want to share their experience?

    • Scott White June 23, 2011 at 3:28 am #

      Sure, we spend much more time on the internet than we do with the yellow pages. Really, the only time you would ever pick up a yellow page directory is when you are ready to make a local purchase. Two different things. Even Google will tell you that it takes over 25 clicks to get a call- and when that local business gets that call, often times it is not from a motivated buyer, but someone looking for more information. Unless the local business is listed in the top three spaces (where 57% of contacts are made), then it just doesn’t make sense. Traditional media will not ever die. It will change, but never die.

      • Chris June 24, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

        Scott – Thanks for the comment. This survey didn’t really have anything to do with the amount of time spent online vs. yellow pages. Some past studies I’ve seen have indicated that people tend to search online earlier in the buying process, when they’re gathering information – but presumably some will already have an idea as to who they want to use then when they go to the phone book.

        Saying something will not ever die is awfully strong – and with things moving the way they are, I’m not sure how long it will be economical to publish yellow pages everywhere. Still, I agree that most people making calls out of the yellow pages are motivated buyers, and for some companies it’s still a great place to advertise.

  7. Mark Bossert June 25, 2011 at 2:01 am #

    “Traditional media will not ever die…”

    Wow. Guess you have not seen the carnage in Radio, TV, Newspaper, YellowPages ad sales? YellowPages is now a local seo company in Canada. Dead Man Walking…

    No debate that with money migrating away from traditional advertising, the lessor competition will increase effectiveness. That does not mean they have a long term future.

    Local advertising will be very very different in 2 years, let alone 10. We talk to dozens of companies a month who have quit YP. This “usage survey” is biased…. like Radio surveys have been for years about how strong Radio is. W/O cars they would be gone too.

    Ask Rim and Nokia if things are changing… When technology companies get eaten alive within a few years time span how the heck are old media companies with their heads in the sand gonna survive? 30+ years media management experience means nothing when the rules are quick sand around you.

    Adapt or die; we’re watching it happen in a historic short time frame.

  8. ML June 30, 2011 at 3:24 am #

    I use the web all day but when it comes to looking for plumbers, roofers etc., I go with the YP phonebook. Not that I love the big and heavy thing, just that it is practical. I tried many times searching online but I always found service men hundred miles away. Even when I specifically searched my own city, the best I could find were pages and pages of ads including all nearby cites. Get real, I am not paying a furnace guy plane ticket to do my heating. Until the web seach engine improves some more, I still rely on the bulky YP phonebook.

    • Chris June 30, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

      ML – Thanks for the comment. You’re not the only one (there was a big debate about this on a search marketing site a while back, and many people that work in the industry even use YP for some of the categories you mentioned).

      At the same time, I think you hit the nail on the head when referring to the search engines improving. They’re doing everything they can to make sure people don’t have the type of experience you had. I’m not sure where you’re located, but online results tend to be better in larger cities as well. When I search for plumbers here in Minneapolis there are more results within 10 miles than I care to count.

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    I’m a 34 year old female looking for work as a life model in the Birmingham area, have no previous experience but would really like an opportunity, 07854216198

  10. John V December 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    It’s not just about exposure online, it’s about actual conversions. The print book still has great conversion rates compared to online advertising. I’m in the industry and it still amazes me the metered call counts I see in a media that is touted as “dead or dying”. It works great for most service industries, medical, attorneys, etc but not so good for retail type establishments. Smart advertisers take advantage of reduced ads by staying in for a bigger piece of the pie. It’s shrinking but it’s got more life than you think left.

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  12. tinagleisner January 10, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    Fascinating discussion as I’ve heard multiple times that google has passed yellow pages by a wide margin. Certainly the older (and I learned her the rural) population is more comfortable with traditional yellow pages.

    I think another problem might be the lack of search skills, i.e. you don’t always find what you want the first time & have to try several different words/phrases. In the yellow pages, they suggest where to look if they don’t have listings in the category you looked up

  13. Jack Buligard January 29, 2012 at 5:49 am #

    I had work for the Valley Yellow pages in California. I am very thankful for the work experience and sales methods instilled in me. As an ex sales rep I can say that the industry is dying, and quickly. It was once a product (prior to 2007) where over 300 industries could list an advertisement and see an ROI. That number has shrunk to maybe 25 industries. And within these 25 industries there are advertisers that have been in the book since the early 1990’s and are deciding to pull out. These businesses include doctors, dentists, lawyers, optometrists, HVAC, beauty, and landscaping. Many clients that have been in business for 20 years plus have an ad the size of a quarter pages and receive few phone calls. Few decide to keep their ad because they view their ad as a novelty item and like the way it looks. Most sales reps begin a campaign with a portfolio of 60 accounts or more and discover that 1/4 or 1/3 want to cancel. In last 4 years the book has decreased by 50 to 90 pages per year……………….

  14. Jack Buligard January 29, 2012 at 5:53 am #

    I had ‘worked’…sorry about that 🙂

  15. Don February 13, 2012 at 11:58 pm #

    Yellow page utilization has dropped in our company by 98% We obtain 600 new insurance quotes every month. Consistantly we receive 4-6 yellow page confirmed leads per month. Most of our business comes as a result of referals and by folks responding to other media. I have done research on where yellow pages gets their info and it is based on previous years distribution and population growth. Their statistics are false and are used by the sales folks to continue to sell a medium that is dead. The sad part about this, is they (yellow pages) have know about this since 2007, and have desparatly tried to move their clients to the on line version. There is a pending complaint in the State of WA concerining Yellow pages defrauding business owners with false statistics to sell advertising.

