"Why are the Yellow Pages like nursing homes? They're shockingly expensive, few people under 70 use them, and many who do are just a little out of it."*

Ah, the Yellow Pages. The tried and true marketing stalwart.

After reading the last few blog posts, you might be saying, “Hey, wait a minute, Yellow Pages puts your business in front of people who are already looking for your products and services. Doesn’t that make the Yellow Pages ads a kind of inbound marketing?”

Yes, it does. It’s why the Yellow Pages used to be a pretty good source of leads. It is a search engine made out of paper.

But things are changing now. In 2008, the Internet surpassed the Yellow Pages and became the #1 source for information about local businesses. Back then, the two mediums were running pretty much neck-and-neck, but since then the gap has widened. It’s hard to get statistics on Yellow Pages usage, because of course the Yellow Pages wants to put as positive a spin as it can on its numbers. However, we can get a sense of where things are going from the September 2010 public filing of SuperPages (one of the largest Yellow Pages companies in the US): SuperPages’ revenue decreased 61.3% from 2009 to 2010.

Of course, this only tells you that fewer people are advertising in the Yellow Pages; it doesn’t tell you how often your potential customers are using the Yellow Pages to find you. In the absence of any useful statistics from the Yellow Pages itself, there are a couple of ways to get a feel for this.

First, ask people you know how often they use the Yellow Pages in general. If you ask your kids, they’ll probably say “never”. If you ask your mother or grandmother, she’ll probably tell you that she still uses it occasionally.

Then, start asking your recently-acquired customers if they used the Yellow Pages to find you. Remember to phrase the question carefully, though, because people may look up your number in the Yellow Pages because they heard about you some other way. If that’s the case, it’s not your expensive Yellow Pages display ad that generated the lead – some other form of advertising really made the sale for you.

Although Yellow Pages use is hard to ascertain, we do have some pretty good statistics about how many people use the internet to research local products and services. According to a recent BIA/Kelsey study, 97% of people use some kind of online media (search engines, social networks, etc) to check out a product before they buy it.

Coming back to our basic principle of inbound marketing – putting your message out in front of people who are actively engaged in looking for a product or service – we believe that these days the smart (marketing) money is on the Internet, not the Yellow Pages.

However, we recommend that you don’t completely forget the Yellow Pages. Some people (particularly older people or people in rural areas with poor internet connections) will still use the Yellow Pages to look up your number after they’ve heard good things about you via other channels, including the Internet.

Also, there is still a compelling reason for service companies to maintain a Yellow Pages listing: you need to make sure people can find you during an emergency, even if the power is out.

For this reason, we recommend that you maintain a simple line listing in the Yellow Pages – but that you don’t renew your display ad unless your survey of your customers provides clear evidence that it’s working for you.

Adopting an “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” attitude, the Yellow Pages are fighting back with their new website and mobile phone app. According to a recent article in USA today, 40 million people have downloaded the app so far. At iMarket, we’re keeping tabs on these developments and our strategy will continue to evolve to meet the changing online environment.

*This is a joke circulating around the internet, and it probably stems from a blog post made by Killian Branding at The post makes some terrific additional points about Yellow Pages vs. Internet advertising that we didn’t have room to go into here.