Yellow Pages Vs SEOSo this has been something that has occupied a unique space in my mind for quite some time.  I have spoken with so many clients who ring me and ask to if I can help them get their business “found” on the internet in a less expensive way.  My first response (being curious as to what they are paying for) is “what are you doing now?”  They tell me they are with “the phone company” or the “yellow pages people” and that they are paying hundreds of dollars a month for their “Search Engine Optimization” and/or “Search Engine Marketing” (I promise not to use so many quotes for the rest of the post… honest!).

When asked if any new business is coming in, some say yes (a bit) but almost all of the people I have spoken with have mentioned that they do not feel as though the ROI (Return On Investment) is worth it.

Recently I have had a couple of perspective clients ask my opinion flat-out as to whether or not they should sign up for one of these accounts.  Now, in the past I have given the anecdotal evidence and let the client make their own decisions.  But lately, in an effort to better serve my clients, to educate them with more specific information and to also enlighten myself as to the current state of affairs, I decided to spend some time nosing around forums and such to get a better idea of what the dominant outlook is on the whole “yellow pages as a marketing/SEO tool” issue (see… only one set of quotes in that paragraph!)

Here are some samples of what I have found:

From an article on the Site Revamp Blog:
“If you have ever talked with a salesperson from your local Yellow Pages company, you can feel how desperate the industry is. In the old days when most consumers relied on the Yellow Pages for business information, every company had to have a presence in the Yellow Pages. The way to gain dominance on the Yellow pages is to print larger, more colorful ads. In most locations, businesses pay at least $5,000 per month for a half-page ad, and $10,000 per month for a full-page ad. That is $60,000 – $120,000 a year!

As search engines like Google and Yahoo become the place for people to search for products, services and information, smart businesses are investing their money into search engine optimization to make their web sites more visible to searchers. When it comes to the cost, SEO costs only a fraction of that of the Yellow Pages advertisement. Unlike the Yellow Pages that charges a fixed price over 12 months regardless of the results, SEO can be very scalable. You can increase or decrease your SEO spending based on your business cycle, seasonal cycle and search marketing results. The SEO cost can be varied based on the business’ needs. Even spending $5,000 on a one-time search engine optimization service can produce great, long-lasting results.

If you are a business owner and you are skeptical about the effectiveness of SEO, here is a question you should ask: if SEO doesn’t work, why are your competitors doing it? Based on the experience of our clients, those who used to advertise on the Yellow Pages had all stopped after they started with our SEO service. In terms of the return on investment, SEO outperforms the Yellow Pages by 5-10 times.”

A quote from the Wall Street Journal (November 17, 2008):
“The yellow-pages industry is running out of lifelines. In recent years, as its customers migrated to the Web – flocking to sites like Google – the telephone-directory business followed, hoping the Internet would be its salvation.

But that strategy hasn’t panned out. Now, the economic downturn is sending the already ailing business into a tailspin.

The audience for online yellow pages remains relatively small, and traffic growth is slowing. So many directory services are vying for the ad dollars of local businesses that no single site has an authoritative roster.

Meanwhile, ad dollars are drying up as small businesses – the industry’s bread and butter – find it harder to pay bills or have cut their spending sharply.”

And an article on the Switchfast website: (september 4th, 2009)
“Yellow Page usage amongst people in their, say below 50, will drop to near zero over the next five years.” – Bill Gates (Seattle Times, 2007)

There was a time when the phone book, specifically the “yellow pages,” was the premiere directory listing for businesses. Thanks to the world-changing advent of the internet, this is no longer the case. Over the past decade, usage of the traditional and online versions of the yellow pages has declined sharply, showing no signs of a comeback. But how are people finding businesses if they aren’t using the yellow pages? The answer is internet search.

According to an annual study by ComScore, yellow pages usage dropped 3% from 2007 to 2008 alone, a number that’s very substantial considering usage already dropped 6.8% in 2006. In fact, 2008 marks the first year that internet search has eclipsed all forms of the yellow pages in usage, claiming a massive 31% of all local business search queries and trending upward.

Predictably, this is bad news for the future of the yellow pages. Wachovia expects print and online ad spending on yellow pages to decline 6.3% next year, and a devastating 39% over the next four years. If the trend continues, the yellow pages won’t be around much longer at all. Search engine marketing spending, on the other hand, is expected to continue growing from 17.7% of budgets to 20.3% over the next five years, reaching $23.4 billion by 2013, according to eMarketer.

All this, and the average national cost of a half page ad in the yellow pages remains $17,100, a figure that increases greatly in larger markets. By comparison, search engine optimization (SEO) pricing varies greatly depending upon your business’s size and industry, but the cost to get started in most situations is a fraction of $17,100.

So if you haven’t already, it’s probably time to move the yellow pages budget somewhere else – like SEO.

And if you want something more substantial than articles or blog entries there are many sites like SearchEngineLand and SEOMOZ who provide actual trending data.

In my marginally humble opinion the cost for the “Yellow Pages” solutions far outweighs any substantial benefit to online marketing and/or SEO.  Especially considering the rise in relevance of social media assets and online reputation building.  Yes, proper SEO and SEM techniques and campaigns cost money however, as the title of this post says, my bottom line is that the “smart money” (could not resist one more set of quotes) will be spent on more direct, measurable and uniquely customized SEO techniques and not on blanket one-size-fits-all yellow page based solutions.

Take care,