Yellow Page Ad Buying Tips

It’s YP ad season again. A number of my clients have been asking for advice for their ads. Some are wondering if they should scrap them, some want to re-adjust things and looking to just make them more effective. Some who don’t advertise in the phone book wondering if they should. So after reviewing and discussing things with a few or them, I now have some tips to share.

Be Suspect of their Sales Package Info

One of my Canadian clients forwarded me a little graphic that broke down the local population, percentage that used YP print + online, % that followed up and percentage that bought. The numbers were high, very high. But here is the thing. The fine print disclaimer at the bottom, so small and fuzzy you could barely read it, said this : “(2) Monthly usage numbers based on 2007 Canadian Business Usage Study conducted by Ad Mix Research at the provincial level (British Columbia)“.

Ok, so they do their survey of a few thousand people across the province, or state, and extrapolate that to each city. Fine, I can accept that. But 2007? Almost 4 years old. 4 years is an ice age in internet terms. Yellow pages usage has plummeted in the past 4 years. Plummeted I tell you! Anyone that tells you differently is lying. I won’t even bother hunting down links to articles to support that. There are oodles of them. Google around, you’ll find ‘em.

While YP usage is declining, the costs to be included are going up. It’s time to scrutinize your spending there. Cut where you need to or increase in the right areas to be better focused on the parts that work for your business.

Choose Only Your Most Relevant Category

Your YP sales agent will likely send you monthly stats on search or call volumes for a few related categories. They will also try to sell you on being in the bigger, broader category. Since those categories get more volume, it’s often more expensive to advertise in there. But do not think for a second that it is worthwhile paying the inflated prices of those kinds of categories to maybe introduce your business in a drive by fashion to those searching something else. That’s bound to produce a negative ROI.

For example, a Window Tinting client showed me the sales package their YP sales agent sent them. Besides the Window Tinting & Coating category they showed them stats for the Automotive – Glass category. This got about 4 to 5 times the volume as tinting. Not surprising. But this represents people looking for cracked or chipped windshield repair or replacing broken windows. These are not people looking for window tinting.

Another client, a landscaping contractor was shown the stats for the General Contracting section, which consists of primarily home builders and larger commercial construction companies. As well they were shown the Home Improvement section, a catch all of all kinds of random services. Don’t fall for this.

Use Online Keyword Tools to Determine your Best Category

If faced with multiple related categories for your business, and wanting to focus your ad spend where it matters most, keyword tools may provide a great proxy for how people search in the phone book. How people phrase things in online search often represents the first words that come to their mind, which should translate to where they go first in the phone book.

For example, this security system company in Louisiana was contemplating these two categories: Burglar Alarms and Security Alarms. A quick check with Google Insights reveals that far more people search for Alarm terms. Armed with that info my client then decided to drop their ad in the Burglar section and switch to a larger ad in the Alarm section. They now pay a little less per month, but have a bigger ad in the one category that matters more.

Opt Out of Extra Internet Marketing Packages

Many YP providers are reselling Google Adwords pay per click ads. Frankly, they do a piss poor job of this. Bland ads, lame landing pages, poor (broad) keyword targeting, plus a huge markup on click costs. Even worse, some use your YP listing on their website as the landing page. You end up paying to drive traffic to their website, not yours. If you think pay per click advertising could work for you, do it yourself, or hire a PPC specialist to help you.

If the “package” you choose includes this extra online stuff, opt out, and use that as leverage to maybe get a slightly bigger ad instead, or some other added feature, or simply to reduce your monthly costs a bit more.

Make Sure You Are Listed in their Online Directory

If you are opting out of print ads in the book, or paring down your exposure on their online directories, or whatever, make sure you still get their most basic kind of listing in the online directory. It’s usually free to just have a basic listing. You want that. You need that. Google will see it and use it as a citation source which can assist you in the local search rankings.

Negotiate Your Price

Not every business pays the same for the same sized ads. YP’s analyze each category for search volume and call volume. They price accordingly. Categories with lots of competitors translates directly to larger numbers of people seeking that service. A plumber pays far more for a quarter page ad than does a welder.

And here is a juicy little secret I’ll let you in on, their quoted prices are not set in stone. Ask them to sharpen their pencil! They often will. Recognize that your sales rep is probably paid on commission and can be flexible with pricing in order to make a sale.

Track YP Ad Effectiveness

It’s not that hard to track how many people find you through the yellow pages. You don’t necessarily need fancy call tracking services to accomplish this. Just ask customers that phone you “how did you find us?”. You don’t even need to ask them all. Ask enough to get a decent sample size. If 20% say yellow pages you can then assume that 20% of all new customers are finding you that way too.

A rough idea on YP ad effectiveness, and a rough idea on its ROI is far better than no idea. Frankly too many small local businesses have no idea what yellow page ads are, or are not, doing for them, and that’s sad. Stop being one of those sad statistics and put a basic tracking system in place.

We in the local SEO industry like to criticize the yellow pages, the dinosaurs that they are, but for some businesses it is still an effective place to advertise. It’s just getting harder so you need to be smarter.

If anyone else has more YP advertising tips, drop them in the comments below.

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