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Search for the Rest of Us: Yellow Pages

Search for the Rest of Us: Yellow Pages Kevin Ryan

Way back in the online marketing Stone Age (1995) search marketing meant engineering a Website to be “seen” by automated search robots or submitting a laundry list of URLs to human compiled directories for a nominal fee. Long before Paid Search became the “Yellow Pages of the Web,” telephone directory publishers began placing local business listings in Internet Yellow Pages, or IYPs. Shortly thereafter, said phone book publishers began to charge established businesses for premium placement in those searchable directories.

Today, Internet Yellow Pages directories are playing a pivotal role in providing the consuming public access to everything from where to buy a pizza or how to find a qualified plumber in a pinch. The Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association reported there were more than 1.5 billion references to Internet Yellow Pages in 2001. Of those referencing an IYP, 59% made a contact and 60% made a purchase or intended to do so.

What of this microcosm of online advertising commerce? Internet Yellow Pages directories are the overlooked stepchildren of online advertising. They are the providers of local ads for movers in need. They are the purveyors of accurate business information. Users click and buy with them at unprecedented rates. They are local, relevant, and functional. They are the search sites in Yellow.

Old Gray Mare

In the late nineties, right about the time Yahoo! was flying me up to its Sunnyvale headquarters to consult on the design of the Yellow Pages ad units, industry pundits began squawking about the death of phone book advertising. Most of these were centered on users migrating from the print format to the online platform.

Pete Broadbent, CEO of the Yellow Pages advertising agency, Wahlstrom Group (full disclosure, my firm’s parent company), views the term migration as a misnomer. “Migration is misleading in that it assumes that something is moving from one state to another and exists in either one exclusively. Not true with advertising as we've witnessed with the evolution of all media. In reality, we see the augmentation progressing deliberately and sanely with the pace varying by market segment in line with user interest.”

Another agency that specializes in print and online Yellow Pages advertising is Ketchum Directory Advertising. "Usage trends and consumer purchase dynamics are important to benchmark and monitor over time, and buying strategies need to be adjusted accordingly," says Gene Daly, Ketchum's president. "But ultimately, what carries the most weight with clients is the business-building potential and ROI derived from the vehicle, regardless of whether it's print yellow pages or an online directory."

Remember the 1.5 billon references to IYPs? The same report indicated ten times that number of references to phone books.

Chromaticity Diagram

Internet Yellow pages sites fall into two distinct categories: those built by publishers who also sell ads in phone books and those provided by Web brands. In the former category, Verizon’s SuperPages.Com and SBC’s SmartPages.Com lead the way. In the latter, Yahoo! Yellow Pages and AOL Yellow Pages provide the connection for buyers. If you measure unduplicated audience reach, the world of online yellow pages looks like this.

Source: Nielson//NetRatings, June 2003

The IYP model has many parallels with Paid Search. The first is found in how they generate traffic. Yellow Pages’ publisher sites source much of their traffic to partners who carry their listings and advertisements. For example, yellow pages searchers on MSN view SuperPages advertisements.

On the other hand, some Web brand sites partner with smaller reaching publishers for traffic. Yahoo! partners with BellSouth in its thirteen state regional coverage area. Henceforth, your search for Automobile dealers in Atlanta, GA on Yahoo!’s Yellow Pages offers listings and ads from BellSouth as well. Yahoo! has a similar agreement with SBC’s SmartPages.Com to provide business listings. Most ironically, this relationship is a case study for channel conflicts in that both SBC and Yahoo! are selling the same product via competing sales forces to national Yellow Pages agencies, called CMRs or Certified Marketing Representatives.

Publisher collaborative efforts serve a couple of key needs for each party. While the phone book is still ubiquitous in the offline world, telephone directory publishers don’t carry the same weight on the Web so they must partner with sites like Yahoo! and MSN for traffic. Conversely, telephone directory publishers have large sales forces that can sell ads using the time honored “premise visit” providing a local sales channel for the Web brand.

Business listing information within IYPs is either provided by the telephone companies or by list aggregators like infoUSA, and therein lies a problem. Some of the listing data is outdated and inaccurate. Old listing data shatters the user experience and can render an IYP feckless. Just imagine heading out to a restaurant that moved six months ago. How can an advertiser correct this problem? Providers like infoUSA offer a solution to correct business listings; another is to simply purchase an ad.

Operation: IYP

At first glance, executing an IYP media plan can be equated to spending an afternoon being entertained by a Newton’s cradle. The ad formats are known as “fire and forget” since the ad is placed once a year and rarely changed. This month, the Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association introduced a Website to help advertisers understand and augment the purchase process for Yellow Pages advertising, both online and offline.

Another parallel with IYP and search advertising is an undeniable benefit for advertisers. The information they present is user-initiated and perceived as information resource rather than an advertisement. For this reason, average response rates are in the range of ten times higher than other forms of online advertising.

However, there are some key departures from paid search. One distinction with IYP is that businesses needn’t have a Website to advertise. Another lies in searchers viewing categories not keyword results. Generally speaking, while click activity and post-click behavior in IYP ads are consistent with Paid Search, according to a Spring 2003 study from Harris Interactive, nearly 75% of responses can come from a phone call. A problem for paid search since including a phone number in the listing would contradict the nature of the ad model.

Although ad formats vary from site to site, the basic idea is that advertiser positioning is hierarchal just like in the phone books. Some publishers have even tried to reproduce the print product on the Web. Herb Gordon, president and CEO of the Association of Directory Marketing referred to this as “A counterintuitive reaction to creating an IYP which does not take advantage of the sight and motion benefits of the Internet.”

For the most part, ad unit pricing falls in the same vein as telephone directories. An advertiser can purchase a local ad along with their print phone book purchase with a cost-of-entry around $300 annually. Advertisers can purchase ad units with national reach for a flat fee as well, sometimes predicated on category traffic.

Search Meets IYP

Every major paid search site is struggling to unlock the local search code and no one can deny the consumer need for relevant localized information. Internet Yellow Pages providers want to capitalize on the success and adoption rates of Paid Search. Therefore, smart money places the future of local search in the ilk of Internet Yellow Pages.

“Search marketing, Internet yellow pages and city guides are definitely heading in the direction of forming a keyword orientated search. Yellow pages are very well structured, and it is comparatively easier for users to find information in the directories,” reports Mark Canon, vice president Business Strategies at Switchboard.

Yahoo! states that purchasing an Internet Yellow Pages ad compliments your search advertising investment since only an 8% to 9% overlap exists in the use of these site areas. Switchboard’s Canon confirms the lack of redundancy by separating search into these categories:

Cultural search: user initiated on portal; i.e. existentialism, fly-fishing
Commerce search: products and or services search on IYPs; i.e. plumbers, doctors

In June, The Kelsey Group, a research firm specializing in the study of Yellow Pages, released a report called Searching for Profits, which offered some insights for IYP publishers as they attempt to expand their usage in view of the popularity of paid search. These insights included recognizing the speed and reliability of keyword search as an impetus for a forced evolution of the business model. The report also suggests that partnerships with search syndicators to get advertiser information into search results are a necessity. Finally, the analysis proposes that content or listing ownership is less important than whom will ultimately “own” the user.


IYP publishers already are starting to change their spots. Rumors abound relating to big publishers attempting to execute performance-based pricing models resembling paid search. AOL unleashed its IYP bot last month, which allows a user to enter a Yellow Pages category in the Instant Messenger window. This provides a direct link into Yellow Pages listing results based on their account’s geographic area. The same week, Switchboard announced a partnership with Google to provide AdSense contextual search listings on its site after a usage study in the attorney category revealed a need for a performance-based model.

IYP providers are reaching out daily with innovation and the race for local merchant content has just begun. In the end analysis, IYP’s have two choices—they can evolve and prosper, or hold fast to tradition and suffer a slow painful death.

About the author: iMedia search columnist Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Thrice decorated with the directory industry highest honors for excellence and innovation in online marketing, he is currently Director of Market Development at IPG’s Wahlstrom Interactive where he provides guidance in directional online marketing to Wahlstrom’s prestigious list of clients and sister agency brands.

If a shut-out happens, re-examine the target audience criteria for your product or service. After all, one of the promises of the internet is precision targeting, and therefore media planning necessitates that the process initially be done with as many targeting filters as possible.

For example, with comScore Media Metrix, one can plan against more than 10,000 web entities and 4,000 in-depth data points. However, with every additional filtering layer you cut the total pie into very discrete segments, and clusters of your intended audience can be ignored. Although nine filters may bring you to your ideal target site list, eight or seven filters will broaden the available pool of site selection and will very likely provide a greater range of lower-priced alternatives.

An inventory shut-out may also mean that your objectives will have to change for your online marketing program. If you were initially trying to go after new customers, perhaps your focus should change to loyalists. Patterns of behavior measured from your CRM program may demonstrate certain lifestyle or interest traits that would create an entirely different list of targeting criteria for media planning.

In the end, all companies have two essential goals: acquire new customers and keep existing customers. A first date is a different social interaction than a relationship.

Let's face it, no website is an island anymore, and the long tail of the internet offers an archipelago of advertising opportunities. Cross-site duplication analysis is just as important when planning for certain reach goals as it is for constructing a Venn diagram of target audience visitation habits. By way of example, comScore’s Cross Visiting report allows a planner to see how much of a given audience overlaps with another site’s audience, and within the overlap lies the potential to "buy around" the site that can’t give you any more inventory.

With planning tools available to marketers and agencies alike, it is possible to create a look-alike match profile of "people who visit here also visit" opportunities. Even some of the free services from Alexa and Quantcast can provide planners with a quickie site list for further exploration.

It's important to remember that demand-driven inventory can command such high prices that ROI response or engagement modeling on look-alike inventory may provide a better bang for your advertising buck.

So, now that you've exhausted your traditional online media opportunities, it's time to engage the advertising networks and their interrelation with your own site visitors. By now, I am hopeful that iMedia readers have explored retargeting at least once with their online programs.

Retargeting involves placing a 1x1 pixel from an advertising network on your webpage (or group of pages) and then serving advertising to those individuals who browse elsewhere on that network's collection of properties. (Find out more in "How to Track an Ad Network Campaign.")

With proper frequency capping controls, I think of retargeting as an essential component to almost every campaign. Organic or paid advertising visitors have raised their hand at least once to check out your online identity. Companies invest hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in their online identities. Shouldn't that be considered a form of online media as well? In brand studies that my company, Underscore Marketing, has done, where we have identified microsites or client domains as "media," we have found that there is a further tangible lift -- in particular against purchase intent -- based on site visitation.

Retargeting is an extension of this analysis and an efficient way to reach individuals riding the long tail of sites found within advertising networks. Networks need an ample sample cookie pool to really make this technique effective, so consider reaching out to networks early in the process to set up pixels and collect a pool of available retargeting visitors.

Some networks have further evolved to support creative retargeting with in-site advertising.

Let's assume for example that above-the-fold ads are sold out for a particular site section. The previous 1x1 pixel page targeting can be applied to publisher-based media as well, so even your bottom-of-the-page ad or ad served button can be used to add valuable visitors to the retargeting cookie pool. Not only is that ad priced at a substantial discount, but the network inventory required to support retargeting is likely more efficient.

To be fair, the dilution of context when weighed in the balance of media efficiency may not justify the exercise, but in the end, we're really interested in the behavior of our prospects.

Now that the web is hot again and brands are leaving dollars on the broadcast table to bring them into the digital realm, getting the inventory you want is only going to bcome a bigger and bigger problem. A 1 percent shift for a P&G or GM could mean oodles of cash flowing into a select number of primary locations, precluding certain opportunities for other advertisers.

