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12 Billion Local Business Searches. Do Yellow Pages Still Matter?

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Attorneys, plumbers, financial advisor’s, electricians, pizza parlors, cleaning services, snowplow drivers, caterers, insurance companies, and hardware stores alike ask us similar questions: “How does the Internet change things? Should we keep our Yellow Pages ad? How do we keep from being left behind”

At SES San Jose Stuart McKelvey, President and CEO TMP Directional Marketing presented research regarding the usage and value of online and offline local search usage (“A Study of the Usage and Value of Online and Offline Local Search Sources”). TPG is a fascinating company with over 38 years of Yellow Pages, online search and marketing experience. The study “combines 3,000 survey responses with actual observed online behavior.” In a nutshell online search dominates while traditional printed Yellow Pages perform surprisingly well.

Where Do Customers Search?
Local searchers tend to seek actionable business information including details such as company name phone numbers, products sold etc. TMP studied pizza restaurants, home services, moving, storage, banking, finance and other industries. As all advertising channels fold towards Internet delivery, it’s critical for local advertisers to understand and capitalize on customers’ local search patterns. This can include both offline and online sources like print Yellow Pages (YP), Internet (IYP), directory assistance, mobile search, newspaper, and major search engines.

Surprising Results
The results of the case study were surprising, particularly regarding the ongoing importance of print YP, which is still roughly equal to search engines comprising approximately 30% each of the local search spectrum. According to this study, mobile search and directory assistance only claim 2% each. Dedicated local search verticals tally a 13% share and IYP sites 17%. In what amounts to a bleak prognosis for the industry, newspaper and magazine usage for local search garners only a 3% piece of the total pie.

Different Channels for Different Uses
According to the TMP study users tend to reach for online and offline media sources with different intent in the local search sales cycle. Online search skews towards research. Thirty percent of users take advantage of the Internet for research only- not for buying. Reciprocally users tend to use offline search to find a particular business from which to buy a product or service that that they’ve researched and identified online.

Major engine searchers (Google, Yahoo, MSN) are less likely to have a specific local business name in mind than IYP users. IYP and vertical local search engine users are significantly more likely to be looking for services while major engine users are more inclined be seeking out products.

On Again Off Again
Two out of ten consumers cited that they prefer to speak with people offline before buying online. They sometimes hop back online to research price and consummate a transaction. Still 61% of those polled in the research went on to purchase from a local business, usually by visiting the physical store in person.

Location and Brand Buzz
Across all respondents the primary business selection factors were the business’s location and the customer’s familiarity with the company. The most common activities resulting from online and offline search activity alike were in-store visits or the initiation of contact via telephone.

Cast a Wide Net.
Overall, respondents considered between 1-5 businesses however the majority only contact one. This highlights the importance of having local content on all of sites mentioned in the study which include:

[note, links are not provided. These sites are easy enough to find and have enough inbound links without bloggers contributing more.]

Internet Yellow Pages Websites
SuperPages.com (Idearc)
Yahoo! Yellowpages
YellowPages.com (AT&T)
DexOnline.com /
DexKnows.com
YellowBook.com

Local Search Verticals
Google Local/Maps
Yahoo! Local
MSN Local (Live.com)
Citysearch
Local.com
Ask City

Major Search Engines
Google.com
Yahoo.com
MSN.com
AOL.com
Ask.com

Additional Resources:
Local Search Marketing Tactics
SEO RoundTable

5 Quick Ways To Optimize For Local Search
SearchEngineJournal

SES: Six Tips For Local Search Advertising
WebProNews

Local Search Marketing Tactics
Unofficial SEOBlog

LocalMN Blog

Mike the Internet Guy

SunTZU SEO Blog

Understanding Google Maps & Yahoo Local Search

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14 Comments

  1. earlpearl on August 27, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    Interesting research and nice article.

    Different industries and businesses should study web market conditions prior to pumping money into any one source. IYP is particularly strong with some industries (with regard to ranking in search engines….and not strong in others. Similarly there are a wide variety of industry verticals that show extremely well in search engines and dominate rankings for popular and conversion oriented terms.

    In other types of businesses neither IYP or verticals dominate and a site can get high rankings on its own with effort, perseverance, and investment in the site.

    It depends on the industry.

    One of the most clever statements on web visibility came from Jake Baillie while he was President of TrueLocal. He spoke at Pubcon Las Vegas in November ’06. Jake focused on “keyword expansion” both for industry terms and geographic terms.

    Even where IYP or verticals dominate a smart web site can find chinks in widespread keyword usage to find dominate positions.

