Internet Yellow Pages (IYP's)--Are they worth it?
Two recent sales calls and pitches from one of the leading IYP's got me to think about this alternative once again.
For a local business one can't escape the fact that IYP's are a reasonable alternative. One should at least consider them. They do attract a reasonable amount of traffic. They offer brand name recognition. They should at least be considered as part of an internet, if not part of the entire marketing/advertising strategy for a local business.
The two calls came initially from a cold call, and then a follow up with the first salesperson and his manager.
The second visit was made after they had initially looked at my site and tested it for visibility within search engines and visibility for usage of a PPC campaign. They knew we had a lot of coverage on PPC phrases and high ranking for PPC phrases. As salespeople I give them credit. At least they qualified us as active and potential spenders on the web.
In both meetings I was a pretty blank state with regard to the sales pitches, asking questions and not discerning any knowledge about the process.
Ultimately in selling the advantages of the IYP's I was struck with one assertion by the sales team; IYP's generate about 1/3 of all local searches. True or not?
That is a big total. If you have an active web marketing program, and you depend on search....missing 1/3 of the possible traffic is an enormous gap. Is it true?
I did a little research on the topic. First, an aside and a pitch. One of the great sources for overall knowledge about what is happening in the local arena is Screenwerk by Greg Sterling. Greg reviews all aspects of the local world, is part of Searchengineland, and is approachable and nice.
From his site I accessed some of the latest survey data on sources of local search efforts by customers in an October 2008 survey on how customers find local goods and products.
The survey of 3,000 respondants found that people searching for local goods and services used the web about 61% of the time and print YP or White Pages 30% of the time.
Of the web users, people used search engines about 1/2 of the time, IYP's about 1/3 of the time and what they called "Local Search Sites the remainder. The survey company described sites such as MapQuest, Google Maps, Yahoo Local as Local Search Sites.
The survey results are similar to the assertions by the IYP sales team.
How good is this data?
My experience is that the data is far from accurate with regard to actual and intended local searches. For about 4-5 years I have at least one business which has fortunately ranked at #'s 1,2, or 3 for generic industry business terms for a business. We get enormous traffic for the business for those searches. They never include our geography.
Surveys never include these types of searches as part of a "local inquiry". Furthermore Greg has shown with repeated articles that goods or products are invariably marketed on the web via businesses and chains. The products are invariably purchased locally and not off the web. Finally, I and a great number of webmasters with large numbers of local clients invariably find that advertising for your local client via PPC on a local basis turns up innumerable contacts, leads and sales.
The information on local searches never includes this data.
Search for local goods invariably underreports how many searches with local intent are made.
Secondly with regard to usage of IYP's I did my own research several years ago off the AOL dump of about 20 million searches. I hand counted several categories of goods and services and cross checked them against usage of IYP's and other sources.
In other words, do the IYP's and other sources of paid web advertising get traffic because they were highly ranked in organic searches....or do customers go directly to these directories and then search for products and services within them.
My limited findings suggested that IYP usage was probably about 50% dependant on high organic rankings within the search engines. In other words, the only reason IYP's even got 50% of their traffic was because the IYP's had high rankings for a particular topic, product, or service. If the IYP's don't emphasize the product and don't show well with regard to searches, why bother with them.
To further investigate I looked at another piece on IYP's provided by Greg covering the ten most searched for topics in IYPs.
Take a look at those topics and you'll find a lot of high rankings by IYP's for each category for most metro markets. My business doesn't fall within one of those categories.
After looking at those categories take a look at the number of businesses listed within the IYP list itself. If the list is very long with some businesses paying for premium top position and the others listed alphabetically, one could be paying a lot simply to be on another list.
Then there is the categorization situation with regard to businesses. Traditional YP's kept to certain tight categories. As businesses evolved and changed, the traditional IYP's haven't kept up with these additional categories. In fact, if one were to compare popular search phrases with IYP categories there might be significant differences that could present problems in getting one's business shown.
What about IYP market share? There are various studies about which IYP's dominate. Most recently on a national basis the 2 market leaders, Superpages.com and Yellowpages.com seem to hover around 20% of all IYP traffic. Their totals include their networks of smaller web IP's (more on that later). Advertising on one doesn't get me visibility on the others.
Then there is an alternative view of IYP market share developed by my friend Mike Blumenthal at his blog on Understanding Google Maps and Yahoo Local wherein he suggested that IYP market share discussions are irrelevant.
The IYP sales team really pitched its market share and the spread of the ads in other sites such as Mapquest YP and a host of other web IP's.
So we checked out some customers. One of his customers wasn't showing through the network. Uh oh. There goes some visibility.
I have a long historical perspetive on this for the customer in mind, having tracked traffic off our logs and analytical programs for about 4-5 years.
Years ago before we gained better organic rankings we had considerable traffic from IYP's and various topical and vertical directory listings. As soon as our organic listings soared above all the other sources....that all dried up.
What about pricing and terms? Damn this IYP. They still work off this antiquated hard book pricing program wherein they carve up a geographical area. That means in order to get full coverage I'd have to buy a multiple of market areas. What about term of contract? Again these guys are working off old print YP concepts. They will only sell the service for a 1 year contract with monthly payments.
I like 1 year terms when I have options between shorter and longer terms and discounts for choosing the longer term. No options with the IYP. That is totally unacceptable. This is the web. They can put the ad up and take it down in a moment. Its nothing like a big print directory.
Now I have some old free listings in some IYP's. You know what....scarcely any traffic at all from these sources. Finally I looked at one industry competitor for the industry who is advertising on a national basis (gets a great discount for it) and can spread the visibility around for about 30 markets. At the deep discounted national rate, the meager traffic was worth it. For my region though....that traffic doesn't compute.
Like any advertising option I want to get some bang for my buck. IYP's too expensive and unflexible for my taste. On the other hand, based on what I saw in my own research for IYP usage....if I was in a category wherein IYP's get a lot of visibility and wherein the IYP's show highly in the engines....I might put money into it.