Should your small business pay for the Yellow Pages Online?

Sensis brands like the Yellow Pages are iconic in the minds of Australians. But the web has been a staple of society for decades and demographics are changing so that whole generations have grown up with it as their preferred means of finding information.

So while the Yellow Pages brand is still iconic, and they have largely transitioned to being online based their relevancy is less and less each year. Google My Business and social media achieve all the same functionality with greater convenience for customers and for free.

In this example, the presence of Google My Business on the right-hand side makes clicking on the Yellow Pages listing not needed for contact information. The same is likely for your business.

The decline of the Yellow Pages online

Firstly, lets discuss the current situation for the Yellow Pages Online and it’s popularity with customers. Using Google Trends, it’s clear that interest in the Yellow Pages has declined significantly since its peak interest in 2007. Since then, it has experienced a downward trend, with the greatest decline in Western Australia.

Google Trends data for search term Yellow Pages between 2004 and 2017 for Australia. Expressed as a % of interest over time.

In terms of searches, data from Google Keywords suggests that between 100k-1M searches per month within Australia are made for the Yellow Pages.

I would suggest that searches are on the low end of this range. But regardless it’s hard to refute that the Yellow pages have the capacity to reach a healthily sized audience. Particularly once other Sensis products like TrueLocal are factored in.

Return on Investment for paid plans

It’s clear that for some particularly in states such as Tasmania that the Yellow Pages is trending downward but for the foreseeable future remains relevant.

So the next question is, is the free listing good enough or should you pay for greater visibility in search results and for a more detailed listing? This is going to depend on the opportunity cost. If your advertising budget allows for the expense, then absolutely. But not if the cost comes at the expense of more effective marketing aids like a website or advertising on Google via AdWords.

The return on investment is also going to be higher if your target audience skews toward older demographics. The assumption being that these older generations use Yellow Pages more often than their internet savvy younger counterparts.

The Yellow Pages business model – The chicken & the egg scenario

When considering if the free listing allows you to extract the greatest ROI, consider the Yellow Pages’ business model. They depend on having an audience/user base to attract businesses to advertise with them. For this reason, they need as many businesses listed on their services as possible, and they also need to provide their users with all the information that they expect. So the free listing is always going to offer the majority of the benefits and content as their paid plans.

Paid plans are not a substitute for a website

The inspiration for this post came from prospecting for businesses that need websites. More often than not, businesses that lack a website, have a paid version of the Yellow Pages. Regardless of whether it’s a conscious decision or not, they are choosing to substitute a website for the Yellow Pages, in terms of opportunity cost.

The Yellow Pages is nearly always prominent in search results for businesses but its never the 1st result and is typically the 3rd or 4th result. This is potentially a disaster because anyone that is searching for your business is in a research or buyer phase of their purchase. In other words, they want something that your business is selling, and the next step is to part with money.

Other considerations

Earlier I touched on the appeal of investing in the Yellow Pages improves when your audience skews toward older demographics. Another consideration is tradespeople, where people more frequently use the Yellow Pages to find them. So if you are in this industry, then it is going to make sense to leverage paid listings to differentiate your business from your competitors. By way of greater visibility, product information, and stronger branding.

The assumption being that tradespeople are often sole traders, and locally oriented making their presence online otherwise limited. Consumers understand this, and disproportionately still search for tradespeople and alike via the yellow pages.

Final thoughts & answer

The Yellow Pages and attached brands like True Local are in decline overall. But for the foreseeable future, they offer an excellent opportunity to reach new customers. This means that your business should absolutely be listed in the Yellow Pages.

Paying for premium features can make sense but this depends on the opportunity cost and your target market. If you focus on a local area or have a customer base that skews to older demographics the value of paying increases.

Is your business using Yellow Pages Online? Leave a comment below about whether its a good investment to make in 2017 and beyond.

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