30 thoughts on “Annual Print YP Death Watch”

  1. Mike,

    Our firm dropped our print yp ad 2 years ago and have seen absolutely no decline in incoming calls. Print YP ads are a thing of the past and will only continue to decline. I imagine the folks that still use the Yellow Pages are the same folks that still carry a check book to the grocery store to buy their groceries.

    -RSC

  2. They had a good run, not many business models produce for so long. The bell tolls for thee yellowpages!

    From my very limited experience, the digital side is severly lacking too. The pitch still seems to be buy a bigger color print ad…with the added attributes of worthless (mistargeted for the most part) featured listings, website, seo, email services..all amounting to a waste of money for an unknowing SMB still struggling to reach local customers.

    Let’s hope that kind of monkey business doesn’t last another 100+ years.

    Dollars to donuts nobody is calculating any ROI with the national & regional advertisers still in play. Unless of course its the agency of record reporting esoteric statistics rather than defineable KPIs.

  3. @Shannon
    Yes I assume that’s true. What I see in the research is that print YP are more popular in older age groups and in the mid west. So depending on your practice area they might still offer some limited value.

  4. I manage PYP (among many other local marketing programs) for such a large national advertiser and can share that we do calculate our returns on PYP quite thoroughly. Our ROI calculations are done at the individual book level and back out PYP-attributed calls that actually came from our PYP tracking phone numbers being scraped online as well as filtering out spam calls, repeat calls, and calls that are too short to be lead-attributable.

    Cost per lead generated quite simply comes down to what is falling faster: consumer usage of PYP, or the cost we/our locations pay for the ads.

    I can’t share specifics publicly other than to generalize that while our ROIs have been in decline, in MANY markets PYP remains a viable and cost-effective spend decision for us AND for our local offices (co-op model). Cost per lead is on the rise, it can’t sniff that of basically free local search/G+, and of course PYP can no longer serve as the sole marketing tool for a local SMB, but for us it continues to have a positive and substantially higher ROI than numerous other local advertising avenues we test (in our vertical, that includes AdWords).

    That said, your premise remains highly appropriate – how long will this situation last? After all, that phone book becomes pretty useless when there’s only one plumber listed in it! Still, the fact that your (and my, and many others’) PYP death watch has been going on for years also suggests that the stories of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

  5. @Matt
    Thanks for the quantitative feedback! I am curious if you have tracked ROI by age? Not only does the book lose value as the size gets smaller but it loses value as the users die off. Perhaps the death of the medium requires the death of several generations of older users.

  6. I presume you mean age of user not age of book. Unfortunately we haven’t – doing so quantitatively would require more time listening to sample calls than we have time (or interest/use) to tackle. But anecdotally (& I believe even according to YP-published and 3rd party studies) I think you’re definitely right on the older age skew.

  7. @Mike

    Dealing with customers both on the digital and YP side, you’re exactly right when you say the yellow pages are still “working” for businesses in some areas of the midwest. It’s also interesting how the different books operate in terms of negotiations as well. They’re trying to maintain your ad spend by throwing in some added benefits (like online YPs) which really haven’t moved the needle much at all in my experience.

  8. I still work with a few companies that use PYP effectively in terms of getting enough ROI to continue. It’s less effective than their online marketing efforts in terms of cost per lead, but part of the allure of being a consistent YP advertiser is that legacy ads in prior year’s publications bring more consistent lead flow so for those companies that are in the book year in and year out believe they are building some kind of equity in their advertising circulation. So, for newer advertisers it’s getting worse and worse likely but for established advertisers, the hook might be tied to the benefit of consistent, repeated circulation over years that bring in a more solid lead flow.

    All that said, I agree it’s a dying beast, but legacy advertisers might be putting the band aids on the bullet holes.

  9. @Matt
    Another way to assess the affect by age would be by proxy. For example if someone got motorcycle insurance they are likely to be younger than someone that got elder care insurance.

    @Justin
    Yes I wouldn’t right them off completely as certain markets and market areas seem to still have a positive ROI… but it is important to track and know the relative value of the buy. Most SMBs are not sophisticated enough to do that and the likes of Dex are probably going to push them into call tracking numbers if they ask.

  10. For what it’s worth I can share my experience as a small business owner advertising in PYP. I started in 2006 with a super cheap ad. Something like $250 for the year for a small in column listing. Got calls right away.

    Increased each year to a large budget of around $900/month and got a consistent ROI of around 11 to 1 at my peak time of 2009 & 2010. Started to notice a steady decline in call volume between 2011 & 2012 and a major decline in the last 4 months.

    With that said I can honestly say PYP works great for many businesses for different reasons. But there is an undeniable decline in usage. That is apparent in all the PYP reps now pushing “online ad” packages.

