Online Marketing Strategies – EverEffect

Yellow Pages Suck

Posted in Measurable Results,multivariate testing,online marketing by Jim Brown on November 26, 2007

For years they were considered the ‘lifeline’ for businesses to reach potential customers. 10 to 15 years ago I would have considered that a true statement. (It could be because that was the last time I knew where my phone book was!) Today, it is just simply not inaccurate, and I would challenge anyone who thought otherwise.

Why? Every year the Yellow Pages rate card goes up 3-7%, yet less and less people actually USE them. The decline in use closely mirrors the adoption of broadband internet service. With that, a large portion of young adults and business buyers NEVER consult the Yellow Pages at all – and they are controlling an ever-expanding portion of the dollars spent! Now, if your target market is one of the two population groups that is not adopting broadband internet services (the lower social-economic segment and the over 50 segment) you should be just fine.

Need more specifics?

Ad Placement

Wouldn’t it be nice if every company’s name started with ‘A’ so they could ALL be at the front of the directory? Let’s take a look at a pretty popular Yellow Page category: Heating and Cooling!

After eight full page ads and just as many half page ads that are horribly designed, yet begging for attention, you finally get to the phone number listings themselves. There you will find 70 (seventy – not a typo) companies that start with the letter ‘A.’ A-Fast Heating, A Perfect Climate, A-Plus Heating, AAA Heating, Aaron’s Heating… you get the point. How in the world are you supposed to stand out? I guess you buy a bigger ad.

Multiple Category Listings

Let’s assume you were a general contractor. Right out of the gate we can put you in that category for a nominal fee. What happens if people aren’t looking for a ‘general contractor,’ but rather a painter. You provide painting services yet you will not be seen when that person is looking – unless of course you buy that category too. The next potential customer wants someone to do a little bit of drywall installation – you do that as well, but again you are only listed under general contractor. I guess you’ll be buying another category?

Now, your budget is not very big to begin with, so what happens when you spread that budget over the 14 categories that a potential customer MIGHT look for you under? Your listing is diminished to next to nothing, and you might as well not be in there at all.

Ad Modification and Spending

I recently spent an afternoon with a local business who spends $13,000/month on Yellow Page advertising. After I picked my jaw up off the floor and realized that equated to over $150,000/year I started to chuckle and asked if he would like to keep more of that in his pocket.

He told me two things that really stuck out during the conversation.

  1. His business is dead November 15 – March 15. It is season and no one is in need of his service during those months. Regardless, Yellow Pages will still bill him $52,000 during that time where his phone will not ring one single time. If you knew this about your business – wouldn’t it be nice to turn OFF your advertising during this time?

  2. He recently added a new service to his business and was waiting until the new Yellow Pages came out so he could start advertising! Who said print isn’t dead? It seems like the moment a piece of paper rolls off the printer, it is already out of date. Why in the world does this business have to wait until the next printing of the Yellow Pages to START advertising his new service? What if the new service is a bust? He can’t do any testing of less than a year with this advertising method.

Shouldn’t YOU be in control of when your ads are modified and how much you are spending? Wouldn’t it be nice to do so on a monthly basis – or even a daily basis?

Measurable Results

“50% of our marketing dollars are wasted every year, the problem is we don’t know which half!” Sound familiar? What about – “80% of my business comes from the Yellow Pages.” Heard that one too?

The fact of the matter is – if you are not measuring your marketing, you are wasting money. Unless you have a special 800 number for every category in the yellow pages you will have NO idea of what is working and what it not – and at this point we are ONLY talking about leads. What happens after the call? Did they close? If not – why? When will you follow back up with them? What if 2 weeks go by – do you remember where they came from or do you just chalk it up as ‘another Yellow Page lead?’

Still not convinced?

You are reading this online – if I were wrong, you’d be reading this in your Yellow Pages!

Wondering where I got a copy of the Yellow Pages? After visiting with my grandpa this Thanksgiving I asked to borrow his copy for this blog entry. I know he’ll need it back.

14 Responses to 'Yellow Pages Suck'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Yellow Pages Suck'.

  1. Douglas said,

    It’s all about targeting! If you speak to my next door neighbor Ann, who does not use the Internet (don’t ask me how ANYONE can live without it) and ONLY has the Yellow Pages, it’s a perfect solution.

    It’s never about which medium is better than the other. It’s about the Return on Marketing Investment with each solution.

    If you’re in the Geriatric business, I doubt Google will help.

  2. August said,

    I suffered a 55% loss in 2008 on my AT&T Yellow Page print ad.

    I’m trying to decide between getting out now, and going with a bigger, professionally designed ad, in a pathetic attempt to gain a 120% improvement..

    I’m a glutton for punishment, I guess.

  3. Simply put : All wrong said,

    First of all: How many businesses actually spend $13000 a month in advertising? Maybe rotorooter, or a Personal Injury atty. The common Mom/ Pop establishments cant even afford fractions of that.

    You said “want more proof, you are reading this on the internet”. I never go to the internet to find my local plumber, painter, siding guy, ar auto repair shop. I go to the yellowpages, yellowbook, etc.

    However, you are correct in the rates go up every year. That is because there is a monopoly of sorts on each town in the US for yellow page advertising. Yeah, there is the Main book, and the yellowbook which covers a much, much larger area, and a “quarter state book” like SEI (southeastern Indiana). The monopoly exists because most business owners only Advertise in their somewhat local book, teh book that gets most used in the area.

