Local Search Is Hot, Yellow Pages Still Get Used

someone looking through the yellowpagesAbout 31% of consumers turn to a search engine first when they're on the hunt for local products and services, according to new stats from TMP Directional Marketing (TMPDM).

That's up just one percentage point from 2007, but still enough to move search engines ahead of print Yellow or White pages in terms of overall usage. About 30% of consumers turned to printed directories first, down from 33% last year.

"I think we're starting to see the traditional print products hit a baseline," said Gregg Stewart, TMPDM's SVP, interactive. "If you go back farther than the two years of this study, you'd likely see a much larger drop in usage towards the beginning and middle of 2000. It's also differential by category. Looking at something like airlines, the print product is obviously not as relevant. But for emergency needs like plumbers, consumers have still held on to their directories."

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Still, Stewart said the industry could expect further erosion of print usage, particularly as mobile search becomes more relevant. "Right now, mobile usage is limited to about 10-15 product categories," Stewart said. "But we expect to see more migration to both Web- and voice-powered mobile search."

The study found that one of every five consumers with a Web-enabled phone has used the mobile Web to conduct a local search. Meanwhile, usage of free directory assistance services like 800-FREE-411 was on the rise. Nearly 30% of respondents had used the service (a division of Jingle Networks), which gives callers free, ad-supported local business info. "It's still the early days in that product area, but we're seeing some upward momentum for 800-FREE-411," Stewart said. "Marketers have engaged in some test programs with them and many have seen a substantial amount of traffic. They were first to market, but we expect that whole marketplace to blossom this year."

Indeed, companies like Google with its GOOG-411, AT&T with 1-800-YELLOWPAGES, Idearc Media, and even Microsoft (through its acquisition of TellMe Networks) have made forays into the voice-powered directory assistance space. "It makes sense because everyone can access a voice-based search feature," Stewart said. "Not everyone can activate Web-based search on their phone."

TMPDM, in conjunction with comScore, surveyed 3,000 consumers in July 2008. The Local Search Usage Study also included observed behavior (such as visits to search engines and Internet Yellow Pages providers). The previous Local Search Usage Study was fielded in May 2007.

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