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Why Don't the Yellow Pages Work Anymore?

Posted by Casey Lewis on Friday, February 28, 2014

Topics: Yellow Pages

yellow-page-ads-dont-workThe title of this article is a pretty bold question and one that provokes a heated debate in the marketing and advertising community. In particular where the discussion includes those actively involved in the sales of Yellow Pages and their new line of digital online products.

To put our stake in the ground one way or another is really not worth the time and details it would require for this document. Let it suffice to say that if you “Google” the title of this article you will get more positions on this question than you can possibly digest. The prevailing opinion is that the Yellow Pages print product for the most part does not work like it used to and is on its way out.

For the purpose of our discussion here, let’s assume that if you are interested in this topic you are probably questioning the value of Yellow Page advertising in general and the Yellow Page companies and their products as a whole.

For full transparency, let me first tell you that the author of this article worked in the field as a Yellow Pages salesperson for AT&T for over 20 years and then spent 12 additional years working with several Yellow Page company’s around the country as an executive who negotiated sales compensation for the sales representatives working for those companies. After retiring he joined an inbound marketing company that is a certified HubSpot partner located in Northern California.

Yellow Page print advertising has an enormous number of variables to consider in its value to the individual customer. In our efforts to effectively address its value we have scoured the Internet and have come to the following conclusions. 

  1. Urban centers, large cities and progressive demographics simply have too many options at their fingertips and too many consumer choices available to turn to the yellow pages. It is hard to find anyone who uses the Yellow Pages on a consistent basis to search for business, products and services.
  1. In some of the smaller rural areas that are less progressive and have a smaller sampling of business and demographic to deal with, the Yellow Pages seems to be used a bit more than in urban areas. However determining the value, the possession and usage in those areas gets dicey when the only real analytics come from the publishing organizations themselves.
  1. The advertisement, the cost, the design, the competition, the close ratio and the manner in which the advertiser handles the calls/leads has an enormous impact on the sales volume.

We have decided that to figure out first if the Yellow Pages don’t work any longer, why not? And to demonstrate the question of its overall value to an advertising business owner, we would use an example of one of our own clients and their experience with this very question.

This story is about a client that we have who is located in Northern California. The name is not being disclosed for obvious reasons but the story is one that we hear every single day.

Our story begins with a Pest Control company that was started by a man in the late 1970’s. As with most service type businesses in that time period he had about 1 choice as to where his advertising should be placed. Yes, the yellow pages. And so he like most other businesses in that time period placed some ads in the Yellow Pages and began a career building his business. He endured all of the pains of increased rates and add on's like color, coupons bigger ad sizes, etc. The Yellow Page companies were brutal in the 80’s and 90’s with their rates. During that time period in most areas in the U.S. the prices went up over 600%! 

Fast-forward to today and this same business owner now operates in over 18 counties with a whopping Yellow Page bill of $20,000.00 per month. Yes, that’s almost a quarter million per year! And like clock work he has paid the piper every year. However in recent years came decreased results and a dramatic reduction in new business. As a result of the reduced results he began to push back with the yellow page company to determine what the problem was. This is where the real issue comes when dealing with the Yellow Page companies and in particular the companies that used to be the phone company. It’s very difficult to get a straight answer. They want to move your money around into their paid click programs, online directories, paid direct mail programs and lots of other bundled options to dodge the real question and the topic of this article. Why Don’t The Yellow Pages Work Anymore?

After a very difficult time dealing with the Yellow Page Company our Pest Control Company was able to have the YP Company put in tracking numbers in the ads as well as a code in the upper right corner of each ad to track results. This unofficial statistical analysis resulted in an astounding discovery for this client. The Yellow Pages were not working! They were delivering single digit leads from each directory per month that the client was paying thousands of dollars for, and providing largely unqualified leads or “price shoppers”. The cost just was not worth the results. To make matters worst the Pest Control Company had just contracted for 12 months worth of additional advertising costing over $200,000 dollars that could not be stopped!

This is not an unusual dilemma and if you are a “Key Account” advertiser with one of the local Yellow Page companies you know what I mean. The extra-added problem here is that the Pest Control company owner needs the new business and a regular source of leads to remain viable. So what’s the bigger answer if the Yellow Pages doesn’t’ appear to be working? They certainly are not working in this case.

You can work a deal with the Yellow Page Company and they will cut the cost of your printed ads to buy more “stuff” from them. They each have an online directory. For YP it’s www.yp.com, for Dex Media its www.dexknows.com and for Super Media it’s www.superpages.com. They also sell various pay per click programs and direct mail programs, etc. Often times the sales rep is under tremendous pressure to do whatever is necessary to retain the existing revenue from your account. The question that you must ask yourself is this; am I prepared to try this and give them that kind of money for another year? Especially when the analytics they provide are generally home brewed. They come from their own systems and not Google or other mainstream accepted metric sources. They may also want to build you a website on their system and even try to put together a landing page for you.

But to answer the primary question, why don’t the Yellow Pages work, our answer is because they don’t have the possession and usage they once enjoyed. And certainly not to the degree they charge for it. Find another alternative and start thinking about your marketing future not your marketing past.

In the meantime, here are some links of interesting articles for you to take a look at as well as a link to our "5 reasons you need to stop advertising in the yellow pages" Whitepaper.

Some interesting discussions on yellow pages:







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