    Web communities, social media, effective local portals, industry forums and industry communities all have excellent power in attracting potential local customers. Craigslist is incredibly effective for most metropolitan markets.

    Finally, as long as Google dominates the search market place, the potential for Local Onebox inserts into organic searches is dramatically powerful, potentially negating the impact of IYP or verticals.

    With every insert of a onebox at the top of a search page….the large map dominates the critical real estate on a search page and pulls viewers into its own set of 1-3 alternatives and its own ranking of businesses. Meanwhile, powerful IYP or verticals are shifted down on the web page reducing their prominence.

    Should Google decide to inject more versions of the local onebox into organic searches…..all other web media will lose importance relative to the striking visibility and eye catching power of the onebox.

    Dave

  2. Marty Weintraub on August 28, 2007 at 12:00 am

    Dave,
    Thank you for the wonderful comment. Things never really change. Cast a wide net to as many applicable channels-of-the-day as possible. Keep a careful watch on ROI with the best analytics of the day. Be vigilant and open minded to new channels, as people and companies continually create new ways for searchers to search. Thank you for lending your insight.
    Marty

  3. Jen Collins on August 31, 2007 at 5:27 am

    I see a few companies emerging that will be trying to take the business away from the online yellow pages with the integration of video and other features. i believe thsi is the future of online advertising and will give small businesses a better chance of discovery and personal interaction than the big companies always putting their ads in the sponsored position.
    I will post here again soon with the names of some of them. (or email me if you don;t want them posted here!)

  4. Mike Blumenthal on September 1, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    Without seeing the methodology and demographic detail it is hard to determine the value to businesses of the 30% that used the Yellow Pages. As with IYP (as Dave pointed out) it would probably matter more in some industries than others and in some demographics more than others.

    It would also be important to see the rate of decline of usage to determine the value of print YP…

    Mike

  5. Marty Weintraub on September 1, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    Mike, you make good points. At the end of the day conversion is what matters-no matter the channel.

  6. David Hopkins on September 1, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    I know a company that advertises in 100s of locations in the Yellow Pages and they are even upping their prices! Search engines have been a much more cost effective source of sales leads.

  7. Michael Dorausch on September 17, 2007 at 1:53 am

    Great data but there are so many variables. For example, large metro areas tend to have more people moving to them. Books are already out and not circulating until next year. People moving in (many are students) are not getting home phones. Hence no books in the household.

  8. Marty Weintraub on September 17, 2007 at 1:55 am

    What you say makes a lot of sense Michael. Thanks,
    Marty

  9. Rose Sylvia on September 17, 2007 at 11:03 pm

    Whether to use the physical yellow pages or not depends on the demographics you’re trying to reach. Note that many off-line yellow pages are also now available and searchable so be sure to consider that when you’re making your advertising decisions.

    There are still many people who only shop locally and live totally locally. Others have a lifestyle that covers many cities, states, or countries. Printed yellow pages are far more useful to someone who would only need one.

    One error commonly made is to assume that because we can see the future everyone else is along for the ride. They aren’t. Some will come along later and others will live in the past. Careful consideration of who your target audience is in necessary for optimum results.

  10. Mike Belasco on September 27, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    Very nice article with lots of good points. Also thank you for the mention!

  11. Marty Weintraub on September 27, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    Cool, thanks for stopping by Mike.

  12. william carson on January 12, 2008 at 3:39 am

    your numbers on usage ratings seem to be drastically different than study published by the wall street journal in may of 2006. The internet has had a 250% increase in 18 months? iyp’s a 150% increase? 411 a 600% decrease? and yellow page usage declined by 100%? SO who conducted this case study? and how many people were involved in it?

  13. Steven Matsumoto on February 14, 2008 at 6:23 am

    I would like to comment on the submission by Mr. Carson regarding the Wall Street Journal article from May of 2006. Citing percentages is all well in good, but what he fails to mention is what that truly translates to. Hypothetically if the number of references was 1,000 for example a 250% increase is 2,500 not very impressive. What Mr. Carson fails to mention is that the very same article stated that 61% of the population goes to the Print Yellow Pages first for local information. Search Engines came in a distant second at 12.5%. Both EMarketer.com and the Journal published similar data on Dec. 21, 2007 as well. Even Google recognized the value of the Yellow Pages by partnering R.H. Donnelley the third largest Yellow Pages Publisher in the country.

  14. Marty Weintraub on February 14, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    @ Steven: Thank you for the comment and welcome.

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