Local Business Information: Search Engines Are Number One in Reach for 18-54 But Social Media Can Save Yellow Pages

The Yellow Pages Association just released new consumer survey data regarding reach, total references and trust of the Yellow Pages medium (print and online) versus other sources of local search information.


From a reach perspective: “65 percent said they referenced print and/or Internet Yellow Pages within the past month when looking for local business information. Search engines scored second with 58 percent, flyers/coupons were 38 percent, newspapers were 33 percent, and magazines were 14 percent. When analyzed individually, print Yellow Pages were 54 percent and Internet Yellow Pages were 33 percent.”

reach - small

On references: “consumers referenced print and Internet Yellow Pages 16.9 billion times in 2009”. That would be 4.9 billion online and 12 billion in print. Based on my experience, I suspect search engines local references are much higher than that though.

usage - small

On trust: “More than two-thirds of consumers (67 percent) said that print or Internet Yellow Pages is the source they trust most for finding local business information, compared to 33 percent for search engines”

trust and accuracy - small

Discussing with Larry Small, YPA’s Research Director, he offered these additional data points.

  • Media usage mirrored the economy, Usage increased in the later portion of 2009 and this probably bodes well for 2010.
  • I was also curious about branded searches (known merchant name or product brand) vs. non-branded searches (keywords or categories). Clearly, a big difference here between search engines and online directories. Intuitively, I’ve always thought that consumers use search engines for known merchants, to find their address, phone number or driving directions while they use an online directory for shopping and they need to see a selection of options and data from ComScore below seems to directionally confirm this.

Local Business Search Terms Branded Non-Branded

  • I also asked for data on specific age groups and also for friends/family references (word-of-mouth). When you drill down on “past month reach by age”, you find additional nuggets of information. Younger people use search engines and ask their friends/family for advice.

Burke Additional Data-small

What it means: There is a huge debate on the validity of these numbers happening on Greg Sterling’s blog. Personally, I have no doubt the Yellow Pages category, when combining print and online is still number one in reach. After all, it was the trusted source of local business information for many decades and you see it’s still number one for the 55+ and pretty much tied for number one in the 35-54 age group. I believe we’re seeing a generational usage change. Google was created only 10 years ago and it takes a long time to see significant impacts when those shifts happen (see The Boring Age for a discussion on the pace of technology shifts). I’m also impressed (not surprised though) by the power of friend/family in the search for a local recommendation. I believe the rise of social media will provide consumers tools to help with the gathering of shopping feedback/opinions and users will realize it’s easier to ask your friends/family (and you get better referrals) than with search engines. By embracing social media technology, directory publishers can regain the upper hand becoming the place where you find apps/tools to mine your friends and familiy’s opinions. Imagine a world where the friend/family & PYP/IYP numbers are combined. I’m sure it beats search engines and that’s the real opportunity for directory publishers.


6 thoughts on “Local Business Information: Search Engines Are Number One in Reach for 18-54 But Social Media Can Save Yellow Pages

  1. Sebastien, I agree – I think we’re definitely seeing a generational change in the sources people go to for obtaining local business information.

    Larry Small answered my questions on the study’s methodology and I’m far less skeptical of the relative usage percentages represented. Their combined sampling method is likely more representative of the overall population than what we’ve seen in some past studies.

    We’ll really know much more of where the trends are headed once they provide another study in a year’s time. However, the usage figures of the younger demographics give us hints that some of our assumptions on usage trends are likely correct. With younger people going to Search Engines and Social Media more than to traditional media, there are continued troubling omens for both Print YP and IYP alike.

    I think the question this raises is: Will the concept of “yellow pages” remain relevant, going forward?

  2. There is a a huge debate on the validity of these numbers?


    Sorry, but there shouldn’t be any debate.

    This is very weak US data, with less than 9k repondants, including phone interviews.

    Phone interviews? WTF?

    The social media audience is participating in phone interview?


    On top of it: take a look at these numbers:

    This is a miserable PR move by the Yellow Pages Association and there is nothing to aid the YP cause here.

    In fact Sebastien, this is not something that merits a “where local meets social” post.

    This should have been ignored or at least critized for its cheap attempt to disguise the YP train wreck.

    Unless that was your real intention, as in:

    What a train wreck. I couldn’t look away.

    otherwise, you owe me five minutes of my life back…

  3. Lubin,

    I believe that a portion of the population are still using the print Yellow Pages, the same way people are reading print newspapers, magazines, watching television on their TV set or listening to radio in their car. Those numbers tell that.

    I think everyone in the YP industry agrees that they should have moved more quickly ten years ago when an upstart called Google arrived on the scene and became the most useful local search tool on the web (with international scope). I believe they’ve now lost the “useful” battle with Google. I’ve blogged about it almost a year ago and said if you’re still fighting Google, you’re fighting yesterday’s battle. The real opportunity to save the industry is with social media, becoming a very useful provider of tools to help consumers make better local purchase decisions. Stop worrying about Google and embrace social is my message. Now, they can choose to listen or not.

  4. Sebastien,

    Thank you for taking the time to go over the “yellow pages industry survey.” I don’t trust the information or the intention. I have over 9 recent years of experience offering local advertising to businesses in Dallas Fort Worth as well as Sherman, San Angelo, Sulphur Springs Tx and various other rural markets in Texas. Yellow Pages Print usage has declined over 50% in urban markets and is getting there in the suburban areas. Yet in Sherman you will find that print is viable. Print is viable in many areas of the country. Considering that big Telco publishers have all but abandoned the areas that have the oldest populations and greatest percentage of print users, I would definitely take stock in the “hyper-local” directories published in rural markets. I am sure these are the selected 9,000 survey participants.

    BTW, I love how one company in particular is already sending out mass emails and attempting to leverage this “new supportive” data. I also love the comments about Facebook and Twitter…. I have more followers than the company when you subtract the number of employees who are following. Seriously. LOL.

    Also…. do we also not agree that mobile is in infantcy, Internet via TV is getting started, and internet hotspots/access/WiFi is still developing as well? In particular, if we continue to trend this data you will see a continued shift over the next 2 years. I seriously doubt that it will be a legitimate business model in 5 years.

    What do I know? I just sold ads to the largest businesses in Dallas Fort Worth and listened closely to the ROI. (insert sarcasm here 🙂

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