It’s sometimes useful to track search terms as an indication of demand and popularity of products, both online and off, as Chris Smith has done in his column referenced yesterday by John Kelsey.
In the case of Yellow Pages, however, I don’t think this method lands you in an accurate measure of real world metrics. Smith admits it’s not perfect and I appreciate his effort; it is an interesting look. But for “yellow pages” I don’t think there is a significant link (no pun) between how often the search term is used and some of the unique metrics (lookups, traffic, quality traffic, calls, conversions, etc.) by which value in this medium is measured.
First, a considerable amount of IYP traffic is direct navigation (a possibility Smith acknowledges). You either go to an IYP — via direct navigation or bookmark — to do a local search; or you go to Google to type in the business or category you are looking for. What most people don’t do (I believe) is go to Google and type in “yellow pages” as a first step in an online local search process.
Some might do this, but it’s convoluted, and I imagine it’s a small segment of non-savvy searchers. And evidence suggests that searchers are getting more and more sophisticated with how they enter terms (i.e., enter a ZIP code with a search term) when engaged in local search.
It should also be noted that Smith’s analysis looks at quantity of searches, which is a few steps away from accurate measurements of traffic and, more importantly, quality of traffic. IYPs receive, on average, much more qualified traffic than Google Maps or Google searches with “local intent.”
It’s also interesting to see “google maps” as a search term map against “yellow pages” — although again this may be apples to oranges, given the differing levels of direct navigation traffic for each.
Smith nonetheless makes an interesting case, while qualifying that search terms aren’t a perfect measure of actual traffic. We’ll take the analysis with the appropriately sized grain of salt.
What About Print?
The analysis also makes one wonder where else these search term data apply to the Yellow Pages. Being that it’s sometimes useful to track demand or cultural awareness of any product or phenomenon by looking at the prevalence of search terms, does this say anything about the print Yellow Pages?
Probably not. Here’s why:
1. Print lookups are based on a certain use case that is not tied to search engines. This would be different if a Google search for “yellow pages” told you where in your house you keep your print book. Otherwise there isn’t much reason to type the words “yellow pages” into Google, nor is there much of a correlation — rather a physical disconnect — between search and print lookups.
2. Though the Yellow Pages is a product, it is not something that is bought. Therefore its use, popularity, or demand shouldn’t be implicated in the same vein as other types of products (i.e., “flat screen tv”) for which people may conduct Google searches.
3. The Yellow Pages is a staple of many households and some might say a cultural phenomenon — but is more of a utility than other phenomena for which people will search (i.e., “Paris Hilton,” “Mojito recipe,” “Halo 3,” etc.) The Yellow Pages, in other words, ain’t sexy.
Some of these may be more obvious reasons than others. But is it useful to look at search terms as an indication of use, demand and popularity for IYPs or print Yellow Pages? And are some of the assumptions above correct? Your thoughts encouraged.