    I heard about a new book I am excited about that focuses on individual towns. And they are a ton cheaper.. So, hopefully if those new books take off in my area, it will give people and option to spend their yellowpages advertising dollars, thus making the larger book either lower their prices, or lose business. !! yahhh

  4. Ed said,

    This is my cancellation letter to ATT Advertising:

    This letter is to inform you that our advertising agreement for print and internet advertising signed on 6/10/08 is not being renewed.

    I is extremely concerned that our other marketing activities — free craigslist ads, contractor review websites, and targeted flyer distribution – all outperformed the yellow pages print and internet advertising. Our free craigslist ads alone generated $300,000 in contracts, yet the paid advertising in the Yellow Pages book and generated $ 0 in revenue.

    In regards to internet marketing, over the last ten months generated only 24 clicks to our website. This was an average of 2.4 clicks a month! If I factor in the total cost of the internet advertising ($42 x 10 months = $420 ) and divide by the number of clicks generated ($420 / 24 = ) the cost per click is $17.50. During this same time frame our website had over 500 hits from craigslist and 200 hits from google searchs all at a cost per click of $0.0.

    Unless AT&T Advertising can somehow refund a significant portion of the funds paid on this non-performing advertising contract we will make it a policy to never to business with AT&T Advertising again.

  5. CBW said,

    Yellow Pages suck! I was about to cancel my advertising last year when my sales rep made a Hail Mary pass and got me to buy a “metered ad” where they publish a unique phone number and then track the number of calls to that number. They guaranteed me a minimum # of calls per month and said that if I didn’t get the calls, my bill would be prorated. I took the bait. Needless to say, I got about 30% of the number of calls they guaranteed. Worse, the callers who did call are “price shoppers,” not my target market. They ask, “How much?” and are not interested in quality or service at all.

    It’ been six months now and I am still being billed for the full amount of the ad. It seems the publisher doesn’t have the technical ability to prorate the bill. And if I don’t pay it in full, they will shut off my phone and my internet connection. F*%#ers!!

    And my sales rep still thinks he can sell me advertising again for the next issue. Really?

    • James said,

      Sorry to hear about this one. I envision the phone company taking the money they made from your sale and outsourcing callers to make fake calls. Like you said, none of them seem genuine. And even at that, they still only brought in 30%.
      If you didn’t get it in writing, you may have to wait until your year ends and then cancel!

    • doug said,

      They cant cut your phone off as long as you pay the”phone” portion of your bill!

  6. Dr Rich said,

    After print ad and pray with the Yellow pages and the Community Phone Book [red book], I started paying closer attention to the return on that investment. I had been too busy building a practice and taking care of patients to worry about the yellow page advertising. About a year ago I made it a point to accurately track my new patient sources. Here are the numbers. One new patient from the yellow pages in the last six months. And that’s after expanding my yellow page advertising budget. One.

    Bye, bye Yellow pages.

    • James said,

      It can be difficult to track where you offline visitors are coming from, whether they heard a radio ad or saw a billboard. Often, many ads leak into our minds and when we need someone, we walk through the door but can’t remember what specifically drew us to them. It happens to the best of us. So all we can do is rely on the data we have available. Billboards/TV give an average number of impressions. Newspapers and magazines give readership numbers. But it’s hard to see who took action and how effective it was. The web gives emperical, multi-dimensioned statistics that are more accurate than impressioned methods of old. So, it makes sense to spend money where you can measure return accurately, especially in these tough economic times.

  7. Jim,

    Great post! I share a very similar point-of-view with you, and some of the other people that commented. While I believe that a well rounded marketing plan includes cooperation between traditional mediums and new media, there is certainly no doubting that the yellwo page print directories are in a downward spiral and not producing as they have in past years.

    We recently posted a story on our site,, on June 29th, 2009, and got a telling comment back from Andrew Shane, Group Manager, External Communications at Idearc Media; “I could not agree with you more that traditional yellow pages are dying.” Idearc Media is the official publisher of the Verizon Yellow Pages and operates

    I have included a link to the rest of his response due to its size…just scroll down and you’ll see the rest. Internet Marketing in the Valley of Yellow Pages Keep up the good work!

  8. tom said,

    My bussiness in the yellow pages (embarq). my 1100.00 dollar a montn ad came out in april. I was pretty much making enough to pay for the ad.. Lately though… since the other book came out 2 months later my phone is dead. Goooood bye Embarq! The good part is that Ipretty much wont have to pay any taxes this year. I guess im doing my part to give others a job..

  9. Interesting said,

    I know a lot of people who spend nearly $15,000 a month on yellow pages. Perhaps it’s because they love their cute rep? Perhaps it’s because they make too much money and it doesn’t matter. Perhaps it’s because they think it works but it really doesn’t. Or, how about this???? Maybe it does work? I am tired of reading how the yellow pages sucks, it’s gone, who uses it? People use it. You don’t use? Fine…how about writing about how you don’t use it. I know plenty of people who use it all the time.

    As for Dr. Rich. Was your ad competitive or did you place a small ad in the back of the heading and expect miracles? I bet you spent the least amount of moneyand expected the greatest results. This will never work.

  10. Waqar Khalid said,

    Your money is not going to b better spent by advertising bigger and better, the smart money is in advertising more keenly. I owned a computer firm and took out a ad in yellow papes for the entire year i got one call, needless to say ive moved on

  11. All traditional print adds are not working much anymore, not just the yellow pages….but the yellow book…

    Worse, in some area they are converting the yellow pages reps in website salesmen…good lord have mercy on us…

    Throwing money on the internet without a plan is just as bad….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: