10 Reasons Why The Yellow Pages Still Work (well)

Lest you think I was being supremely creative with this title, I have to give credit for the concept to Steve Averill who writes the OCBizblog blog which he claims is “…an award-winning (?) small business marketing blog boasting more than 5,000 followers most of whom are located in Orange County, California….” Boo-ya for him.  His most recent missive was 10 Reasons Why The Yellow Pages is the Drunk Uncle of Advertising.

Now normally I would chalk commentary like this up to someone who really doesn’t understand how small business advertising works and just move on.  But his comments were far too tempting to ignore.  So let’s have some fun and test his 10 Reasons to see how if maybe, just maybe he has things a little backwards:

1. He just shows up one day on your doorstep unannounced.  Yes, the print Yellow Pages is free, doesn’t require any power, any special connections, any technical expertise to operate, doesn’t attract spam email or viruses, and when the newest version arrives, the old version can be fully recycled.  Should I keep going on this one, as it isn’t even a fair fight?  I guess in Orange County they don’t get email spam or bogus text messages like those that I do now.  Steve:  you’re missing the excitement of all of the neat things inside that book.

2. He talks a big game.  True. By why?  Distributed free to every home and business, vs. at best 80% penetration of broadband in US (note: key word is “adoption”, not exclusive use of Internet and nothing else). For advertisers, Yellow Pages has an ROI for advertisers of at least 10 to 1 (CRM Associates research).  If 70+% of businesses in the print directory are at least renewing each year, but 50+% of online advertisers are churning year to year, which one really works better for SMB’s??  As our esteemed Vice President would say, yes, Yellow Pages is a big ___ deal.  Really big.

3. He’s always asking for money.  I’m a little puzzled with this one.  Is he suggesting that buying Google Adwords is free for advertisers?  How about getting that Internet connection to begin with?   The average household pays about $150 for a first time connection fee for broadband services and then monthly fees ranging from $50 to $130 depending on how much data you need/use.  And all of these hi-tech gizmo’s cost:  ____.  Fill in the blank based depending on which device(s) you get.  All I know is my cell bill, with my new iPhone hasn’t been under $100 a month since I got it..For users, it seems to me that it’s the other way around.

For advertises, they know right up front how much a print Yellow Pages ad is going to cost.  When they start spending money in the online world, they really don’t know how far they will need to go to bring in the level of business leads they need.

4. He’s completely unreliable.  Huumm.  Also not sure what the point is here.  Where does he think most of those listings you find on the Internet come from?  Perhaps if he looked at the Yellow Pages he would know.  And how do those listings get to a printed telephone book?  Each publisher reviews and scrubs them for accuracy.  Most books are then scanned/rekeyed to create those databases you encounter online.  So help me.  Define “unreliable”.

5. He’s old.  So’s my wife, but that doesn’t mean I have ditched her for the flavor dejour.  If he’s complaining that Yellow Pages has a 150 or so year track record working with a very diverse range of small/midsized businesses to help them bring more leads to their doors, well, go ahead and complain.  New is not always better.

6. He thinks it’s 1982 and yellow is a fashionable color.  Ok let’s compare: a Yellow Pages rep walks in the door of a local business and identifies that are from an established provider of local print and online Yellow Pages, a recognized product that businesses have been spending money in year in and year out.  The rep and publisher contribute to local community efforts like the  Little League, his kids probably babysit for some of the business owners kids, and the rep buys products because he lives in that same community as that small business.

The other option is a rep from XYZ Local Search Daily, who’s been in business for maybe 10 minutes, only sells products for which he can’t guarantee anything such as consistent first page Google results, has to explain an alphabet soup of acronyms so the business owner understands what he is buying, and in reality, has the same services that could be bought from the next guy through the door.  Which one do you think has a higher  trust level beginning their conversation??  I think Yellow is a beautiful color, combined with some black it is a powerful combination.