  11. Mike
    1)I am in the Verizon Yellowpages (SuperPages) which is the dominant PYP in my market. Hampton Roads Virginia (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake) are the main cities. I believe the distrubution is around 700,000
    2)Age ranges from 30 and up, but predominantly over 45

    One fact that can kill a small biz in PYP is that the phone books do a 1 year contract. When you have several books in an area you can see a definite decrease in call volume as the year progresses.

    This is because when one book “drops” people start using that book. With the dominant book in the area this decrease doesn’t start to happen until later in the year.

    For example with me the phone book drops in Oct. I get a very high call volume for 4 months then it starts to decline noticeably. Then in Aug & Sept it decreases dramatically.

  12. Right up there with the death watch for AOL/Patch, which will probably happen first.

  13. If no one uses these books than how would you explain YOY call tracking volumes being up 15+% last year??

    Even if you want to believe that usage in a metro area is as low as say 25%, does local newspaper or TV or direct mail or even the much cherished internet reach that level 24 by 7 by 365 (and we’re not talking about playing around on the net or posting on Facebook — we’re talking local buying), at the same cost levels for a small business??? I think not.

    Of course there are more sources for a buying consumer to use these days. PYP is just one of them.

  14. Ken
    Without having the full data set in front of me I would start explaining them by looking at call tracking abuses on the Internet that some IYPs are perpetrating.

  15. I don’t have the time or talent to communicate fully how despicable, and I would say nefarious some IYP are in both conduct and corporate culture.

    Mike is aware of a recent case where a client was utilizing DEX tracking numbers, and publishing the clients web site and address with this tracking number on higher authority local directories to encourage calls to said tracking number. Short story, INHO The additional Local directories were viewed as conflicting with the clients listing as far as phone number. They also published the tracking number with Clients name, and a new web site with a different URL, they in essence just scraped from the real site. Imagine how confused a search engine would become. Three sets of information with different phone numbers, and URLS.

    DEX denied that their system could impact any search rankings, and implied because they shared a building with Google and they were very powerful, they had direct access to the Google engineers. (I am not making this up). The Client, a friendly small town law firm, held their ground. They had invested over 30K in a year in this program with less than that returned in revenue.

    DEX actual flew in a regional senior manager to try and save the account. The misinformation in that meeting was amazing.

    We made an agreement. They would pull all the local directory listings they had published, and we would see what would happen with the rankings. With in 30 days the rankings skyrocketed. I mean from 20th and 30th position to top 5 in over 12 major categories for the client.

    What makes all this so disturbing is how they rob small business by using a fear and authority speech. Frankly, I find them, pathetic. A little Local SEO in Denver, proves them to be liars, and snake oil sales people.

    Mike B was very helpful during this process, and I should note, we don’t completely agree on the causes of the rankings increase., but I think he does agree that this Tracking Number issue was NOT helpful, and could have had a big impact.

  16. @Josh,

    “driveway spam”, nice!

    @Mike Blumenthal, I’d love to have you unpack the disparity of opinion regarding the recovery of local listings after Dex cleanup mentioned by @Mike Bayes.

    On a personal note, I just used YP.com to find a Concrete Contractor because there are no reviews on G+, Yelp or CitySearch in my neighborhood.

  17. @Will
    There was not a disparity of opinion as much as two variables and it was impossible to say with absolute assurance which variable carried more weight in the final outcome.

    When the listing was brought to me call tracking was in place but there was also a duplicate listing in Google’s index due a naming discrepancy at a primary data provider. Thus their citations were being split amongst two listings.

    Mike Bayes got rid of the call tracking while we simultaneously nuked the dupe and the bad source data. It was difficult to tell whether one, the other or both were responsible for the increase in rank. And if we said both then how much weight could be assigned to either.

    If there had been only 1 variable then I would have felt better making absolutely declarative statements about the outcome.

    Regardless DEX SHOULD have 1)seen the dupe and handled it and 2)Implemented call tracking in a way that didn’t cause damage to the listing. No matter how you looked at it they were remiss in their handling of the situation. That we were in agreement on.

  18. I’m glad to see that you are interested in the Yellow Pages. As a SuperMedia employee, I wanted to take this opportunity to respond to your post.

    The Yellow Pages continue to be an extremely effective tool for local search, as recently demonstrated by the massive hurricane in the Northeast earlier this year. Statistics show that overall, call volume to YP businesses increased by over 200% immediately following Sandy.

    Our Customer Call Tracking lines receive high usage and provide a clear line of site between the investment our clients make and the value they receive from their advertising program. On average, $11 is returned for every $1 spent in advertising in our directories. During and after the storm, for the Clients in the affected areas, it was quite a bit more. One of my colleagues, Jerry Tompkins, shared this data in a recent blog post that can be found http://blog.supermedia.com/whos-using-the-yellow-pages/.

