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A client asked me to help them sort through a proposal from Yellow Pages. The 30-page document, which included too many charts and unrelated graphics, was confusing and overwhelming. My job was to help them digest the information, meet with the Yellow Pages representative, ask the right questions and develop a plan for their business. They also wanted to know how the return on the Yellow Pages investment could compare to the work they were doing with Google AdWords.

I was very upfront about my bias against the Yellow Pages that spans the length of my career. I always felt their salespeople used fear and confusion to close the deal. As their printed directory has become little more than a doorstop, they have shifted their emphasis to online properties, and the proposals are even more confusing.  Helping my client sort through this, I tried to be fair in my evaluation, comparing the return on investments from Yellow Pages and Google AdWords.

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Here’s what I learned in my comparison of Google AdWords vs Yellow Pages.

Traffic Matters

YP.com has significantly less traffic than Google. No surprise there. As a result, they have significantly fewer searches for specific terms. However, visitors to YP.com are in shopping mode. Traffic from this site has a much higher conversion rate than Google.  50% of the time, visitors will click through to a specific listing from YP.com. That’s significantly higher than the 5% rate you will see on a typical Google search.

Too Many Ads Makes a Difference

Like Google, YP.com does have both paid and organic listings. But in a crowded category, advertisers are more likely to rise to the top of the organic section even if they are not completely relevant. This is an area of concern because we know that when you start delivering bad results biased by advertising, people stop using the tool. Just look at the decline of Ask.com.

YP’s Filters Are Not For Everyone

The geographic filter seems to work on the macro level (by city), but not on a zip code by zip code search. Again, advertisers seem to be able to override geographic requests. Companies with multiple locations within a city will probably benefit from this type of advertising.

Good YP App, But Who Uses It?

They have a good mobile app which is easy to use and displays ads well. The problem? How many mobile users bother to download a Yellow Pages app when they already have Yelp and Siri on their phone?

YP Connect Is More Like a Detour

Yellow Pages has a tool called YP Connect, which is their AdWords tool. I have no doubt that they have learned their lessons well from Google, but it’s a two-step process. Consumers searching on Google can select a company listing or the link to YP.com, which promises a list of companies. Essentially, any advertiser has to count on two search wins–one on Google and then another on YP.com to get the clickthrough traffic. If you are going to spend the money, a direct route makes more sense.

So is there a place for yellow page products in your advertising plan? It depends. If your target market is a young, computer savvy consumer, probably not. Ads on Google, Facebook and even Yelp will probably have a higher return. However, if you are targeting a senior customer in a specific city or county, carving out a small portion of your online advertising budget for YP.com makes sense, but not YP Connect.

If  you are going to spend the money, treat it like any other serious advertising investment. Make sure you have good landing pages and strong conversion calls to action, and measure the results month by month.

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