yellow pages advertising — is it worth it?

Yellow pages advertising is extremely expensive, especially considering its ever diminishing value due to decreased usage. And in most markets there are multiple books, each taking value from the others. Here on California’s rural north coast, The Black Book is probably the most used and the best buy—YP has no white pages, and the type is tiny, even though it’s a larger format, and the “Local Pages” is from Salt Lake City, and its listings are out of date.
Think about these problems before you enter into a contract for yellow pages advertising:

Expense: think of the online ad programs that your yellow pages ads would pay for.

Diminishing usage: every year, your potential customers are going to the web first.

Multiple books: most counties now have competing phone books—each with some of the market.

Lack of flexibility: contract is for an entire year, far in advance of publication.

The job of the ad sales reps is to get advertisers to spend the same or more money in next year’s book — this is reflected in a pricing structure that punishes clients for trying to decrease the size of their ads (what a way to thank your loyal clients). Ad reps also try to sell clients into every applicable category, but some categories are scarcely used. A category could sound reasonable, but rarely be referenced: Some yellow pages have a category for “internet—web design services,” but nobody looks for a web developer under “internet”— and how many business owners would even look for a web developer in the yellow pages? And some types of businesses don’t benefit from yellow pages advertising — for example: what benefit could a corner market get from the yellow pages?

Online advertising offers control and flexibility. With online advertising, the advertiser can change the message any time, and can control the reach of the ads. For example, one company we work with uses Google Adwords — they turn up the amount they pay per click when they are slow, and lower the amount they pay when they are busy.

There’s some value in yellow pages for some business categories, but if you are not a criminal attorney or an emergency plumber, the yellow pages is probably not a sound investment.