There may come a day when all publishers -- who can't generate more page views to keep up with demand -- may find a pricing scheme to enable pixel-based retargeting opportunities on pages where display advertising is locked in for a particular advertiser. Until that time, what we have explored today represents several options to provide outlets for effective advertising during inventory lock-ups.

Now go find those Eskimos!

Make your own calls
Don't insult your prospect 
Be prepared and speak clearly 
Know your customer 
It's a two-way conversation

I have received of few calls lately where an appointment setter has placed the cold call for the purpose of scheduling another cold call with a sales person. Nothing shows more arrogance than this move. Each time I let the appointment setter know that if the salesperson wants an appointment, they can call me themselves. When the salesperson finally does pick up the phone and call, I'm already put off by their company. Selling media is tough enough without needing to fight an uphill battle right out of the gate. To date, I haven't given the time of day to any company that used this tactic.

Next: Don't insult your prospect

Make your own calls 
Don't insult your prospect
Be prepared and speak clearly 
Know your customer 
It's a two-way conversation 

I've noticed a growing trend of poorly trained salespeople who think they know everything about marketing and that their company is the perfect fit for every marketer on the planet. Confidence is admirable, but telling a prospect that you know more than they do about what is right for their business is ridiculous. If this is your approach, read: "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie before picking up the phone ever again.

Along these same lines, don't ask to speak with the CMO or CEO if you don't like the response you receive from your prospect. Remember, you're trying to enter into a business relationship not talk to customer service to get a credit on your cellphone bill. More than a dozen times in the last year, I've had a salesperson leave a voice mail for our CEO because I made the decision not to do business with their company. This tactic will completely eliminate any chance of doing business with your prospect's company. The same holds true for running to the client directly after their agency says "no" and visa versa.

The key is that "no" often means "not now," but insulting your prospect will result in "no" meaning "never in a million years."

Next: Be prepared and speak clearly

Make your own calls 
Don't insult your prospect 
Be prepared and speak clearly
Know your customer 
It's a two-way conversation

I'm a busy person and so are most marketers. I don't have the time or patience to listen to a long, rambling, drawn-out cold call voice mail message. When it comes to voice mail, be prepared. Most of your calls are going to end up there, so practice what you're going to say. A good rule of thumb is to keep your message to 45 seconds or less. A four minute rambling message will land itself in the trash bin before your prospect even listens to the whole message.

What's even worse than a rambler is the salesperson who doesn't speak clearly. At least once per day, I receive a voice mail from someone who has left a good, concise elevator pitch and has my interest. The problem is that the salesperson mumbled and rushed through their name, company name and phone number so badly that I had no way to return the call. Slow down and speak clearly so that your prospect has an opportunity to write down your name, company name and phone number without having to rewind the message three times.

Next: Know your customer

Make your own calls 
Don't insult your prospect 
Be prepared and speak clearly 
Know your customer
It's a two-way conversation

The most common way to screw up a cold call is to not know anything about your prospect's business. You don't need to be an expert, but at the very least take two minutes to visit your prospect's website. As a life insurance brokerage, I receive daily cold calls from people who think our company sells auto insurance, health insurance, or they think we're a stock brokerage firm. A simple two-minute visit to our website would be time well spent.

Want to be a superstar and make a great impression 90 percent of the time? Do research and find out what type of advertising your prospect's company is engaged in. The question: "Are you doing any online advertising?" immediately tells me that the salesperson did not do their homework. If the salesperson hasn't taken the time to understand what we're already doing, then it is extremely unlikely that they will earn my business.

Next: It's a two-way conversation

Make your own calls 
Don't insult your prospect 
Be prepared and speak clearly 
Know your customer 
It's a two-way conversation

It drives me nuts when I pick up the phone and a salesperson launches into a pitch before I have a chance to say hello. Sixty seconds later, I'm waiting for the salesperson to breathe…60 seconds more and still waiting…still waiting…still waiting. Just like consumers don't want to be talked to but instead want to engage in a dialogue, your prospect is no different. If you talk at me, you'll annoy me. Talk with me and you have a shot.

