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.
Part of the pricing problem is that the sales reps compensation if heavily dependent on commission, so they oversell and invariably screw themselves out of the renewal for the savvy advertisers. They don't particularly care because they're after short term goals and there's plenty of leads for them to contact.
I had dealings with them in my past role... and back then we decided to stay far away from their PPC offering. It was way overpriced and offered virtually no tracking/metrics.
Great post Dave, thanks for sharing your experience and research. It's quite an interesting topic for me, since I work on an IYP type of site.
We know that we have a long way to go, to catch the big guns in the B2C space:
Blue = superpages.com
Red = yellowpages.com
Orange = manta.com
But we're making headway against the known B2B players:
Blue = manta.com
Red = business.com
Orange = globalspec.com
Green = macraesbluebook.com
Purple = thomasnet.com
Find your company listing on Manta.com and claim it for free - upload a logo, add detailed info, contact info and (seo friendly) links
I would assume only a test would really answer the question. Is it too expensive to do a test run for a month?
How right you are on the salesforce and commission aspect of the business:
From Screenwerk, here is some data on the Yellowbook operations, which is the US portion of this British owned business with directories in GB, US, and Spain, if not some other nations:
Total employees 7692
Total sales employees 5790
Directory editions 984
Yellowbook unique advertisers 686,000
Yellowbook advertiser retention rate 70%
Yellowbook revenue per unique advertiser $2,762
Yellowbook.com unique vistors (March 2008) (b) 13.5m
No wonder they couldn't get the information for the customer I referenced in the other network partners.....Everyone in the company is selling.....Not enough people are doing follow up.
DD: They only do 1 year contracts. How corporate of them. Ugh.
Originally Posted by dazzlindonna
I've always viewed them as an absolute last resort, meaning...
If I have cash flowing through PPC and feel I have tapped out my potential on traffic, Im ranking #1 for all of my needed keywords, then it might just be time to work with the IYP.
the 61% of searches first using the web I think is actually low, especially now a days. Yellow pages average (and I think this is on the low end) $20.00 per acquisition, while SEO is $8.50, and direct mail is @ $70.00 per. Now that yellow pages number I dont believe is taking into account IYP's, just the actual local directory, but still gives you some points from which to work from.
You mentioned you've got the PPC down, how are you doing on the actual SERP positioning for those keywords? Picking up those keywords are going to free up cash from the PPC campaign to drop into the IYP or even improving your other rankings, which in turn gets you even more cash to use from the PPC.
thanks for the comments James.
Originally Posted by jstcrzyengh
As regards the stats, I quickly and simply accessed some recent market reports. Who knows. I'm doubtful with regard to IYP traffic for a variety of reasons as I indicated above.
As to costs, where do your numbers come from? Are they direct experiences you have or are they from some other sources? I'd be interested to know.
For one business I'm sort of indifferent to web advertising expenditures.....to a point. Most revenues are web generated. Organic rankings are very high across the board for about 100+ potential location oriented phrases (all of which are 2ndary. PPC rankings are high. The PPC cost is relatively high but we could triple it and not have it significantly impact the business. Most other traditional advertising has been shed.
For a different business in the same industry, revenues are tight and so I gotta watch it and evaluate costs far more closely. It matters.
I don't have an industry that is popular with IYP's. I think I'd look far more closely if the IYP's could show me significant traffic in the industry.
In fact, relative to DD's question, I think I might go back to these guys, and relative to DD's question above and Pittbug's comment relative to pricing reflecting the commission factor in the business I might try something else to get lower prices.
I like to experiment.
Here is simplified business advice I heard long ago from someone in a different business and different application but I totally believe in it with regard to many, many applications.
Experiment with a lot of things. Keep doing the things that work. Discard the things that don't work.
The data comes from: The New Ecommerce Decade: The Age of Micro Targeting
I won't even read this whole post to tell you that online yp advertising is a scam. I won't go into detail of how I am educated on this subject, but lets just say that I know their situation very well first hand.
For one, if you opt in their ppc program, guess who is going to click on your ads for local searches? Solicitors! That's right! Other companies fish the yellowpages.com and superpages.com websites for current quality leads. And they are clicking on your ads over 75% of the time on average.
Furthermore, these 2 sites are managed by iderac media who is also in charge of the paper yellow pages advertising. Yellow page phone books are used 20% less each year for the last 4 years in a row while online searches are picking up the slack. Just look at Idearc's stock on wallstreet. Last year they were around 45 bucks a share. Today they are anound .75 cents. If they stay under a buck for 30 days, they will be kicked off the stock market and have to try to sell their 7 billion dollars of debt to the next ideot that thinks yellow pages are still hot.
Iderac is offering paper ads this next round for 1/3rd the normal cost. Why? Because business owners are getting smarter and won't pay those silly outragous yp prices anymore for 60-80% less calls than 4 years ago. They are also offering (what sounds like) sweet deals for online marketing to go along with your yp page listing. STAY AWAY!!!! Unless you want more sales calls and a giant bill for it for all the low quality clicks they charge you for on their sites.
You can get by with just a bold listing in the YP pages and a free listing on their sites with the exact same damn results.
Good luck and goodnight.
Good post. I'll take all the advertising calls for 2 businesses. For one business I'm handling, we can afford to spend an extra. For the other one we are running far tighter and need to analyze everything very closely.
I've been besieged by IYP and hard cover YP sales people.
On the latest round I took a meeting with a book YP sales guy for one business. I told him on the phone we were disgusted w/ YP results, and have continued to pay for and run it w/out results for a couple of years.
He pitched a meeting, saying he would give me "more for less money".
He came in representing 6 books for one region. I think at max we might have been in up to 18 regional books. Our spend last year for the 4 books was about $250/month-> no display ads, just a couple of ads with extra description.
He fiddled around and offered me everything w/display one w/ color one w/out for either $290 or 320/month. That is the exact opposite of what I'm interested in. I told him all I'm interested in are lowest costs possible for the the 4 big of the 6 books. He left and said he'd get back to me.
The damn sales must be totally wrapt up in commission. He could have presented me w/ lowest cost options but didn't. I doubt if I'll hear from him.
What a joke. The guy had a low cost sale right in front of him and walked.
The ad product isn't getting sold, because he didn't have incentive....or maybe negative incentive to make it.
What a waste. I hope YP goes under.