Which Sites Do Consumers Use to Find a Local Business? Why YP.com is Facing Headwinds

Updated 2/18 with regional and urban data.

On January 20th, I  completed a consumer survey (n=~2500) asking: Which of the following on-line sites have you used regularly to find local businesses? The obvious winner was Google with the YellowPages.com making a surprisingly strong showing.

In a recent article by Greg Sterling, YP.com noted that they were going to compete directly with Google and Yelp as a general purpose directory.

On the surface the results show that YP.com is a contender in people’s minds as a resource for local discovery, with marginally more mindshare than Yelp and roughly the equivalent of Bing & Yahoo combined. In this survey it would even appear that almost 1/4 of the US internet adult population, in choosing none of the listed sites, would possibly be possible targets for YP.com as well.

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However when you dig into the details of the survey YP.com’s problems are much deeper than they appear on the surface. The headwinds that they face may make the goal of competing with Yelp and Google unrealistic.

The issues confronting YP.com all revolve around demographics.

Firstly there is the issue of Google’s share. On average it was 60.9%. However in the youngest cohort measured in the survey of adults 25 and older Google’s share was almost 80%. This survey did not cover 18-24 year olds but one can assume, based on previous research, even an greater skew there. Overcoming a market share lead like that amongst younger cohorts is a much more daunting task. 

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Yelp shows a similar age skew. Yelp does significantly better amongst younger cohorts and while tied in general is way ahead in the 25-34 year old bracket.

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YP.com shows their greatest strengths in the over 65 market where their print products are also still popular.  The reality is that YP.com has not yet found a way to attract younger readers. Or even middle aged ones for that matter.

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What about that 25% that still hadn’t shown a preference that YP.com could target? Those that noted none of the above to the question of their preferred site for finding local businesses? Most of those readers (71%) are 55 and over with almost 40% over 65.

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So while YP.com’s goal of competing directly with Google and Yelp is  laudable they are facing the inertia of the Queen Mary when attempting to turn around their brand image. The reality seems to be that their their customers are dying off and they have yet to figure out a way to make their brand and site appealing to the younger age cohorts where they need to be successful in order to be successful in local search.

Dave asked if there were regional and/or differences by urbanicity. There were nearly indistinguishable differences for the search engines but for YP.com and Yelp.com there were some interesting patterns. YP.com is most popular in the midwest and rurually. While Yelp is favored by the urban set.

Regional differences:

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Urban Density:

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In the west, in younger age groups and in cities, Yelp does much better than elsewhere:

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Younger, Urban vs suburban, older users:

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 5.38.03 PM

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Which Sites Do Consumers Use to Find a Local Business? Why YP.com is Facing Headwinds by

40 thoughts on “Which Sites Do Consumers Use to Find a Local Business? Why YP.com is Facing Headwinds”

  1. I am surprised YP ranked 4th and would be curious to know what the other 25% (non of the above) are using and where is citysearch? Google surveys is a great tool.

    In my opinion, aside from the demographics, their biggest weaknesses are in 3 areas:

    1. They are not a search engine such as Google or Bing (search convenience factor).
    2. They are way behind in accuracy and volume of consumer feedback. (yelp)
    3. Because of #2, they are lacking distribution partnerships.

    1. Given that 71% of those that answered none of the above are above 55 and 40% are over aged 65, one can assume that a large percentage use nothing at all.

      The margin of error is such that one can’t categorically claim that they are 4th. Rather that they and Yelp are roughly equal and behind Google. One can surmise that they have greater mindshare in local than either Bing or Yahoo.

  2. The YP brand is jaded. For years they had the market cornered for local reference and they overcharged for their service. Businesses saw them as a necessary evil. I think this mindset that they are a money-pit has carried over to their web effort, and for the most part this has been true. Their premium spots are sold as if they still held the dominate position and even from a users perspective this is undemocratic and jaded.

    Let’s not even get into the fact that their brand still wreaks of being a print publication.

    1. @James
      Yes the brand is stale and embueded with lots of history. Some of it not so pleasant as you point out. But as is the case with Yelp antagonistic exploitive SMB relationships do not necessarily correlative of consumer sentiments.

  3. Hey Mike, Thanks for sharing this data. From my personal experience I am seeing an uptick in Angies List referrals and reveiws for HVAC services in Phoenix AZ. They are hitting my clients up for advertising and I am unsure of how to use them since I am not a paying user and therefore have little experience with the site.

    Any thoughts?

    1. @Roger
      I am not that familiar with Angies list either. So I am not a good resource. I think in certain verticals that are a great choice. I am just not sure how to maximize value. Perhaps someone else could chime in?