    Sandy aside, we still see many of our customers who benefit from the print solution. As a company we track overall call volume to our client’s advertising and while overall ad content has decreased, call volume per ad in the book has remained strong; providing a good ROI to our clients. After all, there are few advertising solutions that deliver a higher quality lead from consumers ready to buy than the Yellow Pages.

    One final point I’d like to address is that the Yellow Pages advertising base has been and continues to be primarily local. While we welcome National advertisers in any of our books, the content in our directories continues to be over 85% local (national ads represented about 11% of the total make-up of the directories in 2007; today for the same books it is 14%.)

    I hope this information is useful as you continue the discussion about the value of Yellow Pages. Please don’t misconstrue my taking a few moments to discuss print, a lack of understanding on my part to see the importance and evolution of a well-rounded marketing approach for local businesses. We offer a full range of digital, social and mobile solutions in addition to print, and we work closely with our customers in determining what solutions will work best.

  19. @Andrew
    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    I would like to better understand your call tracking options. All too often I have seen YPs implement them in such a way as to cause harm to the SMB> While the ROI calculations are interesting, if they include branded searches then I am not sure that they are all that accurate.

    I would also like to understand the difference in national vs local advertisers in urban vs rural markets as well as what you classify as local. I have a gut feeling that my rural book has more than the average of national advertisers. If you include advertisers that are more than 50 miles away that you might consider local, the number is likely higher.

  20. Mike –

    Happy to respond.

    I can’t speak for other companies, but I can tell you about our call tracking. We view our call tracking as a way of providing valuable information for our customers. Yes, a real number of calls resulting from seeing the number in print, but much more. Customers have the option to record the call tracking so they can better manage employees and set expectations. They can learn how his/his company is being represented by employees, measure hold times, missed calls, etc. Pretty valuable.

    As far as national versus local advertisers, it can sometimes be a little tricky to classify. For example, our home service providers will tell us where/how far they want to service – - some may end up in several books. Shopping patterns also vary widely. You may only travel a few miles to buy flowers but you will travel much further to find the right lawyer or accountant.

    As I mentioned in my post, we view the print yellow pages as one possible piece of the entire advertising/marketing puzzle. Not right for everyone but still valuable for many businesses.

  21. We view our call tracking as a way of providing valuable information for our customers

    I understand that is how YOU see it but as I pointed out if not properly implemented (and most YP programs that I have looked at are not) these services can cause tremendous rank loss and worse at Google. It doesn’t make sense to give up 70% coverage for 10 or 12% coverage, if that is what is happening.

    Please provide some details as to where the call tracking numbers are shown and how they are shown? Particularly on- line.

  22. We are a Dallas roofing company and we still advertise in yellow pages printed version. The number of leads is definitely getting lower every year. We are also on Google map and the numbers of leads we are getting from those two sources is pretty much the same. The main issue with Google place if you not on first page,you get very few leads, and most customers do have a tendency to make their decision on the first page, which only display around 10 to 17 choices.

    The yellow page has the advantage, or use to have the advantage, of displaying 100 of contractors on the same page, giving a better chance for every body to get some business.

  23. @Mike Bayes

    i believe that the IYP don´t give a sh.. whether their clients Google-rankings drop or not. But quite the contrary they try by themselves to get better SERP´s as their clients. Why? 1st: Of course they get a lot of traffic frm google. 2nd it´s a further selling point. *as check (location germany) has shown :YP appears direct after the 7-pack.

  24. @Mike Blumenthal
    in my comment above, the sentence in the “q cite”-Tag has disappeared.

  25. Mike, its March again. Time for your annual yellow page update. Have you received this year’s version yet? Since your last post here, I have retired from a 30+ year career in the Yellow Page industry. It is truly over. Print and Online. It was a great ride but they just don’t get it. I now subscribe to Inbound best practices and watch from the sidelines as the numbers just go down and down and down.

  26. Hey Mike, I was wondering if you would mind if I post a blog using your idea to put a 2012 YP book next to the 2014 book that was just delivered to my home? Wow it has lost almost 90 pages and can almost slip under the door. As I told you in earlier posts, I worked for AT&T for 30 years. As they were taken over by Cerberus and became YP Holdings, LLC it was clear that Ma Bell was dead! I read the stories above and cannot believe that over and over again these companies just abuse the customer loyalty built once upon a time. I do have a question that I would like to understand better. I now own and run and inbound marketing firm and we use primarily the hubspot software platform. I have a customer who has just signed on with us that has been a major print yellow page customer. Over the past few years in trying to salvage the account the YP company put in numerous call tracking numbers. These numbers now pop up all over google search and are creating some confusion. We are trying to get rid of all of them one by one. But in reading the comments above I now have a concern that they may be causing more problems than we are aware of. Could you elaborate on this issue? Thanks

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