Yellow Pages for business: Is a Yellow Page listing worth it in 2023?

The once flourishing Yellow Pages business was one of the many victims of the onslaught dealt at the hands of the digital revolution. These legacy directories were unprepared for the speed and force by which the digital economy was to take the reins in advertising, marketing, and most other industries.

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But, it’s not all doom and gloom for Yellow Pages for business and other similar directories. Mergers and consolidations have run rampant across the Western world, but the reality is that these are only temporary fixes. Clients and revenues are in decline. Transformation is a necessity.

The directories that will still be standing in a decade will be those that have become full-service digital marketing and advertising providers.

What are the Yellow Pages?

The Yellow Pages is a comprehensive business directory that facilitates the discovery of businesses by users searching for local stores, service providers, and more. All kinds of local businesses can create a listing. However, it’s most commonly used to find businesses like medical and dental clinics, restaurants, grocery stores, local home services providers, auto repair shops, and other brick-and-mortar, consumer-facing establishments or local service businesses.

Today, the Yellow Pages is primarily an online platform. The online Yellow Pages directory serves multiple purposes, including providing users with information about known businesses, identifying comparable local enterprises within a given category (for example, helping users find local sushi restaurants), and providing companies with an advertising platform.

For many, the Yellow Pages may be more familiar as a physical directory—a hefty book—that used to be automatically delivered to all households annually. As the internet era dawned, the Yellow Pages adapted and transitioned to a digital platform.

So do they still make the Yellow Pages book? Yes, it’s worth noting that the physical Yellow Pages does still exist. Rather than being automatically sent to households, people can opt-in to receive it. Needless to say, this means the distribution is quite small and limited to older people who are more accustomed to using a physical directory.

Yellow Pages business: A rich history

The first official Yellow Pages directory dates all the way back to 1886. This was a print directory that listed the telephone numbers of residents and businesses. From 1886 until the phased end of most print product earlier this year, “phonebooks” like these were distributed for free to residents around the world. Revenue was generated through sales of advertising slots in the phonebook.

For a generation before the internet, the phonebook was a right of passage and a means of surviving the day-to-day. If your kid flushed another toy down the toilet and you didn’t know a plumber, then you better bet that you were turning to your phonebook.

The most recent piece of directory history was the advent of the “IYP”. This is essentially the name attached to all online business directories; or vertical-specific directories. These directories are many and can be consumer or business-facing.

Some names you might recognize include Yelp, Better Business Bureau, Foursquare, Angi, and many more. Traditional Yellow Page companies have also morphed into digital directories, with the Yellow Pages directory ranking as one of the top ten listing sources in the world, alongside many of the names mentioned above.

The industry has evolved. The final Yellow Pages phone book was printed in 2019. Most remaining Yellow Page companies are in the process of becoming full-service digital marketing agencies, or else developing proprietary tech of their own to take to the local business market (ex. Thryv).

Some Yellow Page companies are weathering the storm, but many were washed away by the tides of change. Here’s where it went wrong.

Yellow Page for business listing: Fatal errors

Make no mistake, many directories are struggling. The industry is running rampant with mergers and acquisitions, but this is only a short-term fix to the long-term reality; digital reform or death.

How did this happen?

1. Underestimating the long run

Many traditional directories, including the Yellow Pages directory, have faced challenges adapting to the digital era. While most businesses recognized the long-term importance of digital transformation, they often underestimated the short-term impact of technological shifts.

This phenomenon can be better understood through Amara's Law: We generally overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate its impact in the long run.

For the Yellow Pages, there’s no denying that this oversight hindered their transition into the digital space. While they may have been aware of a digital future on the horizon and intended to adapt, they underestimated how rapidly the landscape would change. As a result, they struggled to keep up with the evolving demands of customers and the fast-paced digital environment, and more savvy competitors have taken over. Local listings are as important as ever, but Yellow Pages for business isn’t the first choice of most local enterprises.

2. The confusion

One of the most confusing parts of the boom was the lack of impact on the Yellow Pages for business. As the digital market began to flourish in the late 90s, Yellow Page for business advertising revenues also hit record highs. These were confusing signals for everyone.

The company actually achieved record share prices in 2006. But, do you know what else was happening around this period? LinkedIn launched in ‘03, Facebook in ‘04, YouTube in ‘05, Twitter in ‘06, and Google was approaching age 10. It would’ve been difficult for even the best analysts to predict the landslide that would ensue in the decade to come.