  4. “were going to compete directly with Google and Yelp as a general purpose directory”

    I think Yahoo tried that… dream on YP 😉

    “The reality is that YP.com has not yet found a way to attract younger readers. Or even middle aged ones for that matter. “ and “Yelp does significantly better amongst younger cohorts…”.

    Most 13 to 18 year-olds (the future) don’t have a clue what the “Yellow Pages” are….

  5. Mike: Did you get data by regions? If so, any differences by regions or by urban versus suburban versus rural?

    Google crushes everyone. Isn’t that the ultimate repeating story?

    The age data is striking as YP.com and yelp appeal to very different age brackets. Very striking.

    After many many years of following this dating back to the early 2000’s when the branding characteristics of the all the YP’s let alone what is now YP.com were much stronger…they just continue to lose market share.

    Google is THE DIRECTORY. It was before G started inserting G Maps (the PAC) into the first page of google and it is more so now.

    Also ultimately google’s page layout and how directories rank in google ultimately impacts the traffic of any directory. That scenario has been played out again and again over years. Nothing is changing in the US or Canada. Maybe there will be changes in the EU, maybe not, after the EU/Google current settlement on competition antitrust issues.

    In 2006 after the large drop of data by AO which consisted of about 9 million searches, I kept going through directory data.

    Were people searching for the directories or were people clicking on the directories because they ranked highly in AOL search (which was a proxy for google search).

    It appeared 50-50 at the time. The directories got half their clicks because they ranked highly and in 2006 they had more branding value than they do now.

    Anecdotedly we have one smb that gets a relatively lot of yelp traffic. Its the only smb we have wherein the yelp pages rank highly and prominently for discovery phrases. Its demographic overlaps with your age demographics above: it skews younger.

    If yelps rankings tank….so does that traffic. Its been the ongoing lesson for many years. No reason to see it change at least in our estimation.

  6. Dave dont forget traffic rank was the main factor for them in the beginning. Now they are under Apple’s wing and Yahoo will start using their feed.

  7. Angie’s List is located in our fine city. They have experienced quite a resurgence in the SERPs in the past few months. I suspect they benefited greatly from the recent Hummingbird update.

    Most of the comments I hear, an admittedly small sample size, are not particularly positive. They seem to be a bit heavy handed in their approach to SMB’s. One client’s recent experience was so negative that they actually signed up for a program with the BBB, which I thought was “mostly dead.”

  8. Mike – I was wondering how the survey questions were worded. In the vertical I work in we initially recognized the same trend but digging into the questioning further found that although our audience will respond that they use “Google” for their local search in reality they were using the search engine to then find local directories with focused information. They were not stopping at the Maps listings or really even relying heavily upon them as Google Maps data in this space is pretty bad at best.

    Our vertical trends Baby Boomer and older, frankly, they get confused when asking them “did you use Google Maps? Yelp, Yahoo, one of our competing vertical directories” We had to go as far as running some demo groups and seeing how they used the web to research. This was how we got our insight into their habits.

    In the end it focused our marketing efforts on SEO and vertical forum support (answering questions in targeted forums). Asking them to download an app or go to a www is a bit too much.

  9. Another double-edged issue for YP is that respondents who chose “YellowPages” may not have been referring to YP.com. While they own that brand, I have spoken with plenty of consumers who say “YellowPages” but mean “Google”, “SuperPages”, etc.

  10. We asked: Which of the following on-line sites have you used regularly to find local businesses? (Check all that apply)

    So users were encouraged to name any that they used from the above list. So what you are seeing is unique reported reach. The combined reach of Google + YP.com was 66.8% of respondents

  11. There are certainly issues with the methodology. But I think given the match up of the demographic and geographic data and the consistency with the feedback I get about print YP, it is directionally meaningful.

    Hey as they say past performance is no indicator of future performance. And if a given medium is working and is cost effective then tactically it should be used.

    That being said YP.com (and the other phone sites) has a tough road ahead.

  12. I am wondering if there is more to this story then the data suggests.

    For example I am not only in the Yelp demo, but rely HEAVILY on Yelp for (none work related) local research, and even more so when I am mobile. Not only that but lots of friends of mine have similar searching patterns. I’m curious if that is an “urban” trend i.e. not only is Yelp doing better in Urban areas but they are comparatively doing better then Google in those areas (especially among their core demo). While I don’t doubt that Google is “crushing it” I would be surprised if Yelp wasn’t more competitive with certain demographics.

  13. @Dan
    I have added an additional “insight” from the survey. Clearly Yelp does better in younger cohorts, in more urban environments and in markets where they are better known. Note that in that situation they have a very large market share.

