Yellow Pages & SEO – Print Dollars for Internet Dimes

May 6th, 2011 by Will Scott

Picture of The Sock Puppet on Flickr

The Sock Puppet

I was having a conversation today with one of our clients for whom we do Yellow Pages SEO, and I swear I was transported back to the year 2000. It’s amazing to me that more than a decade after Yellow Pages companies first started getting their feet wet on the internet, they still don’t quite get it.

Trading print dollars for Internet dimes,” they say.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The online opportunities are immense for well established brands like the Yellow Pages for SEO, websites, paid search advertising, social media. With feet on the street combined with the power of SEO, the Yellow Pages, if they could ever get their act together, would eat our lunch.

Some of you may not be aware of my history. In fact, I’ll bet that the majority of you aren’t aware of my history.

First things first – I’m old. I’m over 40, live my life on the Internet, and I’m an avid user of Social Media. I represent a growing demographic online. And I remember when the Yellow Pages were a valued and viable advertising medium.

For the first six years of the Internet as we know it, I built websites. I put my first website online in 1994.

At first it was simple sites for individual clients who thankfully knew less than I did. They must have, because they paid me. And then I built database driven sites used for things like distance learning, e-commerce, digital uploads, and much more functional uses.

Then I got to lead a team. We cranked out literally 2,500+ websites in the span of two or three years. In fact, we built a very early content management system, and I personally wrote the code for the first CRM I ever worked on. That content management system is actually still running today, believe it or not.

Oh yeah, that company, it was founded by a guy who got his start in Yellow Pages. In fact, my boss at the time was a visionary. He knew the internet was hurtling toward print media like a meteor. He was just a little ahead of his time.

Oh Yellow Pages, Wither Goest Thou?

Oh Yellow Pages, Wither Goest Thou?

After my boss, later my partner, successfully blew through $1 million with little to show for it, we had to switch gears. We built Yellow Pages online. We took the data files from those old dusty books and turned them into the online Yellow Pages.

It seemed to us at the time that the best way to transition publishers from print to online was to make an online version of the book that looked just like the Yellow Pages. SEO barely existed in those days. This was pre-Google. Our idea of optimizing for search included renaming the domain name, submitting to directories, and stuffing the keywords meta-tags with anything even vaguely relevant.

And then came Google.

We had to figure out how to make those big fat sites that looked like Yellow Pages rank well in Google. And we did it.

Our team took the Sprint Yellow Pages from 0 to 1 million unique visitors a month in 18 months. We were so good we were actually profitable. And along came another company who, interested in our customers and our profitability, bought our company.

Yellow Pages companies of the day realized, many as early as the late 90s, that print was dying. They realized that to remain viable businesses they had to take advantage of their one real asset.

Yellow Pages have feet on the street and long relationships with advertisers. IRL.

Picture on Flickr: Sellin' Yellow Euro Style

Sellin' Yellow Euro Style

So first we sold online Yellow Pages, then we built online Yellow Pages. Yes, that’s right, we sold them before we built them. So what came next for the Yellow Pages? SEO.

We sold them, we built them, and now we had to get them traffic. And now they’re all hooked. They can’t walk away from the Internet. In some cases it’s about all they’ve got.

So a decade later, I’m talking to one of our Yellow Pages customers, and he’s got his sales force in the field trading print dollars for Internet dimes.

If only he’d come to us when he was pricing the product. We could have shown him how Yellow Pages SEO and websites can be profitable. We know from experience that, if done well, our customers trade print dollars for Internet dollars.

And the Yellow Pages knows how to sell the value! Yellow Pages have been proving the value through call tracking numbers and metrics for decades. But here again, in this “new” medium, they forget what they’re good at.

My favorite slogan from the Yellow Pages was “making phones ring and doors swing”. With those six words they told the merchant “we’re here to bring you new business”. And they weren’t afraid to prove it.

These days, the Yellow Pages, SEO, and websites are really just an extension of the old message. With 60% of searches demonstrating some kind of the local intent, it’s still about making phones ring and doors swing.

Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me Yellow Pages sales reps can’t sell online marketing.

What’s that sound? Sounds like phones ringing and doors swinging.

Picture of Dinosaurs and Meteor Never Forget

Never Forgive, Never Forget The Meteor

What do you think? Can the dinosaur get out of the way of the meteor?

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