Search engines are not the only medium reaching consumers online with local search services. Most Yellow Pages publishers reach online audiences through their Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs). Print Yellow Pages directories offer electronic and online versions that provide contact information, driving directions, special promotions, links to advertiser Web sites, and other Web-enabled features.
Meanwhile, there are "online-only" directories such as YellowPages.com and others.
The Yellow Pages industry has a long history of providing advertising services to local businesses and a localized informational directory for consumers, so it's no surprise that search engines have formed strategic relationships with Yellow Pages publishers in an effort to improve the online local search experience.
The Yellow Pages are a $26 billion global industry that benefits from a "people-on-the-street" sales force. According to The Kelsey Group, 22 million small- and medium-sized businesses spend 46 percent of their advertising budgets on Yellow Pages marketing, and put only 3 percent into search engine keywords. In addition, only 30 percent of small- and medium-sized businesses have a Web site.
With the emerging trend of Internet local search, Yellow Pages publishers have enhanced their IYP Web sites to suit technologically savvy consumers and advertisers by adding Internet-based advertising models, such as pay-per-click.
Verizon SuperPages.com, which has been selling online directory listings since 1996, this year redesigned its Web site and business model to include pay-per-click listings. SBC SmartPages.com recently added a pay-per-call feature and additionally, both SuperPages.com and SmartPages.com made local search listings available via wireless devices.
While search engine attempts to localize content are extremely impressive - and we embrace them as part of our industry - the models are patterned after the Yellow Pages. They offer Yellow Pages-type content/results and often link to online Yellow Pages directories. In other words, Yellow Pages content is still the gold standard for local search.
Search engines still have a long way to go to improve local search relevancy. For example, when a consumer in New Jersey types "pizza Berkeley Heights" into one search engine, almost 26,000 results appear - and the top returns are Domino's, two online phone directories, MapQuest directions, the local brewpub and a sponsored link for pizza in Berkeley, Calif. Meanwhile, due to its more local nature and higher relevancy, the print and online Yellow Pages offer listings from which 86 percent of consumers ultimately make a purchase.
To create a better local search experience, many analysts believe local search will become a hybrid of Yellow Pages and search engines, combining the strengths of content and distribution. This trend is apparent with the recent strategic partnerships between Verizon SuperPages and FindWhat, Switchboard and InfoSpace, and the Yellow Pages Group and Google.
These relationships prove that the Yellow Pages industry is here to stay, and it will evolve by continuing to partner with online services to provide advertisers the most efficient tools to reach consumers.
So, while search engines are extremely useful when conducting broad information searches, the Yellow Pages, in any format, offer ready-to-buy consumers a number of convenient search options and relevant results -- at home, in the office, or on the go. Therefore, the Yellow Pages will continue to be at the forefront of helping consumers find a local business, product, or service -- no matter where they are or what means they use to do so.
Neg Norton is president of the Yellow Pages Association, a trade organization representing a $26 billion industry comprised of Yellow Pages publishers, marketers, and advertisers worldwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.