Yellow Pages, Local Search and Reliability

Print Yellow Pages directory usage has remained stable over the past year, which is surprising to those of us who do as much as possible online. A recent study by Knowledge Networks/Statistical Research, Inc.  shows that in 2007 about 87% of the US population looked something up in a thick yellow book, that almost 50% of us used a printed business directory about once each week and that collectively we referenced the yellow pages offline 13.4 billion times. Despite the ease and availability of looking business information up online, the print yellow pages are holding their own.

snap6016.jpgUsage of print and online Yellow Pages is not mutually exclusive. I’d venture to say that most of us use both, depending on the place and circumstances. I tend to grab the printed book when I just want a phone number for a business whose name I already know.

In 2007 Internet Yellow Pages use was up 16%, with about 875 million searches. comScore reports that about half of the people who were performing local searches online in the last month of last year did so using IYPs. The Chairman of the Yellow Pages Association, Dave Swanson, who is also the CEO of R. H. Donnelley, acknowledged at the group’s recent conference that the future of the industry does not lie with print.

Maybe that’s why the print phone books have not really evolved at all – their publishers see them as lame ducks. A few more colors and categories and that’s about it. How long can they continue to look the same way and do the same thing and still hold our interest? The answer may be “as long their users perceive them as the most reliable source of up-to-date information about local businesses”. Or the answer may be “when searchers have more confidence in the local business information they find online”.

snap6015.jpgThere’s a great discussion going on over at Mike Blumenthal’s blog on the accuracy of the information provided in Google Maps and the frustrations of business owners in trying to deal with it. Mike has asked the question Does Local Need to Be Held to a Higher Standard?

The internet is coming face to face with the communities we live in. Local is at the nexus of this juncture. With the iPhone we now listen to our music, answer our phones, read our email, look at our maps and browse the yellow pages. In the near future we will likely be using our iPhroid (or whatever the device will be called) to replace our wallet, the ATM machine and who knows what else. In the past we have been satisfied with search providing relevant results but we are now in a time when we expect the map and business listings to be not just relevant but correct as well.

As we move forward to what I call the age of the iPhroid with who knows what transactional and social capabilities, does Local need to be held to a higher standard to “truly” succeed and play a trusted role in our lives?

What is your opinion?

Read the responses of local luminaries, Greg Sterling, Matt McGee, Bill Slawski, Miriam Ellis , Danny Sullivan and Chris Smith and Ahmed Farooq to gain insight into the problem, see many sides of the issue and get involved in the discussion.


  1. I think you raise a good question around local being held to a higher standard…I think it should be, here’s why. When you lookup a business listing and the info is incorrect, you could potentially drive all the way across town to find this out…so its more of a cost then non-local search so it BETTER be correct…thoughts?

  2. Mary Bowling says:

    Hi Yellow Page Man,

    It is very frustrating to get inaccurate information online, especially if, as the business owner, you cannot correct it.

    Until the online local resources prove to be as trustworthy as the Yellow Pages, people will not give up the big yellow books.

    Thanks, Mary

  3. Yellow page publishers contact the hundreds of thousands of businesses across America every year to update their listings. They are hoping of course to sell those people something, but even non-advertisers are contacted. Google and Yahoo won’t even call the businesses that they could sell advertising to — they expect those businesses to contact them and ask please can I buy some ads. I think long term it’s a bad business plan.