The Annual Print Yellow Page Page Count And Other Dead Horses

It’s time for the annual print Yellow Page count. And I promised last year to stop beating that dead horse… so this year I will beat several. IMG_2214 Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Page counts in my local print version have declined once again by over 10%. The good news for the Superpage print directory? The rate of decline seems to have slowed. Untitled1 The other good news is that their niche has become clear. They are still doing reasonably well and are still used (believe it or not) in rural areas, the mid-west and by older shoppers (ok very old shoppers). In my research they appear to have a mindshare that exceeds Yelp country wide.

The other good news? Well this isn’t really good news just news that means that the Yellow pages are not alone in the boat. Every other local advertising medium has seen similar declines and similar demographic shifts.

Local newspapers are in decline on all measures, radio is becoming extremely fragmented with local stations loosing share to various online alternatives and local TV, despite strong financials due to cable monies, is seeing similar declines particularly amongst younger watchers.

The other reality that most internet marketers seem to ignore is that most online, locally focused properties are experiencing similar distress. Patch failed, the deal sites went south and many other locally focused projects have failed. Even the Wall Street darling Yelp seems to have less mind share than the Yellow Pages nationally and is mired with a no profit, non-scalable model & saddled with smb resentment and no clear prospects. Yelp seems to survive on the hard sell, a tactic that is snaking back and biting them. The vaunted cooperation that has occurred (Yahoo using Yext & Yelp for example) is not a sign of strength in the industry but rather one of resigned retrenchment.

The hard cold fact is that currently only two sites; Google and Facebook have a wide reaching, market covering local presence. They are by no means the only sites making a go of it in local but the only two that have achieved the broad, demographic and geographic coverage capable of delivering customers to local merchants. And of those two, Facebook really has yet to pull the trigger on an obvious local strategy. They both have scale and as such they can successfully deliver cost effective, performance based advertising solutions to the local market.

Whether offline or on, it seems that  most local properties that rely on advertising for sustenance face the same dilemma. It’s a vicious cycle – they don’t have enough scale to offer performance based advertising and they can’t really compete with the Google’s and Facebook’s ads without it. media shareAt this point, advertising spend in local markets is very fragmented. The local incumbents are in a slow steady decline and most internet efforts have not yet measured up as a way to finally unseat them.  Facebook, while having potential has moved very slowly. Google has, over the years “thrown a lot of [local advertising] shit” on the wall but little of it has really stuck.

What is clear is that impression based advertising and various forms of arbitrage have difficulty competing against a straight up performance based bid model. This will become more obvious as local SMBs develop a fuller  understanding of the new realities of the local marketing landscape. The local advertising game so far has gone to Google through their persistent investment in the space. Although it would appear that investment has left them in a strong competitive position it is not clear whether it has generated significant profits.  Their strategy has been to beat the other competitors at their own game (or at least limit their growth) but has not been to build sustainable value in the space with the exception of the ever present Adwords. 

The final story is still yet to be written on the fragmented local media and  advertising platforms. The incumbents and the online alternatives are never going to be able to really break out of the pack or likely even survive by offering the same old, same old expensive advertising. What will emerge, besides Google and Facebook,  as viable marketing channels is still not clear but it seems unlikely to be one of the current incumbents.

Local TV Decline in Viewership


Newspaper declines amongst different age groups


Print Advertising Revenue Decline in revenue 


Local news viewership in key time-slots over time


Increasing use of online Radio alternative  

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 11.24.23 AM

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The Annual Print Yellow Page Page Count And Other Dead Horses by

18 thoughts on “The Annual Print Yellow Page Page Count And Other Dead Horses”

  1. Canuck head nod here, Mike…yup, that’s about the size of it up here too!

    Me? Only time I ever dig out the yellowpages is to find a Chinese restaurant full page advert with the menu so I can “remember” that dish name I want….


  2. Good stuff Mike. Ironic how long this “dead horse” has been beaten when the medium remains alive year after year after year (though, is certainly not well). Interesting point about the decline/fragmentation across almost all local advertising mediums, not just PYP. It is definitely easier to beat up on the poor old PYP, especially as internet marketers (Marketing 101: “I am not my market, I am not my market, I am not my market”).

    In the interests of helping boost the “good” news you highlight: 10% fewer pages also means a potential boost in reach (…among a shrinking group of PYP users) in competitive ad categories. Fewer advertisers can translate into flat or on rare occasions increased call volume. Less competition for eyeballs. That game obviously can’t go on forever; the PYP becomes useless when there’s only one plumber in it. Tick tock…

    I think the question for local marketers to understand with regard to PYP remains, which is greater: the decline in PYP consumer usage for a category/book, or the decline in PYP advertisers in that category/book? (or, the decline in negotiated ad rate…)

  3. Great post Mike – and somewhat depressing. What’s an SMB to do? For better or worse, many of those dying products were easy and effective – buy ad, pay monthly, get traffic. No management hassle.

    Although they have reach, I’m not convinced Google or Facebook will ever have a product that is simple enough for your generic SMB. And yet if you do it right you can get a lot of their benefits for free?

  4. @Josh
    I think they need to do what Matt Marko suggests. Understand where there is targeted value and take advantage of it as they learn the ropes of the new realities of Google and Facebook.

    The complexities of the free alternatives are real but stripping out the BS and focusing on the core elements is a great place to start.

  5. Mike, I worked for years in the YP industry. Now I have an Inbound firm in Northern Ca. It is a strange phenomenon how old loyal yellow page advertisers resist pulling the plug even though they are faced with the reality that its just not working well any longer. I even wrote a blog about my experiences dealing with some of my new clients who are leaving Yellow Pages and going online. Whereas they are excited about the internet they honestly seem a bit melancholy over the fact that the good ol days are gone. Anyways, I look forward to your annual update.

