One of the things that dawned on me after listening to the many speakers at our recent DMS ’08 conference in Atlanta was that a fundamental aspect of the Yellow Pages business has been lost — exclusivity. During the days before the Internet and the massive sharing of data with Google, Yahoo and others, the content and data of the Yellow Pages were exclusive to the print directories or their online counterparts.
While U.S. publisher Internet Yellow Pages sites bemoan the fact that they do not enjoy healthy traffic levels, when we look to the new breed of local search players like Yellowbot, Yelp and Brownbook and listen to search platform developers like Exalead, they clearly understand the value of exclusivity. The online world, and certainly local media in general, is driven by information and particularly uniquely aggregated information. The power local search sites hold is in the amount of aggregated data they have either uniquely developed or have aggregated into a convenient package for site visitors. IYPs remain in a position to become the end all and be all of aggregated local business and service information, but the window of opportunity is quickly closing due to the efforts of Google, Yahoo and a variety of aggressive local search sites.
With the vast amount of local company data that is continuously updated and enhanced each year, directory companies own a gold mine of local information that companies like Google, Yahoo and local search sites covet — which is why they continue to strike deals to gain access to this information. Collecting and updating local business and service data is an expense that search engines and local search players are not willing to pay. Pick any vertical and you can bet that in most cases the Yellow Pages database has more business listings and content than any other source.
European players have understood this advantage and have shared far less with the search engines and vertical sites. They have enjoyed more organic traffic levels because of their cautious nature, desire to keep the deepest local content exclusively within their IYP sites and willingness to promote their brands. While some of their advantage lies in Europe’s more closed information sharing practices, publishers in Europe have made a decision to share less with search engines than their U.S. counterparts in order to build their brand.
The print Yellow Pages product has definitely lost its relevance worldwide to a large segment of its once loyal users. If the print book could again become a source of vital local information that was exclusive to its bound pages alone (not even to its IYP site), that would certainly build relevancy and a desire to use the product. The industry needs to get busy with the task of figuring out what demographic groups it wants to own, figuring out what content and user features those customers want in both print and online, and then implementing and heavily promoting those exclusive features and user benefits. These are the steps critical to winning new print and IYP users, enhancing the relevancy of the product line and increasing the ROI for advertisers.