3. The experience equation

The strength of early digital alternatives compared to traditional tactics (like phonebooks) was not simply the fact that they were novel. The strength rested in the way that digitally transformed the user experience and the way consumers could interact with their advertising.

The core of digital solutions lies in the almost complete reduction of both user and customer toil. The digital evolution transformed expectations through automated behaviors, a service emphasis, and better performance reporting. Suddenly, advertisers could access valuable analytics in a way that simply wasn’t possible with a traditional Yellow Page business listing.

Yellow Pages, like many older directories, missed the memo in transforming their user experience as digital took the advertising economy by storm.

Yellow Pages tomorrow: Internet Yellow Pages

Yellow Page companies are well into their shift to digital, but there’s still work to be done. Customer loss (churn) and the lingering impacts of Yellow Pages’ reputation as a primarily physical directory are some of the greatest challenges facing the business as they embrace the future of local listings management and advertising.

Mobilization of resources to deploy digital strategies and combat churn will be a key determiner of success and survival for the decade ahead.

Here are the real strategies that are working today for internet Yellow Pages and other directories.

1. Launching sub-brands or rebranding initiatives

In most Western markets, the Yellow Pages brand is associated with the big yellow book that used to arrive on your doorstep back when dial-up internet was still a thing. The once powerful Yellow Page name now acts primarily as a consumer signal of an extinct traditional media outlet. As a result, many of the brands that are “thryving” today (pun intended), are those operating under new names or name extensions.

For example, DexYP (the American giant) recently rebranded its entire company under its proprietary small business software, Thryv. This is sure to be just the beginning of major rebrands to take place in the directory space.

Maybe a more contemporary-feeling, digital-only version of Yellow Pages for business could be the right move for the storied company.

2. Offering digital marketing solutions

Legacy Yellow Page clients came to the company for one simple reason: Yellow Page advertising. Yellow Pages used to be a near necessity in the marketing portfolio for most local businesses. But then, the inevitable happened: consumers increasingly took their product searches to the internet.

With that, social media, digital ads, search marketing, listing management, and the rest of the internet ecosystem gradually eroded the need for Yellow Page marketing. Clients’ needs have changed, and instead of allocating their budgets to Yellow Pages advertisement costs, they have shifted to PPC ads and other more current strategies.

There are a few problems worth noting for directories going digital. The main roadblocks to offering digital marketing solutions are:

  1. Developing proprietary solutions in-house is laborious and costly: Businesses like Yellow Pages face the need for specialized expertise, constant technological advancements, and increased competition.
  2. Competition is fierce in the digital marketing sector: With countless service providers and platforms offering cutting-edge tools and services, evolving to meet the local listing needs of businesses in 2023 means competing with established industry players who have extensive resources and expertise at their disposal.
  3. Vendor integrations are complex, expensive, and detract from brand value: using a range of clunky and costly integrations can cut into profit margins.

But, there are other options. Many directories and providers of advertising solutions are switching to working with white-label service providers like Vendasta as a means to skip the custom development process, while also maintaining brand recognition through the deployment of new technology.

By using a white label marketplace, it’s possible to quickly expand the solutions available to clients and become a one-stop shop for them. Local clients are looking for a marketing partner that can provide them with the most value in a single place. In fact, a recent Vendasta churn study proved that selling a small to medium-sized business (SMB) a single solution proved a retention rate of only 30% after two years. Selling that same SMB 4 products drove that retention rate up to 80%. Using digital marketplaces and white-label solutions makes scaling up and adding multiple solutions possible.

Companies like Yellow Pages Canada have realized this opportunity and are currently offering solutions to meet a breadth of business needs in the digital space.

3. Leveraging Automation to Lean-Up

Human capital is often the most costly capital of all. The trouble with adding new digital offerings is that you then have to learn how to sell them, create new marketing messages, develop fresh sales tactics, write new sales and email scripts, and more.

Directories that are succeeding are those that have adopted powerful sales and marketing platforms that can help them automate the sales process, so they can minimize toil and maximize sales efficiencies. For example, the Snapshot Report is an automated prospecting tool that helps companies perform a comprehensive needs assessment on any potential business in their market.

4. Proving Performance

Another major problem that often accompanies vendor integrations is the fragmentation that occurs when different products may not communicate effectively. Worse yet, when they can communicate, it might be through various login portals and gateways, creating a dissatisfactory user experience. This is a challenge, but can also be a major point of differentiation for directories that can synthesize their reporting into a comprehensive dashboard.

