Not Just the Yellow Pages Anymore – How People Find Local Businesses

Not just yellow pagesHow do people find your small business? Are they familiar with your business, or do they find you by doing research?

In the past, people went to the Yellow Pages to find local businesses. If you wanted someone to cut your hair, you look under “beauty shops” and call a salon. Yes, businesses still get leads from the Yellow Pages, but it’s no longer the first place they look.

A large study of behavior by Comscore, Local Search Marketing in a Multi-Tasking World, shows a fundamental shift in the way people are looking for local businesses. Today, more people who are unfamiliar with your business are going to a search engine and typing in words like, “haircut, Houston, Texas.”

Here are the top 5 ways people find local businesses according to Comscore:

  • 31%  Visit a search engine – most research without a specific brand or business name in mind and a specific location (i.e. a plumber in Tampa, Florida).
  • 30%  Look up a business in print in the Yellow Pages or White Pages.
  • 19%  Use Internet directories – often to find a phone number.
  • 11%  Look at local search sites like Google Maps or Yahoo Local (usually to get driving directions).
  • 3%  Get information from a newspaper or magazine.

No wonder print advertising is suffering — three out of the top five ways people find business information involve the Internet. This is why I’m always surprised how much businesses seem to value print ads, or TV as a method to drive people to their store or company. I also get lots of questions about marketing on social networking sites. The study said that just 1% of people find local businesses through social networking sites. Sure, social networking is a great way to build brand recognition, but it’s not the first place consumers go when they’re ready to buy.

From the study it appears the best way small businesses can capture new business is by improving their results in search engines. Yes, you can pay someone to build links and improve your site’s chances of ranking well in the search engines. However, there’s not a fixed cost, and it’s possible to rank well without spending any money.

After looking at hundreds of web sites for small businesses I see that most need to focus on the basics.  Things like making sure your business is findable online and that your title tags are optimized. Also, make sure it’s easy to find … details such as the business name, phone number, address, hours of operation, specials, promotions, products carried, payment types accepted etc. on your site.

Online marketing may not seem as glamorous or rewarding as seeing your name in print. But who’s going to complain when sales are going up?

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Janet Meiners thaelerAbout the Author:  Janet Meiners Thaeler is an Evangelist for OrangeSoda Inc. and the principal blogger for their corporate blog and Twitter account. She regularly advises clients on blogging and social media strategies. Thaeler has freelanced for numerous online and offline outlets such as Podango, Marketing Pilgrim and her own blog — (and Twitter account @newspapergrl).  She is passionate about online marketing and is always looking for new insights, resources and trends to help her clients.


Janet Meiners Thaeler Janet Meiners Thaeler is an Evangelist for OrangeSoda Inc. and the principal blogger for their corporate blog and Twitter account. She regularly advises clients on blogging and social media strategies. Her own blog is Newspapergrl. She is passionate about online marketing and is always looking for new insights, resources and trends to help her clients.

45 Reactions
  1. Great advice Janet. I agree that a solid web presence is invaluable for most businesses. I’m still shocked when I try to look up a local business online and find that they don’t even have a webpage! What decade are we in now?

    As long as you do some research to grasp the basics of SEO, you should be good. Another great way to rank high in google is to include a blog with your website and make sure you update it regularly. That will ensure your website stays fresh and relevant.

  2. I can understand that search engines have overtaken the Yellow Pages in consumer search. However, comScore’s study leaves out options such as distribution lists and face-to-face interaction where consumers conduct search. Messages to distribution lists are often requests for recommendations on local businesses, and sites such as internal wikis often have recommendation pages that fall outside comScore’s data. My point is not that comScore’s study doesn’t give us some useful information about how consumers search, but rather to warn that not all search takes places in the areas where comScore is able to gather data. A high result in a Google search result set may not be a good substitute for positive recommendations within social networks accessed via email or some other communication route.

  3. 31% Visit a search engine – most research without a specific brand or business name in mind and a specific location (i.e. a plumber in Tampa, Florida).
    30% Look up a business in print in the Yellow Pages or White Pages.

    –> that was close Janet! Wondering how that 1% made a big difference.

  4. I could not download the paper, however the question I have is did the study breakdown the analysis by type of busines eg. hairdresser versus accountant and about the people searching or did it just contain general observations.

  5. Great post. I love the stats. In one of my ventures, we track all sources of incoming leads. Over the past 2 years, we have seen a dramatic shift from yellow pages as the source to website and web search as the source. Every year I get a call from my yellow pages rep trying to convince me to spend more because my competitors are, but numbers don’t lie. My customers are not looking in the yellow pages anymore.

