Small Biz Marketing: More Bad News for Yellow Pages

Filed in Featured, Small Biz Marketing, Statistics by Matt McGee on September 23, 2010 20 Comments

It’s not quite “breaking news” anymore is it? No, but here are more troubling statistics for the yellow pages and, specifically, their status as a marketing venue for small businesses: According to a recent survey of “micro-businesses” conducted by Vistaprint, two-thirds of respondents have “no interest” in marketing via the yellow pages, and only 11% say they plan to use it in the future. Have a look:


The survey of 1,100 Vistaprint customers was done this past April. The stats above come from a question that asked what channels the micro-businesses are using now, and what channels they plan to use in the future. (Micro-business = 10 employees or less)

66% said “no interest” when asked about Yellow Pages — the highest to get a “no interest” reply. And only 11% said they planned on trying it in the next 12 months.

Social media and “online direct marketing” (i.e., e-mail marketing) both scored pretty well. Online advertising (i.e., paid search ads) had the top “plan to try it in the next 12 months” reply at 19%.

There’s some other interesting stats from the Vistaprint survey. I’m troubled by the notion that “friends/family” is the top reply when respondents were asked where they get marketing advice. Yikes.

Here are the full survey results on Vistaprint’s Small Business blog.

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  1. Marc Brodeur says:

    I think the telecoms (who owned the yellow pages) ironically missed or were very slow to adopt and understand the internet age. Though they provide the infrastructure they never saw the opportunity on the tech side beyond infrastructure and wireless. Google was offered up while private for $1,000,000 and was turned down by Excite CEO George Bell. Opportunity missed…..

  2. Toresa says:

    I’m not at all surprised. One thing I’ve noticed even from a consumer point of view is the number of people who will automatically “google it” vs. pick up the phone book. Small businesses need to start taking a harder look at the internet for their business.

  3. Mike Stewart says:

    Yellow Pages publishers failed to evolve. They also failed to innovate. Although corporations do not have a conscience, they do have culture. The corporate culture of the yellow pages is much like traditional MCI telecom. These business models and business environments tend to ignore the basics of push-pull marketing strategies and almost have a cocky attitude about themselves. Google sees itself as innovative and wants to make money while focusing on “not being evil”. It is an honest effort.

  4. Chris Thomas says:

    I worked for the Yellow Pages for 10 years and about four years ago started my own Internet Marketing/SEO Company because I saw how behind the Yellow Pages was in Internet Marketing. I agree… very slow to adopt but also adopted the wrong things and did them the wrong way. Have you seen the crap websites they put out? Terrible!

  5. I believe the current uncertainly in the economy has much more to do with lack of Yellow Pages advertising than overall trends in the industry. There is a great deal of fear about a double dip recession, of tax hikes at both the State and Federal level, and Gallop reported consumer spending is down again near historic lows.

    In such conditions, micro-businesses may be reluctant to engage in advertising channels that require an annual commitment. The other channels can be engages at any time, one can start and stop online, halt a mail campaign, etc.

    To me, these statistics say far more about the confidence of micro-business owners than the health of the traditional Yellow Pages Industry.

  6. Matt McGee says:

    I don’t know, Harry. Studies and analyses have shown for years — long before the current economic struggles — that SMB advertising was shifting away from print yellow pages to other channels, mainly the Internet.

  7. Ryan Crozier says:

    As a twenty-something I have to admit I haven’t opened a phonebook for over 8 years. Every year when a stack of them is delivered to my front porch I am simply frustrated with the waste. Being a small business owner myself, there is no way I would spend money on a Yellow Pages marketing plan unless my target audience was 60+ yrs old.

  8. Bob says:

    Not to be a wet blanket here, but the survey has one glaring problem. I would also pose the following question to get a balanced result.

    How many businesses would like to advertise on Internet Yellow Pages? I suspect that when asked this very pertinent question, most SMB’ will respond saying that, yes they would like to advertise there as well.

    The survey is unbalanced.

  9. James says:

    When the latest Yellow Pages directory was delivered in our district, I made a point of asking people who I came into contact with what they actually did with their copy. Unsurprisingly nearly half of my friends and family put their copy straight into their paper re-cycling bin.