In fact, according to the Vendasta Churn Study, SMBs who receive regular proof of performance reports have a 38% increased retention rate compared to SMBs who do not.

5. Offering services to get stickier

You get the point by now: SaaS products are an entry requirement to the modern advertising ecosystem. However, not every marketing and advertising provider in your competitive landscape is providing clients with services and fulfillment to complement their product offerings.

They’re missing out because services are the glue that binds a B2B relationship. Simply engaging with your clients weekly can increase retention. If you can offer your clients all of the products they need and the services that can enable them to spend less time doing manual marketing work—then you’re going to be the partner that lasts.

Yellow Page advertising: Is it worth it in 2023?

Ultimately, whether or not Yellow Pages advertising is worth offering in 2023 depends on the audience and niche in which your clients operate. Even though Yellow Pages for business offers a range of solutions, including old-school print listings and digital marketing solutions, there’s no denying that the brand and its associated products aren’t at the top of the list in terms of familiar marketing platforms for today’s consumers.

Like anything, there are pros and cons to Yellow Page for business advertising. Understanding these can help you determine if it's worth adding them to your suite of advertising solutions.

Benefits of Yellow Page for business advertising

  • Build local exposure: Yellow Page listings can be, like other local listings, an effective way for local businesses to get discovered by customers in their vicinity. Advertising for local businesses is all about targeting within a narrow geographic area, so anything that offers location-based targeting can be helpful. Whether users search directly on Yellow Pages or find listings through Google Search, a local presence is essential for getting discovered by target audiences.
  • Boost SEO performance: Incorporating more local listings into your clients' marketing strategy can enhance their online visibility and improve search engine rankings. In local search, the number and quality of listings is a direct ranking factor. Yellow Page advertising can help listings on the platform get boosted, potentially contributing to improved SEO performance for your clients' businesses.
  • Access to a unique audience: While it may not be possible to compete with the sheer vastness of audiences accessible through other advertising platforms like Google, Yellow Page advertising may get your clients in front of a unique audience pool. For example, businesses with a target audience of seniors may be well-suited to advertising with Yellow Pages.

Drawbacks of Yellow Page advertising

  • Budget allocation: As a provider of digital services, allocating your clients' budgets wisely is of the utmost importance. It will directly determine the ROI you can generate for them, which in turn will impact client retention. While Yellow Pages offer some advantages, alternative platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Google may deliver a higher returns for most businesses.
  • Association with a dated brand: The Yellow Pages brand is generally associated with a pre-digital era, potentially making it seem outdated. This perception may impact the effectiveness of advertising on the platform, as users might gravitate toward more contemporary alternatives.
  • Free digital listings: Businesses can create a Yellow Page listing digitally for free, without the need to incur any Yellow Pages advertisement costs. For many companies, a basic listing may suffice, making it difficult to justify investing in further advertising on the platform. With a listing on the online Yellow Pages directory, businesses can still enjoy the local SEO-boosting benefits discussed above, while focusing their spending on platforms that will deliver better results for each advertising dollar.

The decision to invest in Yellow Page for business advertising in 2023 ultimately depends on your client's specific needs and target audience. Diversification is productive in many areas of digital marketing: having more active social media profiles is generally positive, as is having more local listings, for example. However, when it comes to advertising, the same principle doesn’t necessarily apply. You just might be able to deliver excellent advertising results by focusing on platforms with wider reach, like Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, Google, or even TikTok.

Final thoughts on the online Yellow Pages directory

It’s not just the Yellow Page sector that’s in turmoil; digital disruption has left virtually no industry unharmed. Recent news showed that TV ad spending fell 4% in 2019, representing the greatest drop since the ‘09 recession.

It’s simple. Digital is no longer just an option. Media sales today require understanding and staying on top of digital developments, and largely moving away from traditional advertising.

The market has evolved and so must the Yellow Page for Business and directory spaces if they are to compete with more well-established digital advertising platforms.

This doesn’t mean directories don’t play an important role: they are essential to the success of local businesses, and many are finding creative ways to embrace the digital future and work advertising into their business models.

This is the future for directories. Will it be yours?

About the Author

Brock is a Former Marketing Analyst at Vendasta with a passion for the more creative things in life. He also answers to Archie - for obvious reasons... And when he's not putting his fingers in paint, or saving Riverdale, he can usually be found asking Google one of the many more embarrassing "how to" questions.

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