Why the Internet and Google Kills The Yellow Pages

May 15, 2011

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On the most recent SuperMedia Verizon Yellow Pages earnings call the company’s CEO Peter McDonald, the 3rd CEO in 4 years for Idearc/SuperMedia, was asked a question:

“Okay. And then last question. I was wondering if you could comment on —

Google recently changed their algorithm for searches, if that’s affected small business? And if you’ve seen any impact from that?

SuperMedia CEO Peter McDonald replied:

“I really don’t –I don’t keep up with Google changing their algorithm. I think they do it every day.”

He also probably doesn’t consider Google or Bing Local competitors. This is a sad reality. You see, back when folks like Chris Silver Smith and his team of SEO experts ran SuperPages.com, the site was the #1 local search destination and was the site that Google used most for citations or references to local listings. The site had tremendous authority. Client content in the form of business profiles ranked high on Google for terms like “painting service Denver” and other category/geography keyword combinations.

The yellow pages are facing continued decline of use, which is attributed to a shift in local search from printed books to cell phones etc. People once needed the book to order a pizza, now they turn to a mobile application or simple search for “pizza” on Google for local results.

Peter is an old school print YP dinosaur who doesn’t get it. He probably thinks that half of Americans prefer the printed yellow pages local search product over the internet local search. This is only true in small rural areas. Peter is a yellow pages preacher. He preaches his faith regardless whether science and academia state otherwise. Peter will hire lobbyist to prevent municipalities from creating opt-out programs that circumvent his industry’s attempt to collect consumer data with opt-outs. When homeowners associations begin to put restrictions on yellow pages delivery it will be too late..

SuperMedia just announced plans to layoff 267 employees because businesses no longer need listings in the phone book to be found….. Why not? People don’t use the yellow pages or white pages to research local business information such as addresses and phone numbers. The call center they are closing once handled a bulk of the company’s business, including all the low-cost mailout renewal accounts. These accounts consisted of multi-heading and bold fonts etc. The demand for such a thing is non-existent.

Google’s algorythm change and the inability of Peter McDonald and his team to invest the time to “keep up with it” is exactly why SuperPages doesn’t get the traffic to client websites that it once did.

Another potential area of focus or failure for local search websites is the Social check-in, group buying and engagement sites. These sites are great response tools for measuring subscribers or the online social user-base. Unfortunately the yellow pages again have failed to adapt. They don’t seem to understand the word “subscription”. People don’t subscribe to the yellow pages. You must unsubscribe to get them to stop polluting your front porch or lawn with the once bulky books. If you continue to solicit your products to people that do not want them, fail to offer them a clear and easy means of opting out, your industry will fail by not respecting and appreciating consumer demand. Time to close up shop.

Check-in ratings are real. Use FourSquare or Gowalla and see how competitive it is to become a “mayor” of your local school or Starbucks. This is a great way to see the level of social engagement in your area. Something measurable vs drinking the company mantra and Kool-Aid.

Google loves a well optimized small business website. Which is better, a SMB website or Internet Yellow Pages listing? The answer is the SMB website.

I have also found that link-building from niche blog sites works well, just like topical content link-building from regional news sites and press releases.

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So you prefer Google over getting ink on your fingers with the Yellow Pages…. it’s time to “OPT OUT” of Yellow Pages industry wasteful saturation distribution methods.

October 26, 2009

Saturation Distribution…………. it’s just WRONG!

Photo by Lulu Vision via Flickr
photo by Lulu Vision


It appears that the Public Relations folks at the major yellow pages directory companies are pushing folks on Twitter to use www.yellowpagesoptout.com to stop receiving copies of the printed yellow pages. Well…. TODAY is the day. I am going to call and opt out of getting the books since I no longer need to participate in “distribution surveys” for work. (I no longer work for Idearc Media / Verizon Yellow Pages & Superpages.com). Let’s see if I get anymore books.

Personally I believe that getting a phone book is a necessity for many people. I just believe it needs to be “opted in” instead of “opted out”. Although it appears the industry can afford to lobby to prevent anti solicitation and spam bills, it is apparent that consumers do not have a strong voice in the matter.

Many 3rd party websites exist where consumers are able to get involved in selecting what yellow pages media they want to receive or be “disturbed” by. Sites such as:

http://www.PaperlessPetition.org says:

New research by The Kelsey Group indicates that consumer local media preferences are in transition, influenced by demographic factors, including age, income and education. The younger and more educated and affluent consumers are, the more they tend to utilize online resources at the expense of traditional media.

For example, the survey revealed that just 44% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34, and only 28% of teens said they would turn to print Yellow Pages first when looking for local listings. On the other hand, 47% of these respondents said their first choice would be search engines.

“There’s a very clear age factor,” said Kelsey Group analyst Neal Polachek. He added that as consumers who are most accustomed to using the Web begin to enter their 30s, when they have more disposable income and are making bigger purchases, so too will businesses in their local advertising. “All of a sudden, you’re looking for schools, you own a house, you’re looking for mortgages — big purchase decisions. Those people will never have had the built-in habit of picking up the print Yellow Pages.”[5]

This research illustrates the decreasing demand for printed directories and the increasing usage of search engines for local information. We should all be following the youth’s lead, not only because their methods are faster and more efficient, but to also help preserve our planet’s limited resources.

Help Stop the Waste!

