Yellow Pages Advertising

In my experience most small businesses have dabbled with Yellow Pages because it almost seemed to be the thing to do to prove that you had a business. Yellow Pages themselves have a slick sales system but often it doesn’t work as well as expected.

  • Traditional place for local search marketing but it has been superceded by the Internet
  • Still relevant for some services e.g. emergency plumbers
  • Do your competitors advertise in YP and did they advertise the year before?
  • Surrounded by your competitors – your challenge is to stand out
  • Pick the best local Yellow Pages book

Yellow Pages has been the traditional place to search for a local supplier but it has largely been overtaken by the Internet thanks to the power of the search engines like Google.

You can get much more information from the Internet but you have to assume that the best suppliers have a website and it is properly optimised for appropriate searches. that may be a big assumption.

The Yellow Pages is still very relevant for some emergency services like plumbers, builders and electricians because you don’t have time to do a detailed study and many potential suppliers don’t have websites.

I needed a door lock to be fixed two months ago and I never thought about using the Internet. I went straight to my copy of the Yellow Pages, looked up locksmiths and after some consideration phoned one, asked a qualifying question on price and I had someone out in 30 minutes and the lock fixed in 45.

The big question is – will it pay for you to advertise in Yellow Pages.

That depends on the section you are in, your advertisement and the book you choose to advertise in.

You can get a good indication of whether the section pays off by looking at who is advertising this year and last year.

If nobody is advertising, in my experience that means it is not a good section and no one has been able to make a Yellow Pages advert work.

In contrast, if you look at plumbers, you’ll see that just about everyone has an advertisement and for a section like accountants some do and some don’t.

We’ll look in more detail at your advertisement in a moment but the key issue is that you are surrounded by your competitors. That’s the opposite of what you want where you are the first and obvious choice so your job when creating your advertisement is to stand out and get it read.

Think carefully about which book you want to advertise in. It may not be your immediate local Yellow Pages.

I made that mistake the first time I advertised because I was based in the top right hand corner of the region, in a bit that stuck out like a finger. This meant that the majority of the people who were most likely to contact me based on location (a key factor in Yellow Pages) weren’t seeing my expensive advert and those who were, thought I was too far away to be interested in their work.

Who Looks In Yellow Pages?

  • Someone with an urgent need and wants quick information – web searching takes time
  • Someone looking for a low involvement, infrequent purchase
  • Someone without easy Internet access
  • Someone who wants convenient local list to visit showrooms – cars, kitchens
  • People with commercial intent – 84% of people who use YP buy from someone

Particular people will look in Yellow Pages to find suppliers so you need to decide if your business haas particular appeal.

The first category is those people with an urgent need.

Imagine you’ve just come home from work and found water pouring through your ceiling. You turn off the stopcap but you have to get a plumber out to fix the leak. The natural place to look is the Yellow Pages.

The second category to look in the YP is the opposite. It’s someone looking for a quick solution for what I call a low involvement purchase. This is something you need to buy but you’re not concerned about quality or even price. Good enough is good enough.

In particular you’re likely to look in Yellow Pages if it’s a one-off or infrequent purchase because it cuts down your search time.

The third category are those without easy Internet access. The last statistics I heard was that 2 in 3 people in the UK have access to the Internet but that still leaves 20 million who don’t.

It’s easy to take things for granted but some people are still baffled by PCs including the old and those who don’t use IT at work.

The fourth category of those who appreciate having a list of local suppliers for a category all together. I’ve taken the Yellow Pages out with me when I’ve gone looking for cars and kitchens because it had the name and addresses of the showrooms I could visit.

There is one big difference between Yellow Pages searchers and Internet searchers. People who look in Yellow Pages are buyers. The last research I saw said that 84% of those who looked in the Yellow Pages finished up buying from somebody.

Your Yellow Pages Ad

  • Avoid tombstone adverts
  • Big is better – keep YP as small % budget
  • Benefit headline – Dan Kennedy test
  • Use borders/colours to make the Ad stand out
  • Aim to be different – appeal to somebody
  • Focused on your USP / credibility
  • Easy to read, copy intensive, correct contact info
  • Sell the contact – low risk & WIIFM
  • 7 things you need to know, buyers guide

If it looks like Yellow Pages could have potential for your business, the next stage is to write a winning ad. Remember the AIDA guideline – Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.

Can you go and get your copy of the Yellow Pages and turn to a section for accountants or lawyers and take a look at what get’s your attention and what doesn’t.

First notice how little impact the tombstone advertisements have. These just give the name, address, telephone number and possibly a few details of the basic service.


Cole, Ferdinand and Terry Chartered Accountants

High Street


Tel 0123 456 7899

Accounts preparation and tax assessments for small businesses

And just like above, often it is the name that takes up most of the space. This is ego advertising and it’s fine if the name is the biggest selling point but usually it means little or nothing to your potential customers so you’re wasting selling space.

Second notice how the size of the advertisement makes an impact. Bigger does mean better in the way that it can make an advertisement impossible to ignore, even if it is just scanned. However with size comes increased cost and it’s important to keep costs low if you are to get a good return on your investment. This is especially true if you are advertising in several directories and I’d recommend that you limit Yellow Pages to a small proportion (1o% to 20%) of your marketing budget unless you are in an emergency home repair business.

Instead of using your business name at the top, use a property marketing headline based on delivering benefits – this is either a problem fixed or a gain made. Look to get into the mind of someone searching Yellow Pages for a supplier of your products and services – what do they want to achieve.

An accountant could say

“The Lowest Taxes You Can Legally Pay”

It sounds so much more motivating than “personal and business tax returns completed.”

I like the idea from Dan Kennedy to test Yellow Pages headlines. A good headline can be used in the classified ads section of your local newspaper with a telephone number (or website) and it will generate enquiries. It gives enough information for people to think “I want to know more.”

Next notice how colours and use of the borders in heavy print can make an ad stand out. White space (or I guess I should say yellow) would also work but you’re paying for space you’re not using to sell.

Now read through a few advertisements and see if you think they all sound very similar. This is a big mistake because you want your copy to connect. It is much better to be the first choice for 20% of the readers because you are speaking directly to their issues than writing a bland advert which appeals to no one in particular. It takes courage to be different but if you look at other sections, you’ll notice how confusing it gets when everyone looks the same.

Ideally your advertisement should be written around your USP (unique selling proposition) which we covered in Pillar 3. If you haven’t established a clearly differentiated offer, then you need to emphasise your credibility features – qualifications, years in business, guarantees, certifications and even years in business and whether it is family owned or part of a national chain.

It should go without saying that your advertisement is easy to read but take a look at your copy of Yellow Pages and you’ll see plenty of examples where the print is too small and/or in reverse type. Don’t make it unnecessarily difficult for prospects to respond and that means making sure that the contact details are correct and any phone number is manned or has an answering service.

Since you need to give reasons for people to contact you, I favour copy intensive adverts packed with words that sell – not hype but words that give a reason to make contact.

It is the first contact you are after. the initial enquiry so your advertisement doesn’t have to do the full selling job. It needs to give prospective buyers enough reasons to pick up the telephone and provide the reassurance necessary to stop the nagging doubts.

That means that for some businesses including professional services, you can follow a two step strategy and get people to sign up for an initial free report.

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Most buyers looking in the Yellow Pages know little about what they are buying and appreciate information which gently positions you as the obvious solution without selling hard.

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