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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.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Hi,

    Great post. Two comments:

    1) I suspect we owe a great deal of the fun competition in this country to the Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Supreme Court decision (basically saying you can’t have copyright on a list of facts – like phone numbers). In other countries it’s often not so, making the incumbent much more comfortable and the competition much less interesting.

    2) While I definitely agree on the value of data, I think you are underestimating the value of the technology. At YellowBot we have every business in the country, millions of reviews and hundreds of millions of tags in our database. If I sent that to you – or worse to an average user – in a big zip file; or even in a database format, would that be very useful? No. Without the search engine to help slice and dice and the structure that’s put on the data it’s not worth much. The website and APIs are tremendously valuable, too.

    (And in the background there are of course many more things needed to make it spin; for example without state of the art matching and merging technology you’ll be unable to properly process new and updated data as it comes in).

    – ask

  2. I get into this discussion all the time with the owner of our small publishing company. Me not being from the Yellow Pages industry and my boss not being particularly “tech savvy”, we are always butting heads on how exclusive our content should be. I agree that we own a goldmine of content in our database and also have a good way to access the content, but to hold content back from the users is not an incentive for businesses to advertise, it’s a reason for the user to not come back to the site.

  3. I have a few dumb questions. I’m new at this online yellow pages business.

    You said “European players… have shared [their contents] far less with the search engines”

    Can you be more specific on which part of their contents that they share with the search engines and which part they don’t? When part of the content is not shared, does it mean it won’t show up in their search results if someone is searching for it?

    It seems exclusivity benefits only the yellow pages sites, not the advertisers, because their listings are not as broadly available as they could. Is this right? How would you tell this to your advertisers? Being on those search engines seems like the biggest selling point for them and makes them more willing to pay.



  4. The yellow pages has a problem because their primary customer is a business listed in their database. That allows other companies like our local search directory, to focus as our primary customer on the user of the database. Yellow pages is powerless to respond because of the giant chains that spend a fortune with them that dooms their search results to be slanted away from what users find effective to the businesses that pay the most.

  5. Many local Business directories and yellowpages are saling their informations to google and yahoo
    without talk about InfoUsa ! But lets hope for a more democratic local business directories and yeloowpages Market!

  6. Thank you Chris. the question that you ask is related to me. i wanted to ask the question but you had asked it. Anyway thanks.. thanks a lot…
    Micheal Smith

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