We've recently (and somewhat oddly) had a lot of dealings with Yellow Pages. In the past when asked, I've suggested people shouldn't bother with paying to be listed within the Yellow Pages -especially if you're an IT related company. This was purely based on my experience of stupid numbers of callers wanting an e-commerce site for £50 and the fact that I've believed for a long time that it's quickly losing any useful market share thanks to the likes of Google, Yahoo! and MSN. Now however I've got several reasons not to.
A little history/background for those of you who aren't aware who, or what Yellow Pages is
Yellow Pages has for a long time been the place to find the telephone number of a local company. It neatly organises everything from your local kebab shop to your nearest funeral parlor (not saying the two are linked!).
Yellow Pages ran into a problem a few years ago that I don't think they ever really realised/addressed -this little thing that wouldn't catch on called the Internet. Although they launched a website somewhere around 2001 they were (IIRC) more interested in competing for the 118* directory service (btw how many variations are there? 35ish? -How many do you remember!). Then, by the time they started to realise the potential of the web over the premium rate call lines, they pricked their ears up.
But instead of following suit on the web by opening their service up as widely as possible, they decided to dig their head into the sand and take the same course of action many large corporate do of "We're so big, we don't need you piddly client, you need us", and this leads me to believe Yellow Pages (and to a large extent) yell.com will soon be a thing of the past (thankfully some might say).
So what's my gripe? What've they done to me?
Nothing is the simplest response but that's also what they've done trying to satisfy a couple of our clients. I'll refer to two of these to argue my point, both SMEs, for arguments sake we'll call them Company A and Company B.
Company A spends approximately £5,000 advertising in Yellow Pages each year. This equates to about 20% of their turnover (a fair chunk of it!). Company A has also had a website for the past few years. Originally developed by Yellow Pages, but updated by us in 2003.
Ever since the website was created, Company A claimed that the majority (est. 80%+) of their custom came from Yellow Pages so each year, when the Yellow Pages rep gave them a call happily invested yet more money.
Recently though, Company A decided to redesign their website as their old one wasn't snazzy enough anymore. Despite fairly heavy traffic and our objections, the decision was made to turn off the existing website (rather than replacing it a temporary holding page) while the new site was being designed and developed. This was only going to take a month (it took a little less than this). But in this time, Company A found that his bookings for the next month or so were massively down on the same period last year. As soon as this was realised, a holding page was put online with a telephone number but it served to prove a point -Yellow Pages' share of the "record search" industry is depleting.
I realise that it's not always as cut-and-dry as I've made it out to be here (mainly for simplicities sake) but the most of the traffic to the site originates from keyword searches on the service rather than the company name or direct traffic (suggesting that they're not looking at Yellow Pages and then coming to the site).
Further to this shock, Yellow Pages originally registered the domain name for this client but despite having fully paid all his accounts, Yellow Pages are yet to release the domain name into our control (we've been chasing them since 2003). This is despite several promises (both verbally and written) that they would release the domain. Needless to say this was unnecessary aggravation over something quite minor.
Thanks to the trouble caused over the domain (and apparent lack of interest from Yellow Pages -despite a huge spend) Company A is now looking at completely stopping their advertising with Yellow Pages.
Unlike Company A, Company B has historically had a much smaller spend. Usually opting for the smallest advert in a single directory because very little business has come from previous adverts. Company B is in a fairly competitive industry but features prominently.
This year when the Yellow Pages sales rep came calling, they explained to Company B the reason they'd only seen a very small return on their investment was because they were advertising in very few of the Yellow Pages directories. To get more sales Company B should advertise in two other directories and pay for a premium listing which would ensure his company was always on the first page within his area. This sounded reasonable -and logical (advertise in more places, get more enquiries) and as Company B had had a few good months trading decided it was a good investment.
For the first month or so Company B checked on their yell.com listing every few days, sure enough there they were on the first page. A couple of months on and several hundred pounds later however, something wasn't right. Where Company B had previously had 2-3 enquiries in the same period this year they'd had none. Company B asked us to look into their online position as far as Yellow Pages' yell.com was concerned and despite being promised a first page position on certain areas/phrases, they were rarely appearing inside the top 40 enhanced listings (there are currently 47 listings).
Somewhat concerned Company B decided to monitor the situation and started to monitor their position regularly (and we did too). Between all the visits, they were lucky if their result showed up in the results for the areas they serviced -let alone the one they were based in! Having spent over 3 times what they did the previous year, Company B felt somewhat cheated by the sales person so decided to complain.
The customer services rep was somewhat dismissive of Company B's claims and told him that he was appearing in the searches but despite this, they would have their sales team look into what he felt he was sold. The sales team phoned back and informed Company B that they'd only paid for an enhanced listing -which meant the advert wouldn't always be on the first page and there was no way the salesman would have said this as this would cost several thousand pounds. Company B however remembers the salesman stating this so asks us to talk to them about not appearing in the results as when asked, the rep started "talking technical".
When I called to discuss the account I was meet with a very pleasant lady "Sarah" who was the technical sales person who after spouting a little crap about web metrics explained the situation:
After this she hung up (I kid you not). Ok the easiest way out of the conversation by Company B hit the roof when they heard.
We're still awaiting an explanation but have mysteriously started to appear on the first page more often-than-not. Clearly they have some weighting system at play...
So what's my point?
I don't think I really have a point, I just felt like a rant but here are a couple of other reasons why I think Yellow Pages sucks and won't be around for much longer:
Enquiry rates down
I heard another advisor talking about some analysis he had been involved in with a local company. For the past few years they had been recording every enquiry to their firm and aggregating the statistics for comparison at the end of the financial year to decide on whether to advertise next year.
These are the approximate number of enquiries per month:
· 04/05: 110
· 05/06: 80
· 06/07: 40
· 07/08: 32
Their service is not seasonal and the competition has not changed dramatically over the years (certainly not enough to warrant the change seen here). Furthermore their turnover had been increasing. Oh, and the advert for comparisons sake was always the same.
I'd love to get hold of some statistics on Yell.com and Yellow Pages enquiries in general to see if this matches the general trend. Google Trends suggests it's started to drop a little.
Prices staying the same
Despite massive competition online, Yellow Pages are still charging a fair whack for their service and have no intention of changing this. I think as soon as the smaller advertiser cottons on to the fact that they can run a pretty intense pay-per-click campaign for the same amount of cash and reach a larger audience Yellow Pages will be in some serious trouble.
Would you believe it? In this day and age, for some reason our recycling people won't take away your Yellow Pages? I tried putting it out a few times but each time they lifted it out and put it back in the box for me.
I expect there's some logical reason for it but I know very few households now that keep the heavy directory so where do they all go? The tips? Disgraceful!
That said, I think I do have a point. I think Yellow Pages is a very good example of a company that has disgraceful customer service. Taking the two (I have more) examples mentioned here I think the issues could have easily been rectified:
Company A: Transfer the domain into the control of the client.
Company B: Simply apologise for the misunderstanding (no-one said they were sorry for the misunderstanding, instead they just made out that Company B was stupid) and if needs be, offer some form of discounted service next year.
I can only hope that Yellow Pages reads this and realises they're going to seriously P off their loyal customers in time to save themselves, but I don't think my blog is important enough for that to happen yet, sadly.
If you're asking me in the future. Steer clear of Yellow Pages and talk to us about some Google AdWords advertising.