    I also created a custom view of the data, screen shot above, comparing young urban users vs older, suburban and rural users. Note that Yelp does really well in the former (your cohort) and much much worse in the other cohort.

    Where I live there is about 0 interest in Yelp.

  14. I love the data. I think the headline is well put. Having focused on local search for certain smb’s since the early 2000’s its been interesting to see the “demise” or weakening of the yps and the IYP’s over time. Actually my experience predates that. We purchased print yp ads for years. In fact I can’t recall the last time we received a sales call from an IYP or YP sales person for any of our smb’s. It has to be years.

    We cover some different age and income demographics. The IYP’s give us minimal minimal traffic. That has been our experience for years. IMHO google is the big YP in the sky…and has been for years. Bing and Yahoo are the 2ndary players…and have been for years.

    We surveyed customers at one of our smb’s. Our data set is much smaller than Mike’s (about 150) and limited to a set geography and skewed toward one demographic. Its nowhere nears as signficant or thorough as Mikes. Here are some of our findings though:

    A majority of people found us via search. Hardly anybody ever mentioned any web source other than Google. Really interesting. people didn’t reference bing or yahoo. We get leads from them. We get sales from them. Nobody referenced them.

    On name recognition we found something interesting akin to the comments above about branding of the IYP’s. Our customers referenced reading reviews. Customers referenced Yelp and google. Nobody referenced google + reviews. Some customers referenced a particular thing they read in a review which we know are in the Google + reviews. But some of those couldn’t identify the source.

    Whoah. Google + reviews didn’t seem well branded at all. Didn’t matter though. People get to the google + reviews and read them!!!!!!

    Branding is TOUGH. Google is branded. Bing and Yahoo are branded…but maybe people were shy about mentioning them in person. Not sure about that. Yelp is branded, certainly in a younger and more urban setting as Mike’s data shows.

    But…oh YP.com. I suspect it has a loooooooooooong way to go to get big name recognition and usage.

    that is my $0.02. 😀

  15. @Mike thanks for the clarification. It is definitely a tough survey to send out to such a focused crowd (us ;))I agree that your data does point to the overall trend. My biggest concern is this idea that Google is king of the local market. I disagree and think it is more of a definition; Google is king of search. As we all know so well their local solutions suck and I believe the general consumer kind of recognizes that too in specific verticals.

    In the long run I do not believe that one brand/ company can service and represent all the thousands of verticals effectively. This leaves scraps for the rest of the players.

    It seems we are going through some serious creative destruction right now in the local space. No one is tossing their hat to Google; instead they are re-adjusting how they approach the beast and steal some of its lunch.

  16. To all

    I think one thing to remember about this survey is that it really reflects mind share not market share.

    Asking people to identify, from a list, sites that they use to find a local business measures their self reported sense of what they do, not what they actually do.

    The value is that you see who is is memorable to whom in the market place.

  17. Great article! Just as a side note in recently registering local businesses on YP as a citation source. Their system will not allow for Web Address / Email urls that not entered into their system yet therefore not allowing a correct citation to be created. I noticed yesterday when attempting to create one using a .me web extension that the YP system hasn’t been programmed for that yet and won’t accept it. I’d still think YP to be a somewhat worthy source to list on for a new business however if your url is not a standard your listing will be incorrect.

  18. I like you post and shall be forwarding it on and would like your permission to cite it and some of your statistics in a blog article of my own. Our firm is a certified HubSpot partner, which means we subscribe to Inbound marketing. However, I spent a career with the Yellow Pages and went on to run a nationwide labor union that represents Sales People working for YP. Those sales reps work in the old traditional phone company YP and the newer digital region that evolved from YellowPages.com. It was frustrating to watch them try to change from an old phone company print model to a newer digital and online service. The issue behind the scenes on YP.com in particular is the ridiculous costs absorbed by the company to drive the traffic to their site. The quid pro quo is that the advertising item costs are bore by the customers. This means that the customers are paying the YP company rather high charges to share the cost to drive traffic that will advertise their competitors as well. Then you add in the failing print product and it really gets complicated. Everyday we have customers that we deal with who want to make the change away from the dependency on the old phone company and create their own traffic for their own website. The issue is always the sheer volume of contradictory metrics, analytics and data that is shared with the customer. Your article puts into perspective what I believe is the bottom line. The once powerful Yellow Page print product is dying with the generation that grew up with it. The left over phone companies are not quite cutting it in the new online/digital marketing and advertising arenas. The time has come to devise a new strategy before you are reacting to a total collapse in your advertising and marketing results. I appreciate the time and diligence you took in preparing this piece.

