The Evolution of Online Yellow Pages

Who cares about Chastain Chem-Dry carpet cleaning service in Atlanta? Actually, a lot of people, I would think — from employees and customers to companies Chastain buys from and those that are sold to. In other words, this is an SME that is a classic Yellow Pages advertiser. Probably no one cares more about the business than Micha Anderson, who's the president of the company. He is in business to make a living. So what he wants to do is maximize his customers and his revenue while minimizing his expenses to make a profit.

Mr. Anderson got his few minutes of fame in an article in today's Wall Street Journal. "Let Your Fingers Do the … Surfing" (subscription required) is on the increasingly tiresome subject of "Yellow Pages publishers are searching for ways to stay relevant in a new media world." The point seems to be that directory publishers are waking up to the fact that more people go to Yahoo! and Google than Yellow Pages sites.

Unlike most other media, Yellow Pages publishers have been aware of the potential of the Internet and have acted to introduce Internet products since before Netscape came on the scene. They fought to keep their brands by using the URLs of their print product in some cases (yp.bellsouth.com and uswestdex.com) or through the development of new names (SuperPages.com and YellowPages.com). Several other companies that didn't have a print product thought Yellow Pages online was a good idea too (bigbook.com and infospace.com ). Unlike virtually every traditional media business in the U.S., Yellow Pages publishers recognized the threat early on and began testing online products.

Granted, none of these products hit a home run, but many of them hit solid singles or doubles and put themselves in a position to play with the big boys. But in 1995, no one knew who the big boys were going to be. There are lots of things that you can fault Yellow Pages publishers about, but you can't say they didn't try. They educated their sales forces, implemented traffic deals, developed joint ventures, bundled print and IYP, attempted to work with other media and, most importantly, recognized the threat and saw it as an opportunity.

Yes, it would have been great if these companies had recognized early on the potential for local search instead of trying to sell ads on the Internet that looked just like the ones in the print book. But few companies did, just like few of us took our life's savings and bet it all on Yahoo! or Google when they went public.

That takes us back to Micha Anderson’s Chastain Chem-Dry carpet cleaning service in Atlanta. The company buys a bundle of clicks from the BellSouth sales force for a set amount each month. He doesn't worry about the details (according to WSJ) like "what key words have been purchased on his behalf. He just knows that the traffic to his Web site has nearly quadrupled since the program began. I don't know what exactly are the mechanics of how they drive traffic for us, but it's effective," Mr. Anderson said. He understands he might be able to get a better deal by going directly to the search engines or trying a different way to buy traffic, but this is easy and he knows it works.

That's what people have been saying about Yellow Pages advertising for more than 100 years. Join us in Los Angeles for Directory Driven Commerce 2006: The Future of Yellow Pages, Sept. 18-20.

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