7. He thinks all the information he spews out is meaningful.  I have to agree with Mr. Averill on this one.  I don’t need a fencing company each year.  But I did need one last month.  Where did I look for local company?  In the print Yellow Pages.  I’ve never had a problem with my garage door opener.  Ever.  Until two weeks ago.  Where did I look for local company?  In the print Yellow Pages.   In the past two weeks, I haven’t used the print Yellow Pages.  Not once.  Tomorrow?   Not sure what the next need for a local product or service is going to look like.  And while that phonebook is sitting idely by for two weeks – it hasn’t used any power, attracted no viruses or spam, and is still ready to go a moments notice.

If there are upwards of 4000 potential headings in a print Yellow Pages, I’ll bet most people wouldn’t need more than a handful of them in a normal year.  But do you know when you’ll need the info in the other 3995 headings next??

8. He thinks television is technology.  From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Time Use Survey — 2010 Results:  Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.7 hours per day), accounting for about half of leisure time, on average, for those age 15 and over.  So if you watch TV is this guy implying I’m stupid?  Or I guess if I don’t have the latest hi-tech device I must be 90 years old.

9. He thinks shouting is advertising.  A print Yellow Pages has no audio button, so…??  However, I have visited a number of websites recently that feel compelled to blast me with a video the second I reach the site, a video I didn’t ask for, that I can’t stop until it runs fully, and with an audio level that seems to be at about 100 decibels.  I think that would classify as worse than shouting.

10. He’s a big fat waste of space.  At the recent Local Search Association conference (the Yellow Pages Association for you old timers like me), research showed that the results on the call tracking lines in the print Yellow Pages were up at least 20% year over year.  Seems like someone is using those books and turning those walking fingers into phone dialing so they can buy local products and services..


Sorry Uncle Yellow, but that’s the way it is.  Sorry, Steve Averill, you don’t get it.  There are more information sources these days, no argument there.  Heck, I sit in front of two compueters all day long.  But I’m not using those to shop locally.  Surf for info, a little social networking (but don’t tell my boss please), email (far too much of it), and a whole bunch of other things.  But not buying locally for a product or service I don’t know a lot about.

Steve, my friend,  there is still time for you to retrieve that book from the recycle bin (kudos for at least doing that).  Check it out. You will find some pretty amazing stuff, even things like coupons that can help you save money.  We understand your ignorance, but we won’t hold it against you….


15 responses to “10 Reasons Why The Yellow Pages Still Work (well)

  1. Please put me on your email list. Well done John Champion

  2. Bruce Chapman

    I walk or ride my bike 3 miles to work down Bloor St Toronto most days. There are Yellow Pages books strewn down the whole route, in little stacks of 2 or 3 outside small apartment buildings, or just lying in the street. Wake up. You are causing more problems than you are solving. Go pick them up. Shameful.

    • @Bruce:

      “You are causing more problems than you are solving” — Bruce, exactly what “problems” is the yellow page publisher causing in your area? Providing free information about local businesses to consumers who use them when they are ready to buy, is that a “problem?? On your 3 mile ride each day, are you saying you are not passing empty bottles, plastic bags, or other discarded products along the way? Have you contacted those groups about this also?

      The Yellow Pages Group people do monitor this site so I’m sure they will investigate your claims as they do gladly accept opt-out requests.

  3. This article is a joke and a pathetic attempt to hold on to the past. Maybe some scientific research and statistics about the efficacy of YP for businesses beyond pizza parlors would show that very few people use these old books anymore. Smart phones, tablets, etc. provide instant access to the same information. And contrary to this article, my online listings and ads do NOT come from YP ads – that is a farse as old as the book itself.

    I oversee advertising for the company I work for and we have cut nearly $150,000 a year out of our YP spending. We tested the efficacy of our ads with a unique, metered phone number in the ad – it was ONLY published in the ad, no where else. The phone number was dialed twice in one year, both times by me to test that it was working. ‘Nuff said.