  19. I think that the obvious reason for older use of yp.com is the Yellow Pages brand, however, it’s not because the Yellow Pages brand is jaded by past sins. It’s because the Yellow Pages are old period. Proper branding using the name Yellow Search and you have something very unique and modern, a real cause for the young and old alike to appreciate the step in a modern direction.

  20. Mike, interesting survey and findings. I’m still not clear on how you’re able to distinguish YP versus YellowPages in general. Are you saying the survey responses refer to YP.com, not just Y percieved “yellowpages” sites in general?

    1. I am not sure that the suvery really distinguishes that. But one would assume that YellowPages (as noted in the survery) if perceived as more than just YP.com would put YP at even more of a disadvantage.

  21. Two questions:
    1. Is YP.com more effective than DexKnows.com?
    2. Would eliminating advertising on Dex and Yellow Pages online directories significantly effect SEO for our website?


  22. Mike, as usual I find your article right on point. If you remember I retired from AT&T (now YP). I now run a marketing firm that deals with a lot of YP customers wanting to move away from that model and go with their own online and print marketing methods and not be stuck in the days of large monthly commitments to the old phone company. Your statistics ring true to what the markets are telling us from a common sense standpoint. On the advertiser side of the equation they are generally in that older demographic and now are starting to understand that if they don’t shift with the tide their business will die without bringing in the newer younger audience. I always enjoy your stuff, its balanced and unbiased.

  23. @Elaine. DexKnows.com and YP have an agreement an in many cases advertisers share these two networks. Eliminating advertising on these platforms will not have any negative SEO impact so long as you maintain your free listing. If you like I can send you the top 50 directories that we use for all of our clients to insure they get SEO value for being listed.

  24. There is a major miscommunication on the part of the author. YP does not compete with or against Google, Yelp, Bing, Yahoo or many others. YP is in fact a Premier Partner and Ambassador of Google and Yahoo. Yelp recently partnered with YP as well.

    YP has the the local business data that gets served up to active searchers.

    Google Honors YP http://finance.yahoo.com/news/google-honors-yp-smb-partner-131131519.html

    Yelp taps YP’s huge network.

  25. @brandon. YP is most certainly at competition with Google as is every online directory trying to court Google to rank and drive traffic to their sites and listings. The market is now getting savvy to the fact that the better way to go is to earn and drive your own traffic. It’s the difference between renting or buying. YP and others in the online directory business have to play nice with Google or cease to exist. Google on the other hand can leverage the sales force and client relationships. But if you work at YP I am sure that all you have to do is listen to your Monday morning meetings. All they talk about is churn and new business. When you fail to delight the consumer and deliver then you will lose them. YP is paying money to drive traffic. They don’t gather it like Yelp does by active users. The Yellow Pages in its heyday owned the consumer traffic market. Google represents to YP what the Yellow Pages once represented to the rest of the market. IMHO

  26. @mktg_4u YP.com has failed to re-invent itself and is living on borrowed time. With its printed directory business dwindling by the year and its Hibu re-brand failing disastrously. It is difficult to see how a turnaround could be possible.

  27. Hey, could I use some of these infographics in a marketing article I’m writing for my own blog? I would attribute and link back

  28. YP missed their opportunity in the late 90’s when they were still a bunch of baby bells trying to figure out what to do with a declining print market and know understanding whatsoever of the upcoming search market. Who remembers smartpages.com? They almost bailed on that until they purchased the URL of yellowpages.com (still SMH) and spent an enormous amount of money trying to move their old print customers over to an antiquated platform with little to no value in thier overpriced third party offerings. Little by little they are eroding. The capital management company’s have sliced off just about everything they can and the product offerings are still substandard. Now they believe jetosoning away the print to a separate LLC will somehow energize a digital side that really has nothing to offer is not going to work. Even partnering with Yelp, Yahoo or anyone else who may desire their salesforce is too late. That salesforce by the way has been depleted of the long standing group that had years of experience and relationships. Dreams of an IPO are still just that dreams, while their best exit will probably be some sort of merger. IMHO

  29. The transition of print to digital is old news & recently YP separated itself from the print, finally and yes they still suffer from the ideals of the cash cow of the old days! As they are owned by a venture capitol company 53%, they have shot themselves in the foot by outsources all internal. Saving dimes and sending jobs abroad is not the way to move quickly in the digital world hence they still are recognized a dinosaur. I was with them for 8 years in sales and managment, it us sad fir tye employees left!

  30. YP.com would do well to release their logo to advertisers. Distributing their logo (like BBB) on various sites would benefit end users with a trust and authority logo on their site and give YP the additional exposure they need to reach other demographics. It’s a no brainer.

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