3 out of 5 Search Influence Employees Don’t Even Own a Print Phone Book

July 22nd, 2009 by Amy Arnold

In conversation one day, I mentioned to Will that for what we charge some of our clients, I can put a real value on it when I compare it to yellow pages spending.  And what I mean by that is for what a plastic surgeon or a dentist or a wedding photographer might pay for a large display ad in their local yellow pages, they could be spending the same or less in search engine optimization (SEO – Organic Search) / search engine marketing (SEM – Paid Search) and getting so much more return on investment for their marketing budget.

Orlando Plastic Surgery Yellow Pages Ads

Orlando Plastic Surgery Yellow Pages Ads

I worked in the yellow pages industry for just short of 10 years at a CMR, Certified Marketing Representative, where all of my clients were national clients in multiple markets.  So I’ve spent a full decade of my life working in the yellow pages industry, which is not a glamorous media, but at one time it was incredibly profitable for clients based on their return on investment (ROI).  That ROI in yellow pages is now dropping dramatically with every year because of the overwhelming competition from internet for media dollars.

It is in the yellow pages industry where a lot of tracking techniques were started.  I can’t tell you how many tracking phone numbers I have set up and used in a yellow pages ad.  And given a client’s number, had to track a very real ROI each month based on the calls made.

I have organized split run comparisons where we run 1 ad in half of the distribution area of a phone book and another ad in the other half of the distribution area, and then sit back and watch the tracking phone numbers data.

And now in search engine marketing for 2+ years, I find I am doing many of the same things.

When Will first asked me to work with his company, Search Influence, I hesitated – I mean what did I know about search engine optimization?!?

It turns out, it’s a lot of the same stuff. Getting our clients in the right directories, listed under the right categories, tracking incoming calls, proving value …

It is this last, “proving value,” that is the most telling.  Knowing what a large display ad costs in the yellow pages which a lot of our clients would have been doing 10 years ago, and comparing it to what Search Influence charges for SEM and SEO, I realize that the value is definitely in the internet.

In yellow pages, a plastic surgeon might buy a full page or a half page ad for a large percentage of their annual advertising budget.  In some larger metro markets, this can easily reach up to $100,000.00, over $8,000.00 each month, with a yellow pages industry average of 5% increase each year.

This gets the surgeon an ad that is in print for a year, and that’s what you get.  Hope that people pick up the fat book shoved in the back of the cabinet, find the heading, (not under “Doctors,” not under “Physicians & Surgeons-Cosmetic Surgery,” but buried under “Physicians & Surgeons-Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery”) and choose your ad to call.

Most people today are already in front of the computer for work.  They just type it in exactly what they want, no digging, “Plastic surgery Houston“.  It’s too easy to use the internet.

The internet is a living, breathing medium.  For the same amount of money or, amazingly, much less in some big metro markets, SEO actively finds the people searching for your product.

Ringing Phone = Profits

Ringing Phone = Profits

Changes can be made daily or hourly for specials and promotions.  Yellow pages ads are in print for 12 months.

Tracking is not limited to phone number tracking – we can find which pages are working and which pages users are most likely to leave the site on, edit some graphics and compare the traffic patterns week to week instead of year to year.

The average yellow pages display ad attracts over 440 calls per year (Source: YPPA Media Impact Study, 2004).  Search Influence has many client sites with thousands of visits each month, with hundreds of contacts each month.

Businesses are moving their marketing dollars to the internet from yellow pages more and more every day because it’s smart money spent.   I mean I don’t want to glorify SEO for more than it is, but dollar for dollar, internet marketing gives so much more impact for money spent by bringing in real customers.

I did a very informal survey which I think sums up America’s use of their phone books.  Here are some responses to “Where is your print phone book?”:

  1. “I may have thrown it away, if I have it, it is in the pantry.”
  2. “I threw out the new ones.”
  3. “I saw it this weekend when I was trying to make room (in the kitchen cabinet)”
  4. “I don’t have one.”
  5. Another, “I don’t have one.”

Of course, my survey of 5 people may not be fair because I did only ask people who sit in front of a computer all day, and so I ask, do you know where your phone book is?