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Thursday, June 21, 2007

The end of the (conventional) Yellow Pages

For most business-to-business and full-service residential contractors, Yellow Pages have always been a dubious investment. Besides the cost, you don't really get the clients you wish -- you find price-shopping bargain hunters, inviting many proposals; often when they really know in their heart (from previous relationships or referrals) who they want to use.

But in some businesses, the Yellow Pages have been vital and essential -- especially in emergency situations -- plumbers, roofers and other infrequently used but urgently required trades have found the listings to be central to their marketing process.

You'll notice that I am using the past tense here, because the Internet is rapidly eroding these traditional advertising models and, even where directory-type advertising remains valid, soon you won't have to deal with the biggest weakness of the conventional printed Yellow Page advertisement.

It is this -- you are stuck with a sometimes huge monthly bill, regardless of results, for a fixed format ad that you can't change or modify during the directory cycle, no matter what.

This is okay, I suppose, if the ad is working for you, but wouldn't it be much better to be able to control the volume of response and pay only for leads -- or even better -- actions that result in profitable business.

Online search engine advertising is powerful and effective for these reasons. Post the ad in the appropriate keywords, and pay only when advertisers click on your message. Great. Google will soon offer some advertisers another option -- pay for your ad only when they buy! But this will likely be available for items you can order and pay for online, and I don't think most plumbers or roofers will ever work this way.

As well, while the online model is effective and the search engines are improving localization, it is still relatively hard to fine-tune your geographic interests so that you only attract interest and response within your local service area on the Internet, especially if that area is quite small.

However, the final nail in the coffin for traditional Yellow Pages advertising may soon be on its way. New services allow publishers to offer a 'pay per call' service where advertisers only pay for their printed directory listings if customers actually call the special number (which ultimately rings through to your regular business line) when they see a directory ad relevant to them.

In other words, this model is like the 'pay per click' on the Internet, but here callers use the phone, just like the Yellow Pages.

Wow. No more wasted print advertising, and you have immediate traceability and accountability. And while I wouldn't recommend you turn the line off, if you get too busy I suppose you could disconnect without too much trouble.

While this service is new and is only experimentally available in some areas, I would really reconsider your Yellow Pages costs. One idea: Take 1/3 or even 1/2 of your Yellow Pages advertising budget, and allocate that money to the Internet with a high quality website, and good keyword search term selection. I think you will be impressed with the results.

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