  16. John March 25, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    Chris, Until a study such as this yellow pages study is made totally public for peer review, it is worthless in my humble opinion as a scientist/engineer. I looked at another blog that showed the data charts of a Comscore study done several years back and what immediately jumped out at me was the use of PERCENTAGES instead of actual respondents. Unless you know the population distribution of the age groups of respondents, the percentages are meaningless. One could assume that the respondents ages are distributed the same as the US demographics; but that may not be the case. If you do use the US demographics and run the numbers you do not come to the same conclusions as published by Comscore; it shows the YP being very much LESS the player than what they portrayed.

  17. Todd G May 11, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    I’m a little late on this discussion but just take for instance, if you woke up at 6am and heard water gushing from your laundry room because a pipe has burst are you really going to go to your computer, log in, type plumber into your search bar, hope that a local plumber info shows up, click to a website, find the contact page, send them an email, hope they reply, roll up your pants, click back to the main results page, click another plumber, hope they are local, maybe this time call the number, hear the electricity sparking under your desk, hope the electricity doesn’t go out, start crying…or

    pick up the phone book have access to a dozen or more LOCAL plumbers and start dialing. You choose.

    Look, it is obvious that most older ADULTS use the YP because that is what they are used to, but it is also because they are smart enough to realize it is more efficient to just open the book to one page and solve the issue. They are not concerned about being cool or techno savy they are solving an issue. Would you really go online to find a pizza place or just pick up the book and dial, how much research do you really need to do to order pizza. Obviously I could go on and on about this but let the stats prove it them selves. I have tracked orders from online and out of the book. the book wins hands down when it comes to ROI and isn’t that what marketing is all about?

    Also, the reason the YP companies hire outside stat companies is because they need to show the truth, if you want to talk about set ups,maybe start with search engine “impressions”

    I have to admit it does make a difference where your market is. If you are in Iowa with a population of 40,000 a phone book makes sense. If you are in Minneapolis with over 3 million population the book is a little over kill at 6 inches thick. Are most cities in the US 3 million or 40,000?

    Good luck, to any of my competitiors ” please pull your YP ads out, I think it would be in my best interest”


    • James L June 29, 2012 at 3:42 am #

      I think you exaggerated the effort it takes to find someone online. Why the heck would you email them for an emergency? No one would do that. Just like you wouldn’t get their email from the yellow pages and email them.

      You open your computer, the browser, “plumber in CITY”, open a couple of results, click contact page, call them.

      If you’re going to describe every step… then let’s do the same for the yellow pages…

      Go to whereever the book is… pull it out, open the index page… spend a fair while hunting for the letter “P”, find “Plumbers”, turn to the right page after flipping back and fourth missing it, now there’s a hundred names with no details about who they are or their quality. You find one, dial the number, oh what’s that? THE NUMBER IS DISCONNECTED BECAUSE THE YELLOW PAGES IS STATIC AND UPDATED ONCE PER YEAR?

      Get off your high horse, stop being ridiculous. There’s nothing wrong with using the internet OR yellow pages. But clearly the internet allows you to have a look at who they are, in a faster way, and the details on there are more likely to be correct and up to date.

  18. Jack Buligard May 14, 2012 at 6:20 am #

    I thought this was interesting….


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  20. Sales women September 11, 2012 at 3:54 am #

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    I am a multi-media account rep for a news paper in a small town in southern Michigan. We celebrate 154 years this year and Our papers circulation continues to grow, as well as our website visitors. We produce a bi-monthly magazine, many other special sections, 3 major events each year including a bridal show, home & garden expo and cooking school. We also produce two phone books each year and that is my primary job. Each book covers two counties on either side of the state line. I’ve been told by several clients that he pays monthly to the yellow book what he pays us for the year.

    We distribute 30,000 of each book. We continually have ppl calling or coming in looking for a book. Most people know that word of mouth can be the best kind of marketing. Their business counts on referrals. The biggest difference can be made in tracking your advertising by changing the question just slightly. Instead of asking “where did you hear about us?”, the question should be “where did you find our number?”. The difference is, their best friends moms sisters uncle told their friend to tell them that you did a great job on their car after that deer ran out in front of them! Problem is they didn’t know the number. Now they have to find your number. How do they? Not every person eager to give you a reference has your number memorized or carries your card. And those folks with poor phone service for whatever reason could have trouble loading the information. Dead spots in service… Even Siri takes longer than looking it up.
    What happens if the power is out and you want to call a tree service to clear your drive?? There are so many reasons a phone book is a beneficial investment. Let’s look at our number. 30,000 books x 2.5 ppl per household = 75,000 potential viewers. Your so called skewed numbers say much higher but lets say it’s as low as 50% use it. 37,500 ppl looking in the book. So we all agree that yellow page advertising is destination advertising. If one is looking for your product or service and goes to yellow pages they will likely have a list of numbers to choose from. Like the Internet, they probably won’t make it past the first few. So unless you put an A at the start of your name, the only other way to set yourself apart from the rest is to add a display ad. And statistics show ppl feel that businesses with larger ads are more established and trust worthy.

    I’m done. Sorry. I’m passionate about print marketing.

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