    A few people even suggested saving a copy in its original cellophane wrapper in the hope that it would one day become a collectible item!

  10. I work with small businesses on their websites and I help out with some of their marketing. From what I see in my area things are changing so rapidly that business owners are struggling to keep up. Small business that are trying to do marketing and advertising in house don’t have time to learn it so they fall back on old methods that simply don’t work anymore. Businesses simply have to get lucky enough to hire someone that knows how to do it or they have to hire a firm to do it for them. Either way business owners feel they are in some version of roulette will they choose black or red??

  11. Tom says:

    There is more bias than just the one question not being asked…This survey asked their own ccustomers only…Make no mistake, the Yellow Pages print product is not for everyone. I work in a market with 30,000+ potential business customers. We will sell only 5800…the overwhelming majority of busineses are NOT Yellow Pages potential. Usage? Not 60 year olds…The phone book is used by older folks than 20 somethings for sure. Usually higher usage starts at age 35 when folks marry, buy a house and have kids and its used most by those THAT HAVE MONEY TO SPEND. That’s why this product will not die until the internet is free across the board, smart phones are in the hands of the majority not the minority as it is now and connections are seemless and immediate. Usage WILL decline some YOY, but not die and its not dead like some want others to believe. Small business owners who say that no one uses the book are wrong and those people that keep saying this are hurting these business folks from making solid decisions because they create such a bias against a product in the SMB owner’s mind and they won’t even listen to the data – yet they will freely throw 1000’s of bucks to anyone who says they can get them on page one of Google. There is a huge difference between CLICKS and LEADS and SALES…Clicks are not sales…YP Print references are solid lead opportunities.

  12. Bill says:

    As a small business owner,I track every phone
    call I receive,and I always ask the caller were they saw my marketing. 9 out of 10 say they found me online.Sad thing is they googled what they are looking for,and did not go to the online yellow pages.My own thought only, but I think yellow pages are heading the way of the dinosaur!!

  13. Joe says:

    Usually, it is the people who do not advertise in the phone book are the people who say it dose not work. The YP industry is losing about 1-3% usage per year. With a starting point of of say about 70% usage just 3 years ago, the worst case is about 60% still use the YP.
    It is still the most affordable lead out there…BY FAR!

    • Matt McGee says:

      Joe – can you share some links to back up those stats? Everything I’ve seen and read says the decline has been a lot more dramatic than your stats. And if you have some case studies that back up the claim that YP leads are more affordable than all other forms of marketing, I’d love to read about it.

  14. Mike Stewart says:


    You should know better. The yellow pages industry has adapted the sleaziest sales tactics short of new car sales to push its product for years thanks to a former monopoly on SMB advertising.

    They asked for research syndication after yellowbook was busted for false advertising, yet they still push CRM & the cartel, errrr I mean Associates.

    Don’t expect honesty… the more they say it the more it becomes true. Any person using a mobile device to text is less likely to use the yellowpages… unless they have Jitterbug or feature phones vs smart ones.

  15. Mike Stewart says:

    If you want significant usage of a phone book, take a trip to the nursing home, rural America, or telemarketing centers. You might strike luck ins trash bin. Last week they delivered phone books and just about every house in my Dallas area suburb had them on the curb…. heck, I even took some pictures and will post em on my site.

  16. For additional factual data regarding the online / offline local search debate, comScore and 15miles recently published a report that is worth reviewing. You can find it at localsearchstudy(dot)com. I don’t think any form a marketing is “bad.” Small businesses typically don’t even have a marketing budget. It comes down to what is the most bang for the buck and phone book ads are incredibly expensive, at least in California.

  17. Austin says:

    Yep, yellow pages are very scammy and sleazy. They completely lie to people, especially when they are working with people on websites. The sales people say what you want to hear and the people doing the work tell the client “we can’t do that.”

  18. Scott says:

    I think we are missing the point on what could be a major contribution point, and that is the growing popularity of the Yellow Pages mobile app. It is faster and more effective than google because it only shows businesses and it offers many other valuable features. If scaled right, it could become a true powerhouse…

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