Yellow Pages Advertising 2015 – A Case Study

By June 2, 2015marketing

Recently a good friend of mine was talking about online advertising.  She has been in business since the 80s and since that time has relied almost exclusively on advertising the Yellow Pages to attract new customers.  And back then it worked.  But times have since changed.  From May 2014 to May 2015 she had a contract that was just over $800 per month, amounting to just under $10,000 over the duration of the contract.  This was justified by the amount of service she was getting – priority placement in the print directory, priority placement in the Yellow Pages website, and a Google Adwords campaign.  We talked just prior to her meeting her YP rep in early May, 2015.  I advised her not to renew the contract, for the reasons outlined below. I will now handle each of these point in turn.

Priority placement in the print directory.  This means absolutely nothing.  For a lot of markets they don’t even distribute these anymore.  And even if they do, can you find one in the home?  I tried, and after about 15 minutes found one…but it was from 2011.  Compare that to the amount of time it takes to find your phone and then search for what you are looking for.  It becomes even more pronounced when you realize a fairly large proportion of searches happen outside of the home.  This is one “benefit” that is actually not a benefit at all.  I am embarrassed for them that they bring it up at all.

Priority Placement in the Yellow Pages website. This is better, and arguably of some benefit as I’m sure it does drive some customer inquiries.  But not a lot: by YP’s own tracking system that contract generated 3 calls over the course of the year.  $3300 per call.  The reason is fairly simple.  The YellowPages.ca is one site, and for many markets, not a highly ranked one (though to be fair, it does rank well for certain terms).  If someone has done a search and visited 2 or 3 sites already, are they likely to click into another site just to view a list that is very similar to the one they are already looking at?  It is better to be highly ranked in Google than the YellowPages because it is one step up the ladder in terms of actions the user has to take.  A click is not a lot of effort, but it is a large barrier to overcome in terms of psychology.  You have to give the user a reason to click, and if all you offer is more of the same, why bother?  More on this next.

Google Adwords Campaign. First, some background. I am certified in Adwords from Google, which means nothing.  It’s an online exam that you take and can cheat a great deal on.  But it does at least familiarize you with the platform, the methods and the terminology.  The real value is I supported myself on Adwords for a good portion of 2009, which means everything.  It takes a certain level of knowledge to be able to make one of those campaigns profitable.  What the Yellow Pages does with this amounts to negligence at best, and here’s why:

1. Bidding on broad matched terms.  Adwords has 3 keyword match categories: broad, phrase and exact.  Broad match gives the largest volume of searches because you are bidding on phrases that contain any of the terms.  So if you bid on the broad match term “barrie divorce lawyer” if any of the words shows up in a search, like say “barrie chamber of commerce” your ad will appear.  That’s a big deal because your CPC (cost per click) is inversely related to your CTR (Click Through Rate), meaning the higher your CTR, the lower your CPC.  CTR is defined as the number of clicks divided by the number of times the ad was shown (impressions) times 100.  If your ad has *nothing to do* with a user’s search it will lower you CTR, obviously.  Or, to put it another way, you can never start a campaign on broad matched terms.  You have to start on phrase matched (or exact if you’d like) to be able to determine the searcher’s intent, and then see if you can match your offer to their search.  Only after you have a proven funnel can you start bidding on broad matched terms – and then only to find new keywords you can take into the phrase or exact matching groups for profitability. For my friend, I confirmed they had broad matched terms by using 1 or 2 word terms and seeing if they showed up.

2. Sending traffic to the homepage.  Inexcusable.  To make a profit on Adwords there has to be a clear linear progression from search to ad to landing page (the page they go to after clicking on the ad). This has to be extremely find grained, so much so that a winning campaign will typically have a 1:1:1 ratio – both the ad and landing page are specifically crafted for the keyword, because that’s what it takes. Sending traffic to a homepage creates a disconnect as you go from a specific inquiry to a general page.  While this may convert some of the time, most of the time it won’t.  For my friend, it didn’t convert at all.

3. Poorly written ads.  Just look at others to see the quality.  Would you click it?

4. Their stats. They come at you with things like “your ads get a ton of clicks” and “that’s a very high volume search term” among others.  It sounds impressive, but have you ever paid a bill in clicks or searches?  They are metrics to consider, but they are not even top level ones. The only numbers that matter are conversions and revenue, which I’m not sure YP provides.  And if you use their landing pages (discussed next) that means the only metric they can’t manipulate is revenue. Everything else can be tampered with as long as you have everything through them. Which is probably why the rep said that my friend was getting “lots of clicks” that somehow didn’t translate into customers.  Funny that.

5. Their hosted landing pages.  After I pointed out the homepage issue, she brought it up to her YP rep who mentioned they have the ability to have landing pages made for the keywords being bid on, which sounds great, but it’s not.  That’s because the people setting it up still have no idea how to make it convert.  It’s one thing to have the technical know how to set a campaign up; it’s another to have enough direct marketing experience to be able to make it convert.  And its the techie side that’s easiest to learn-  you can have that down in a week.  But it gets worse.  Those pages that they so poorly make are not even on you domain – they are on a YP owned domain.  Which means if you stop paying rent, it’s gone.

That dovetails into perhaps the biggest issue here.  To have any staying power or control over your fate you need to own your patch of the internet, which is why domain names are known as VRE – Virtual Real Estate.  With YP everything is under their roof, so you are a renter, with few rights and little control.  And if you stop paying, you have nothing to show for it, even if you’ve been a client for years.  Proper internet marketing would be to have you own domain and site, with all the Adwords landing pages on your site.  And then using Google Analytics hooked up to you own site, and Adwords campaign.  That way, you have accurate data about a property you control. But more importantly, you are building an asset you control.  Do you know how much more attractive a business is that comes with a top ranked site?

Anyway, more to follow as this develops, as she did renew the contract, for $100 less a month.  I was surprised, but happy to have a case study about what exactly you get for that money in this day and age.  Also, I tried my best to explain concepts here that have a lot of meat to them; feel free to ask questions if you need clarification. I will post updates as they come.

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