    • Felix:

      Thank you for your comments and the opportunity to show you just how incorrect your comments are. Let’s see – so much to cover, where can I start?

      “Few people use these books anymore”: Seriously? What information are you using to base those comments on? FACT: in 2011, call volumes to tracked ads were up over 15% YOY. Not my opinion, fact, based on 10’s of thousands of tracked lines.

      “my online listings and ads do NOT come from YP ads”: Perhaps you did enter yours online. Ok. But there are MILLIONS of SMB’s out there, unlike you, that do rely on this industry to get their information online, and entered correctly. What other media is working with small, local business, each and every day? Only one – Yellow Pages.

      “We cut $150k a year out of YP spending”: Your choice. But, I’ll bet your competitors weren’t upset by that. More attention for them.

      “The phone number was dialed twice in one year, both times by me to test that it was working”: I would love to tell you every yellow pages ad for every business works perfectly. But of course, that’s not true. Neither is every TV ad, Radio ad, newspaper ad, or billboard. And certainly not every online ad (have you seen the response rates for Facebook ads??). Since I don’t know what your ads looked like, which books they were in, or any other specifics, I can only surmise you had a poorly designed ad(s). And you have every right to have a serious discussion with the publisher about that. Did you design the ads yourself??

  4. I was googling “why do yellow pages still exist” and I was delighted to find this hilarious article desperately defending them instead. Its like reading someone trying to defend the slide rule. Sorry buddy, but technology has made yellow pages obsolete. They provide no value, but they do kill a lot of trees. Mobile phones with internet access are now dirt cheap and ubiquitous, providing the same information to people. Even my grandmother has a cell phone. Nobody in their right mind would use the yellow pages, other than as kindling or paper weight.

    • Thank you JH for your commentary. It’s comments like this that show exactly why the print yellow pages still work as you clearly had already decided on the answer you wanted to hear before you even did your Google search.

      I can only assume you missed the article which showed that 76% of all adults do still use the printed YP each year. Or the one about how 85% of those people who do use a book make a purchase once they pick it up. Or that advertisers are seeing AT LEAST a $10 to $1 return for their investments. Perhaps you also missed the article about how call tracking results for print ads have shown INCREASES in the number of calls over the last two years. But even if you had seen that, I doubt you would believe it.

      So maybe the better approach with someone like you who appears to only believe what they see at the end of the arm, how do you think all that mobile stuff got there, especially the parts from local businesses?? Answer: yellow page reps working with those businesses that get them listed where ever their clients might be. Print, online, mobile — that’s the definition of “Yellow Pages” these days…

  5. Ken,
    You are most definitely a great salesperson any company would love to have on their payroll. Having said that, you are promoting an almost obsolete product using skewed stats that for all I know are based on a remote part somewhere in the USA that has limited access to internet or maybe, from various senior retirement communities where they don’t know how to use modern day technology. I can personally attest that in my employment background screening industry where we deal with tech savvy business, none of our potential clients would look for an employment screening company out of the YP also given the fact that we service a nationwide market rather than a restricted local market. I’m sure that most YP sales persons who are making a somewhat decent living, in my opinion have to be:
    1. Very aggressive (maybe even heartless when selling to mom and pops)
    2. Carry a fancy brochure with dizzying stats, comparisons YP vs. Internet, ROI’s and so forth. Obviously, the presentation is very elaborate and systematically methodical (always BE CLOSING).
    3. Asking the clients questions whereby they end up trapping themselves into an ironclad contract that automatically renews itself (hey, we got a live one here!)
    In conclusion, maybe YP may work as a short lived miracle for a very limited some, but not for the majority of business out there. I remember back in the early days of the internet, YP would compete by offering clients results based pricing using a metered phone line and soon realized the writing on the wall. In a real-life scenario, But then again, you appear to be a great sposkeman/sales person for the YP industry.
    Question: Would you sell a $800 a month ad to your own family member that say had a struggling print shop or any other storefront type?