All things being equal, I'm going to buy media from someone I like and trust versus someone I don't like or trust. If you've done your homework and know a little about my business and where I'm advertising, I'm going to spend time with you on the phone because you've respected my time and I respect your effort. Ask questions that relate to my business and we can flesh out whether a business relationship is going to be a great fit. I've had plenty of people engage in a dialogue with me and determine that their company isn't going to be a good fit for my business. Many of these same people have easily earned my business months or years later when they had something to present that was a good fit.

I look forward to many great and mutually beneficial cold calls in the future!

Sean Cheyney is the VP of marketing and business development for AccuQuote. Read full bio.


Website optimization to support content strategy

An effective content marketing strategy should take advantage of any and all online distribution channels available; but among those channels, none may be more important than the company website. While other forms of communication push information to users, a website gives people an opportunity to explore on their own terms, where they can search and browse for information according to their specific wants and needs.

Today's websites are significantly more complex than their predecessors, and as a result, there are many more factors to consider for website optimization. Where content marketing is concerned, the best starting point is with a sophisticated content management platform.

A web content management system (WCM) supports the workflow needed to sustain regular content publishing online. Once a company has its content strategy in place, the WCM should allow for the effective administration and publishing of large volumes of content as needed. This includes support for content uploads, storage, sorting, approval, scheduling, distribution, and more. In evaluating a WCM, companies should choose the platform that provides the most flexibility and overall control in order to achieve the best content marketing results.

The next step beyond content management is content targeting. Websites offer a remarkable opportunity for information gathering. With the right tools, marketers can match site visitors to the personas or audience sets defined by their content marketing strategy. Data points available from website browsing include indicators like location and demographics, behavioral patterns, and self-directed input. Through the collection of this data on the website, marketers can design a website experience that immediately delivers personalized content on any given page. Customization can occur through initial page presentation, graphics and media, related content suggestions, offers and calls to action, and "My Pages" tools for setting content preferences.

For example, consider the fictional company "Green Power," which has developed content for several different audience sets. Based on what is known about a user when he or she arrives at the company website, Green Power can render a customized landing page. A completely anonymous visitor gets generic content. A visitor based in Arizona (identified by IP address) gets information on solar energy solutions. A likely qualified buyer (based on title and browsing history) gets industry content and planning resources. And a repeat buyer (based on CRM integration) gets recommended content in line with previous purchases.

Beyond content targeting comes multi-format distribution. Consumers browse the web on a huge variety of connected devices, and the increasingly complex mobile ecosystem means web publishers have to consider a wide range of different screen sizes, operating systems, and levels of connectivity. The best way to manage this complexity from a content perspective is to create a single content repository that feeds device optimized presentation out to different platforms. In other words, marketers should create content once, but use website optimization technology to package and deliver that content according to the circumstances of each website visitor. A smartphone user might see a given website as a series of menu options with limited graphics, whereas a tablet user might get the default landscape view with rich graphics, but no Flash video assets. Or, a user on a mobile broadband network might not get as many personalization features as a user on Wi-Fi or Ethernet, in an effort to improve site performance under limited bandwidth conditions. The difference in delivery makes a difference in the quality of the user experience. And the better the quality of that experience, the better opportunity there is for website content to achieve a marketer's goals.

Who owns the website: IT or marketing?

Content marketing and website optimization are not new. However, the conditions under which marketers are applying them have evolved radically in a very short period of time.  Most critically, the technology and tools that support optimization are now far more affordable and accessible to people managing content. Website optimization used to exist only in the realm of IT. Today it's available to the broader marketing community. IT and marketing must now work in partnership to deliver the best possible website experience to their prospects. And when used effectively, website optimization is proving a powerful tool for driving content marketing success.

Jeff Freund is VP and GM at Limelight Networks.

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"Hand writing concept website" image via Shutterstock.

Kevin Ryan founded the strategic consulting firm Motivity Marketing in April 2007. Ryan is known throughout the world as an interactive marketing thought leader, particularly in the search marketing arena. Today's Motivity is a group of...

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