    1. @casey
      Humans are resistant to change and this one is a big one. Replacing walk in easy with brain wracking hard, a 1/4 page ad with an etherial, not always visible ad, fixed pricing vs bid pricing. The comfort level that the YP offered, the security it provided are the main reasons the transition has taken so long. Certainly not reason and logic. They would have dictated a departure from the medium long ago.

  6. I’d really be curious to see where Apple Maps fits into all of this. I know they’ve had some problems and it looks like they’re currently using Yelp for local results but it’s on a lot of iPhones.

    Do you ever think Apple, through maps, will become a serious player in local?

  7. I agree. The demise of print advertising is coming soon to city near you. The online competition, on the other hand, is getting fiercer for pay per click and organic results. Facebook has a lot of traffic but ads from it don’t seem to produce as much traffic or results. Google is it for now.

  8. You forgot one other reason why PYP still works in my small markets — I walk in the door to talk directly with that small business owner. Google is annoying the heck out of these local small businesses with barrage of ongoing robo calls (please keep doing it Google) . These business owners want a real person to talk to. And while we can place their limited budgets across a range of media, the PYP still is making the phone ring consistently with call tracking volumes up 15% over the last two years.

  9. @Mike: Agreed. But I did get two this week from Google, PLUS insurance, security systems, business loan, and Lord knows what the other three were. Just confirms my key point — a real person visiting that small business is what’s working.

  10. We have been operating local smb’s for 30 years now. From a certain perspective local advertising has always been fractionalized. Our oldest smb has purchased print advertising from over 100 different local/regional/ and often for very targeted niches. We’ve used tv, radio, events, of course major print media (ie the major local newspaper) and the “good old print yp”. For some of our local smb’s using the print yp meant purchasing ads in multiple books that carved up a large metro area and then buying ads in competing books, let alone Hispanic print yp. Living in a big metro area at my home I had a lot of space dedicated to multiple huge thick yellow pages and white pages.

    From my perspective google became the YP online almost a decade or so ago; before google maps made its way onto the first page of In early 2005, before G Maps went onto the first page of, Google made an improvement in its organic algo that essentially enabled most local smbs to get reasonable first page visibility for reasonable efforts, (assuming minimal competition).

    Personally I believe google became the IYP as far as local smb’s were concerned long long long ago.

    In terms of Facebook, are you aware of this expose on Facebook advertising issues:

    At this point I wouldn’t suggest facebook advertising to any smb. In our case in late November one of our smb’s ran a relatively large FB local advertising campaign. That same local smb had accumulated somewhere in the range of 5-6,000 likes. Posts were consistently getting engagement of over 1,000 fans and their friends with comments and shares. Following that advertising campaign and roughly beginning about 1 month after our natural engagement seriously plummeted in every way. Then the video came out.

    We warned all our smb’s to stay away from FB. One forgot. They ran a subsequent campaign. Their FB engagement plummeted.

    I would seriously stay away from FB advertising until the issue brought up in that video is resolved.

  11. @Dave
    The whole world of buying Facebook impressions is opaque. I am not suggesting their use by any means… just saying that they have the scale to deliver locally ….. if they set their mind to it.

    Video was interesting and a bit scary.

  12. @Dave: I used to be a complete Facebook Ad hater but recently read a great article on called <a href="Why Every Business Should Spend at Least $1 per Day on Facebook Ads.

    This is not paying for Likes or shares. It’s simply paying to have your ad displayed on the right side bar or in people’s news feed.

    Inspired by the article I decided to give Facebook Ads another shot (but did $2/day instead of $1). Here’s what my $2/day has gotten me over the past month: 637,000 impressions to over 21,000 people and 28 click-throughs to our website.

    The total cost of that branding campaign? About $90.

    My analytics shows that this isn’t great traffic – in fact, it’s horrible – but I would argue, like the article above, that it’s pretty hard to beat that kind of exposure at those kind of prices.

    As Avinash Kaushik argues (which if you don’t know him, Google his name and start reading his blog): Facebook cannot be treated like Google. It’s about branding and not immediate sales.

    On that front, I do think spending a $1-$2 a day to regularly be shown to your core demographic is worth it.

  13. @Matt and Mike: Here is what occurred for one of our smb’s and its timing vis a vis that video and subsequent press on the discovery:

    Last Autumn one of our smb’s tried a variety of different campaigns and efforts. In late November it ran a relatively active FB campaign for 2 weeks. Daily spend was somewhere in the realm of 25 to 50% of the daily spend on adwords. It was considerable.

    The volume of impressions was huge relative to what this niche smb sees from a very comprehensive adwords campaign over the course of a year. It was hugely high. It generated clicks to the site and it generated some sales. (but relatively low).

    The campaign ended with the end of November. As of approximately Jan 1 activity, engagement and comments on our FB page just plummeted. The smb had built a real “friend” list of about 5-6,000 “fans”. They were real folks.

    If our fb page comments were getting engagement in the range of 700-1400 per post before Jan 1, it mysteriously dropped to a range of 3-600. Comments dropped. Clearly far fewer “fans” were seeing our comments in their news feeds.

    Then the video came out with accompanying press and commentary. While I warned all our smb’s off of any further FB advertising, one mistakingly ran a short campaign. Engagement dropped on that smb fb page.

    On that basis I’d stay very far away from FB till I learn more or more is revealed.

    With regard to what you are doing Matt….that could well make sense. Its smaller. It wouldn’t overwhelm your stats with too many uninvolved “fans”.

    But I would beware.

  14. WTF, who read yellowpages now 😛 ? This is the internet world and anyone who have an internet connection will just Google “the thing he/She wants to know about” and Google will get that person a huge list of thousands of pages containing that specific info 😀

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