Do People Still Use Phone Books?

Should your business still spend money on advertising in a print phone directory?

An ad in the Yellow Pages was once  an accepted part of doing business, akin to paying your rent or electric bill. Investing once a year in a YP ad was a no-brainer because the phone book was the one thing at everybody’s fingertips whenever they needed a service or product of any kind. Nowadays many consumers use the Internet or smart phones to find goods and services. But how many? I have seen figures from 50 to 95 percent. A business owner looking to save money — and who isn’t? — might glom onto the idea that only 5 percent of potential customers use the phone book, therefore they don’t have to spend the money on an ad.

Overall usage of print yellow pages is definitely down, but it’s far from over. I spend a lot of time in rural areas, and I personally know a lot of people who still reach for a phone book when they need information about a business. Rural areas often have spotty or slow Internet access, and there are still rural areas without cell phone service. And believe it or not, there are people who don’t use computers, don’t trust the Internet, and may only use the Internet at the public library occasionally.

I found a post by Digital Marketing Innovations, Inc. ( on a Merchant Circle forum, that posed an answer to the question: Do people still use Yellow Pages?

“In a word, yes. Depending on the demographic, the business, the type of search and the timing, the Yellow Pages are still widely used. The directory companies do recognize they are losing market share rapidly which is why the phone book companies are bundling print advertising with an online presence. Older folks still use the Yellow Pages and if the search is something simple, like a phone number, the Yellow Pages are also used more often than online. The other factor is timing, sometimes it’s just faster to pick up a book rather than boot up a computer, connect to the internet and do a search (not everyone leaves their computer on 24/7). There is no question that use of computers and smartphones with web access is growing exponentially and if the search is deeper as in looking for reviews, coupons or comparing to other companies, the internet wins every time. For most service and trade businesses such as plumbers, it’s usually easier to put an ad in the Yellow Pages to generate business then (sic) to try to figure out how to build and rank and plumbing website. The Yellow pages get smaller every year but because of their pure simplicity, I don’t see them becoming obsolete for many years to come.”

The point about to trying to figure out how to build and rank a website is crucial. Most small businesses owners I deal with — mom and pop type small — might finally get some kind of website up, but they don’t realize the importance of updating it with rich SEO content, getting relevant backlinks, and promoting the site so they actually come up in a search. All those activities take a lot of time, which when translated into money, costs at least as much, if not more than a Yellow Pages ad. The point is, if a businesses is not working to get their website to appear on page one of the three major search engines for a number of their keywords, their site won’t generate business.

Here is a story about two business owners who pulled their Yellow Pages ads and were sorry. One claims he lost $1 million in business. Another feels he’s lost roughly $20,000.

Here is some more solid advice about print telephone directory advertising from Kern Lewis, a 25-year marketing veteran writing for Forbes.


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Filed under Yellow Pages Advertising

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