Despite suggestions that the internet could render paper directories obsolete, the sector still offers a vital and convenient service, often in conjunction with Web-based products. By Richenda Wilson
According to David Worlock, chairman of information industry consultancy EPS, it has never been easier to predict the “demise of paper directories”. He adds: “Print publishers who are not very worried are very complacent.”
His fears are borne out by US research from consultancy Kelsey Group, which found that Yellow Pages’ reach in the US fell from 79% to 61% among internet users between March 2003 and October 2005, while reach of online search engines grew from 63% to 71%. Kelsey goes so far as to suggest that print directories may be obsolete in as little as ten years.
Karl Gregory, marketing director of Touch Local, which operates online local business and service finder touchlocal.com in the UK, says: “Paper directories have limited distribution, they are expensive, they are not searchable by keyword, it is difficult to navigate the classifieds, they have a limited shelf-life and are usually printed just once a year.
“The Web is local, national and global all in one,” he adds. “It is searchable by keyword, easy to navigate and allows businesses to update their information.”
However, Yell head of customer and product development Gary Brown, contends: “There is no way print will be phased out in our lifetime”. He says printed directories offer highly desirable positions, such as on the covers, spines or bound inserts.
He adds: “In an emergency, will you really spend five minutes booting up your computer just to find a plumber? If you need a local service you turn to print.”
In its results for the year to March 31 2006, Yell’s UK revenue was &£700m, but only &£60m of this was generated by the online service Yell.com. However, Yell.com’s revenue was up 65% and Yellow Pages’ rose just 1.2%.
A new model
However, Worlock warns: “Most things beginning with ‘e’ don’t work in the way in which people intended. We need a new directories model online; it’s not about directories at all but about local communities.” He points to Yahoo! Local and Google Local and their ability to offer locality and community searching.
But the wealth of information online can also be a negative. “While the likes of Google attempt to index everything in the world, the more they index, the more difficult it is to find what you are looking for,” says Philip Lowther, marketing manager at AP Information Services, which publishes niche print and online directories including the Marketing Manager’s Yearbook and the Design Buyer’s Yearbook.
“We have to provide quality niche information in whichever way the user wishes to receive it,” adds Lowther. “That is why we are investing heavily in online development while not ignoring our very successful print directories.”
Mark Ludmon, group editor at Trades Exhibitions, which publishes the British Promotional Merchandise Association directory and the Incentive and Motivation Buyer’s Guide, believes it is the ability to close the business in one go that is the big advantage of online. All companies on ipromote.co.uk, the online version of the Buyer’s Guide, have a free listing of their contact details, while silver listings offer more company information and a web address. Companies that opt for gold listing are guaranteed to appear in the top three for each product category and they can put a logo and web link into their entry. Through this, customers go straight to the advertiser’s website and can complete whatever business they have there and then.
Worlock at EPS has several tips for advertisers looking to make the most of their online budgets: “Optimise your presence on search engines, look for local search environments, consider blogs or community sites and use the networking possibilities.”
But, as Lowther at AP says, it’s not over for print directories: “At present, we have a 60/40 split for book/web delivery of information. “Specialist paper copy directories will always have a future,” he adds. “Directories with a strong heritage within a specialist industry offer a huge range of up-to-date contacts and are seen as ‘bibles’. Many marketers find significant value in advertising in these directories. Also, people still like reaching for directories and keep them next to the phone or on their desks as a vital source of information. The paperless environment isn’t with us yet.”
Yellow Pages, naturally, agrees. And, while its growth may be slowing, it has not stopped yet. It offers advertisers a lot of information on how to maximise their presence. For example, Critical Research in 2006 found that Yellow Pages users were four times more likely to choose a company that had a display advertisement than one that had a semi-display ad.
A splash of colour
Colour also helps: in 2004, advertisers who upgraded to colour the previous year claimed their ad had helped increase enquiries by 42% and revenue by 54%.
Diane Rowe, account director at media agency Zed, has further advice: “Assess the average number of pages for your section and establish your share of voice,” she says. “Also, go for early positions. and consider booking ‘branded fillers’, which offer the advertiser a way of achieving additional branding and increases coverage.”
Rowe also suggests that all ads, both online and offline, should include a clear call to action.
Finally, says Rowe: “Use freephone numbers. Research suggests that consumers may dial your number because they perceive that you care about them by not charging for the call.”