WhitePages.com sponsored site www.banthephonebook.org says:

Did you know that up to 5 million trees are cut down each year to create the white pages phone book and that taxpayers are spending $17 million each year to have these books recycled? Even more surprising is that almost 75% of consumers are completely unaware of the environmental and financial impact in printing, delivering and recycling these books. Given that you likely use online directories, social networks and mobile phone applications to find the contact information you need, it simply does not make sense to have the white pages phone books forcefully delivered to us every year.

Of course the industry asks you to go to a site it created www.yellowpagesoptout.com to opt out of directory distribution. Many have said that the site does not work as it simply asks you to spend hours on the phone attempting to tell the publisher’s you do not want a book. It has also been found that DEX does a pretty good job of following consumer wishes and leaves a nice door hanger asking you to request a phone book if you opt out (kudos to Dex for doing what people ask).

With YellowPagesOptOut the industry is apparently asking consumers to make a choice of which phone book they do want to receive if any. Maybe the PR folks at Idearc need to state, “Opt Out of Phone Books you don’t want, keep the one with the SuperGuarantee“.

Yellow Pages Industry says Consumers have a Choice....

In my opinion saturation distribution methods are wrong. You see, before the existence of the internet folks needed phone books. It was almost a necessity. How do consumers stop getting copies of phone books? It is not with opting out or opting in… it is by not using the phone book, disposing of it, voice opinions about it, telling businesses that advertise in it you prefer they didn’t, and rewarding publishers who do as you ask. I believe that consumers in many areas of the United States still need phone books. Most of rural America needs the phone book. Unfortunately publishers do not care about providing books based on need. Around 2006 when Verizon Yellow Pages became Idearc Media the company ceased distribution of many rural area books in the state of Texas. Why? It was not as profitable to publish these books since ad costs for smaller markets was significantly less than larger ones and a lack of sales made it a challenge to achieve profitable margins. Smaller publishers seem to make profits and produce a better product in these areas (San Angelo Tx and Bryan-College Station consumers prefer the Area Wide Directory over the Verizon Yellow Pages). Maybe it is the one size fits all approach or the “unachievable” margins the big telco publishers are attempting to receive?

Regardless of how print publishers react to a change in consumer behavior (this change has been taking place since the birth of the internet…. it is not like they have not had enough warning to react) going forward, it is up to consumer’s and advertisers to stop receiving phone books. Publisher’s will continue to lobby our elected officials and will also continue with the “saturation distribution” method. I used to think this issue would fix itself in a “supply and demand” fashion, but it is apparent that supply/demand does not always work, especially when media ad costs may justify cost of distribution. The consumers that do not want the product are forced to get it because some consumers do use the product and advertisers profit from this.

I don’t think I am the only one that believes a yellow page “distribution by subscription” method would be a wise strategy. If you want to increase value, find out who really does use your product. In the hands of the right target market the yellow pages is a very powerful product. I have always told my clients that if you want to be the best website on the internet, become an authority. The best websites are subscribed to. The best magazines are subscribed to. The best TV shows are TIVO’d or subscribed to. The best phone books will also be requested and subscribed to. I would love to be an advertiser in a phone book were the consumer actually requested the product.

BTW, how much is a phone book worth to a recycling company? If I recall the amount of glue in the spine makes it a challenge to recycle.

Additional Yellow Pages Industry Facts

* North American Yellow Pages Print Distribution: 540 million directories
* Global Industry Revenue: $26 billion
* U.S. Industry Revenue: $14 billion
* Revenue from printed directories: 97%
* Revenue from online directories: 3%

There are over 7,000 different titles of Yellow Pages, including competing industry-specific, ethnic-targeted, and “underlay” or neighborhood-specific titles. There are no strict rules, other than market demand, limiting the number of Yellow Pages titles to be printed in a single market. For example, this year in Southern California, it is possible that a person could have over 10 Yellow Pages directories dropped on their doorstep from 10 different publishers. It is also noteworthy that with a distribution of 540 million, there are more directories dropped than the entire population of North America. This industry practice is called “saturation distribution.”

What is “Saturation Distribution”?

In the past, anyone with a landline automatically received a printed copy of the Yellow Pages. But today, with the landline exodus to mobile phones, and considering drops at large apartment buildings or corporate campuses, directory publishers use “Saturation Distribution” to ensure that enough printed copies are available.[1] This means that an over-estimated number of copies are dropped to ensure that everyone gets a copy. Even more waste.
The Biggest Players in the Yellow Pages Game:[2]

RANK MEDIA COMPANY NET DIRECTORY REVENUE
1 SBC Communications $3.8 Billion
2 Verizon Communications $3.6 Billion
3 BellSouth Corp. $2.0 Billion
4 Dex Media $1.7 Billion
5 Yellow Book USA (Yell Group) $1.1 Billion

If you want to share your thoughts directly with the Yellow Pages Association:
Yellow Pages Association (YPA)

Global Headquarters
Two Connell Drive, First Floor
Berkeley Heights, N.J. 07922-2747
(908) 286-2380
(908) 286-0620 (Fax)

Mr. Negley (Neg) Norton
President, Yellow Pages Association (YPA)
908 286-2385
Neg.Norton@ypassociation.org


Will Idearc/Verizon Yellow Pages and RHD Consider Accepting Directory Distribution Opt Out Lists

October 20, 2009

Revealing Update on Dex’s Phone Directory Dumping « by John Harvey Irwin – Will Idearc & RHD consider accepting alternative opt out lists from verified providers? ( http://ping.fm/cMQdn )