  6. Great topic Janet

    Another thought of course is that if you skew this report for certain demographics the trend is obvious – under 30 uses the web, social network or social search for everything. I often joke that if I put a phone book in front of my college age kids they would walk around if for a while looking for the on switch – they have no idea how the Yellow Pages works.

  7. arizona auto insurance

    I have 4 months left on a yellow pages online contract and will dump it just as soon as I can. No one uses anymore, in my humble opinion. Maybe they never did.

  8. Really great first article Janet. I can say that in my own experience, I look to the internet first to look up business info. If I can’t find it online, then and only then do I turn to the yellow pages. Good point in stressing the importance of including all pertinent info on the website also. It’s so frustrating to go to a site and have to scour it up and down to find any info. Making sure it’s front & center is so important.

  9. Great Article Janet. I completely agree that print is dying out. I am part of the younger generation and the other day when the yellow pages was put on my porch I threw it out. I turn to the internet for everything!! It is taking over the world as we know it 🙂 Thanks again for sharing your wonderful knowledge on how to become a part of it!


  10. Luz says: -> that was close Janet! Wondering how that 1% made a big difference.

    Thanks for commenting. You’re right, 1% is not a big difference, but it’s the first time in this survey that the Yellow Pages was second. So it’s the beginning of a shift that will continue to get bigger. The data research also showed that people use both but go to a search engine more often and sooner than before.

    People use both now when they used to mainly use Yellow Pages. Plus they’re more likely to skip going to the store. They find what they want online, call up and place an order.


  11. Excellent contribution, Janet. Very rarely these days do I turn to the Yellow Pages. The first place I head to is the Internet. And apparently, many others are doing the same according to the statistics you provided.

    This just goes to show you how very important an Internet presence is these days . . .

  12. John,
    Like you said, if the research was divided by age group there would be no Yellow Pages for anyone under 30. The majority will shift to using social sites. It only takes 1 negative result in the top 10 search results and a savvy company will do what they can to bury it. It’s a lot harder to manipulate information on social sites.

    Many local businesses aren’t that savvy though, unless they’re run by younger people. Even search engine optimization is a stretch. Most get overwhelmed by that. My advice is that they register their name on the major social networks and put up an intro and link to their site. Then as the trend goes to social sites, they’ll at least be there.

    OpEntrepreneur –
    Thanks for sharing what has happened in your business. Marketing is really about testing results and adjusting for your audience. I’d love to get more feedback on how business leads come in and if/how it’s changed in the past few years. As Libby points out there are many ways people find your business. It’s important to know how your demographic is finding you.


  13. Very timely piece. We just posted a User Guide to the Yellow Pages over at on Friday! Guess we see things the same way! Great job.

    Steve Averill

  14. I own two online businesses and therefore am often asked by people I know who own businesses with more of a local, physical, focus how they should take advantage of online marketing. Oftentimes, putting up a decent webpage and keeping it updated is very uncomfortable for such business owners and, if they are just getting started online, it can be hard for them to justify the time investment to themselves and get in the habit of participating online. I didn’t know what to tell them. But then I found the answer – start by having a good presence on Yelp.

    The answer came to me when I was trying to find a locksmith to replace an internal lock / doorknob at one of my businesses and trying to find a new barber after I recently moved to a new neighborhood.

    My neighborhood in Chicago is called the West Loop so, looking for a barber I googled “west loop barber” and found “Family Barber Shop – West Loop – Chicago, IL 60607” a page on Yelp (first result). Gina and Lexi have 5 great reviews on Yelp. They also have a printout of their Yelp page hanging in the waiting area of their shop. I asked Gina how much of their business comes from Yelp and she wasn’t sure exactly but knows that it is substantial, especially if counting only new customers.

    Looking for a locksmith – similar story – there are lots of spammy search results pages for locksmiths but after a little searching I found one nearby – Lousy looking webpage, but front and center on their page is “Yelp – Nine 5-Star Reviews”, which was enough to convince me. They did a great job, by the way, fast and honest.

    Neither business has spent much time or money investing in its online presence, but what they are doing is working very well. For small businesses with a local clientele, I recommend making sure you have a decent profile with some good reviews on Yelp or some other local review site before even bothering with a real webpage, the investment is lower and return higher.

  15. Well, no wonder especially when most if not all people nowadays rely on the Internet technology! Do anyone ever imagine what’s next to Internet?