    • Ella:
      Sorry for the slow response as we were closing another successful local print yellow pages, which grew from last year, so we were more than busy.
      So let’s see, where do I start? You obviously haven’t left your lofty perch to get out into the market to understand what it is we do. But let’s break down your comments:

      “an almost obsolete product”: if that was true can you explain how one of local plumbers gets over 110 calls a month on their call tracking line, the number for which only appears in their print YP ad?? Or how about the storage yard that gets 2/3rds of all their calls from their ad based on their manual recording of each call they get, as it also has a call tracking number in the ad??

      “Carry a fancy brochure with dizzying stats, comparisons YP vs. Internet, ROI’s and so forth”: Sorry to disappoint you but the only thing my people and I walk in with is the book, the current call tracking data, and a stack of testimonials we get from the usage contest we run in the book. All of that is printed on regular paper using my cheap inkjet printer. The presentation is neither elaborate nor “systematically methodical”. It is a discussion about where there business is, where are they looking to go with it, and how can we help them. In most cases, we can help. There are some businesses that are more wholesale/middle men in an established process, in which case, the product can’t do a lot for them but we still recommend they have a bold listing or small in-column ad with relevant info like websites, fax numbers, and other key contact information. And then there are businesses like yours that really aren’t used by other local buyers – as you noted in your own comments. But you also missed the key point that we are more than just print. Everything we do in print is also online at http://www.SmallPondYP.com.

      “…end up trapping themselves into an ironclad contract that automatically renews itself (hey, we got a live one here!)”: Our advertising rates cover a full year cycle, in most cases. That makes sense since the book is on the street for a year. But we do have other products that run for different lengths. We also don’t do “auto renew”. Each year (or more often) we again visit with those local businesses (as in go to their stores/offices/job sites/etc) to discuss what’s changed and how we can help them change/update their advertising message. We don’t call. We go meet them, face-to-face. And I don’t think we’ve ever held a gun to any ones head to get them to sign the contract. In fact, I review the entire contract before I hand them the pen to sign it.

      So let me address your main question(criticism):
      Question: Would you sell a $800 a month ad to your own family member that say had a struggling print shop or any other storefront type?
      Answer: If after meeting with them to understand why they had a “struggling” business, and our products were a fit for their core customers, YES, without hesitation.

      But you also are naïve in that I don’t have an ad that cost’s $800/month unless you want to buy a cover ad, which I would probably never recommend to a “struggling” business, and to be honest, the cover ads are all sold. None are available.

      Now Ella, since you didn’t do your homework, you would probably have not noticed that I spent over 10 years in the recruiting world. I can tell you that we encountered numerous “employment background screening” companies and we consistently found aggressive tactics to woo unqualified candidates just so they had fresh meat to tee up for a client, rampant misuse of candidate data, and inconsistent screening. Hopefully you don’t work of one of those type companies.
      If you do, we have half dozen reputable local companies listed in our print directory that you can call…

  6. Pingback: Sometimes the view from a lofty perch is not the best view.. | YP Talk - The Voice of the Yellow Pages Industry

  7. I still use classifieds in the newspaper to sell my stuff, and a map book to navigate, and encyclopedias to learn about the world, and get my camera film developed, and catalogs to find things I want to buy, and blockbuster to rent videos and browse the web using AOL on dial-up.

    The 90’s were the best, alas technology has made all of those things obsoloete.. just like the good old yellow pages. They did make a great stand for CRT monitors though didn’t they!

    • Ah yes, another digital ostrich with his head stuck in the quicksand of the internet. Your comments have many apples to oranges comparisons.

      Since it would be uselessly to try to convince you that print Yellow Pages still work very well in smaller markets, perhaps you can explain to me how one of my plumbers in a town of 35k full time residents got over 150 calls last month from his print Yellow Pages ad?? If the print products are obsolete, how can that happen? Do you think his website got a 150 clicks last month from buyers ready for his services? I’ll give you a hint — the answer is NO!