  16. How about a combination of paper and “1” & “0”? I use the Internet as the first option, but sometimes it is good to browse through a phone book. For my own business, it is not worth to be in the phone book. The ad is too expensive. I have a free online section instead in the biggest search place site in Sweden, called “Find”.se (in Swedish). The problem with putting an ad on this online was that I couldn’t get convincing data on how much search traffic they had for specific key words. I think the personalization of the search functions has to develop more in order the able to compete with other sources.

  17. This is one of the main reasons why newspapers are dying as an industry. The advertising revenues are dropping like a falling rock because this generation is accustomed to looking for all forms of information via the web. I liked John Jantsch’s comment about his kids looking for a switch on the yellow pages because they really don’t understand how they work.

    Nice work, Janet

  18. Funny, but I just found a survey that showed the Yellow pages were still considerably more popular than search engines:

  19. Randy,
    Thanks for pointing out that survey. They have roughly the same number of responses. The ComScore data didn’t break it up by age though. In the Knowledge Networks study the only group that uses search engines more than the Yellow Pages are 18-35. If you averaged out that with the younger group, it would probably be close. It’s pretty clear that if you’re older than 35 it’s the Yellow Pages all the way. Though I bet most of us use both (I use 411 a lot more for local businesses than the phone book or web search).

    So test it out for your business. Like Sean points out Yelp and other local business directories have free profiles that can help businesses – even if they don’t have a web site.


  20. Great article Janet…a couple of things I’d add:

    1) Not all searchers are “purchase-ready”, meaning they’re considering using the services of a local company but they’re not quite ready. They have questions, want advice, need ideas, etc. Whoever answers these people needs well will build trust and will become the de-facto place to find the right company when they’re ready!

    2) Referral/Recommendations from friends has always been the best form of advertising. Once someone figures out how to tap into various sites’ social graphs and brings your friends’ opinions (with regards to local businesses) to you when you need them will garner a lot of users.

    We’re launching a site in mid-February called that will help bring these things to the forefront, as well as help people find those businesses that are actively doing good in their community. Wish us luck and be well!


  21. @Luz,I remember my mom always told me that every single cent counts and every little thing can make a big difference!

    @Janet, the data you presented seems true to me and especially to my fellow generation. We are web savvy that every little thing we wish to know is opening up a browser, go to search engine and viola – search and find! Note: Even contact numbers for a certain resort or restaurant!

  22. It is hard for me to believe that 30% look in the book.

  23. With the increasing influence of search engine use, every business should employ search engine optimization in order to gain greater online visibility. Sure, there are a few basics that can get you started, but SEO requires ongoing efforts implemented by industry experts in order to be truly effective and provide a significant return on investment.

  24. Looks like 64% happen online. With the search engines handling local so well, it’s no wonder!

    The trick for Small Business owners now is to get everywhere they need to be online.

    There’s a great resource that lists and ranks all the local search engines and directories with some advice. Its at We created this for our clients, but “e” is for everyone after all.

    Great post!

  25. Local directories are gaining traffic from the print yellow pages in leaps and bounds. As local search directories like get better at refining their search technology, the restriction of category based search in a book will render it completely obsolete.

  26. Age of the consumer is a huge factor. The only reason we keep a print YP ad is for the folks 55 and up who are the only group who tend to find us there.

  27. Well Yellow Pages is so expensive too and another reason why businesses flock to the search engines – organic searches in particular. But consumers can type into Google. Why double the time and effort and go to yellow pages as well.

  28. It’s mostly through google, bing and yahoo that people get found. The search engines rule.

  29. Used Pole Trailers

    Nowadays, you really need to establish yourself on the internet. Most people tap into the wonder that is Google to find what they’re looking for these days.

  30. Just wanted to say that the author is extremely cute. My eyes are crossed from reading things like this. But she did support this data with some statistics, which are always interesting.

  31. Hi Janet,

    That’s true. Who’s going to complain if you keep on getting more profits from your online advertising efforts? This is something that a lot of traditional businessmen need to remember today as yellow pages really becomes unpopular as an option of advertising business today.

  32. David, yes Yellow Pages is declining and yes its certainly not the preferred form of advertising for Gen Y or X. But it still serves a major purpose regionally. But for how long?

  33. Yellowpages are still favoured by the less tech savvy like the 60yo+ bracket. Yellowpages seems to be re-inventing themselves and are now offering website design and SEO. The listing on the online yellowpages also give some SEO gain.