  8. Wow is all I can say. I spent an entire career in the YP industry. I then spent another career negotiating contracts with the YP publishers on behalf of their sales force. During the time period of 2007 – 2010 the YP market crashed. I mean crashed. Revenues and customers declined at a staggering amount. In many cases over 50%. The sales forces left and moved on. The companies except 1 all went bankrupt and more than once. The internet is littered with complaints on the unethical tactics employed by these companies to get the advertisers locked into auto renew contracts for bundled product options they don’t understand and cannot seem to get cancelled. I now have an Inbound Marketing firm. I could no longer stand to see the abuse of the local business marketplace. I now see YP and Yelp working together to try and “corner” the first page of the Google SERP by inundating it with reviews and buying keywords. Why would they do that? It’s to prohibit the advertisers from figuring out how to do it themselves and remove their revenues from these companies. I have many friends and I myself enjoyed a wonderful time and ride on the Yellow Pages rise to glory in the 80’s. Ken, I’m sorry but I work with Key Account Advertisers and CMR’s every single day that are looking for a way out of the YP trap. I don’t feel good about that and I’m sure you have some statistic you can pull you to refute me. But the Yellow Pages is on life support with the exception of a very few headings. And you like me as an old Yellow Page warrior understands that when the attorneys, plumbers, electricians, insurance headings and a few others finally call it quits, the whole house is going to come tumbling down. Read up on David Krantz proclamation that as the Yellow Page directories die they shall simply stop printing them. And the big 3’s movement into a new digital suite of products. Problem is their products suck. They are basically second tier vendor supplied junk that they take a huge slice off the top and leave the customer with a minimal value. I hope I don’t offend you, but we all must understand for our customers sake, that the time has come for SMB’s to embrace online marketing, understand it and control it for themselves. Slick salesman with a quick pitch are gone like cold calling is. Customers can now educate themselves on the value of a well conceived and planned content marketing strategy. The YP industry is now about 5 years into smoke and mirrors and its coming home to roost. IMHO

    • Casey:
      Sorry for slow response as we are really busy completing another local directory.

      You covered a lot of ground and had numerous arrows for a lot of companies, products and industries. But I’m a simple guy so here is a simple response:
      In markets of less than 75k people, like the ones I have, the advertisers, not me, will tell you our LOCAL print and online directories (as in no national advertising, as in CMRs don’t bother to call) produces the best results and returns for their business, hands down, over coupon magazines, newspaper, radio, etc etc etc — including digital. For all businesses? Of course not. It depends on the demographics of their core customers.

      In the 2007-2010 time frame you noted that “YP crashed”, perhaps you didn’t notice that a recession was going on, and it was a deep one here in Florida. So consumers weren’t shopping, and many advertisers weren’t spending money. Everyone took a hit. The good news is things are better (not great) and all of our call tracking lines are showing increased usage again. It wasn’t a product failure, it was an economic failure.

      What’s going to happen to print YP in 5 years?? Honestly, I don’t have a clue and anyone that tells they do know is really smoking one of those Colorado cigarettes. But at the end of day, whatever media “thing” works, and works well at a reasonable price, someone is going to be needed to go talk to those local small businesses. And that’s where we come in.

      Not everyone needs a double truck ad. And if you keep overselling, over promising, and not being a true LOCAL consultant to these small businesses, I don’t care who you are, your not going last long.

      Just my thoughts….

  9. I don’t disagree with you that the smaller demographics still have decent possession and usage. I guess I sometimes get frustrated when I see organizations that “owe” something back to a market that was loyal to them for 100 years, still taking advantage of that trust. It is good to see that you are able to extend that tradition and loyalty in your markets. Good luck to you and your customers in the Florida market. I am in Northern CA in the SF Bay Area and its not pretty to watch some of the goings on.

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