Yellow Pages or Google Adwords?

(rewritten Sept 2016)

Most people bin their Yellow Pages and search the web for products and services. I use mine as a monitor stand. Check out your website stats and you’ll get clues to where your traffic is coming from and what to spend your advertising dollar on.

$30 phone calls !!!

(or 50c for an in-bound click?)

. . . that’s what it comes down to.

Google is constantly changing the way search results are delivered because people (usually ruthless SEO companies) have been gaming the Google Search Engine Result Page (SERP) system for years.

Phone book marketers, in a last ditch effort to hang on to their advertising dollar have jumped online, running PPC Adword campaigns at incredibly inflated prices (and even using Google’s PPC Adwords campaigns to sell PPC services). Google the term“Yellow Pages scam” and you’ll find literally hundreds of complaints.

Q: Is print advertising worth the money?

A: No. Sorry. It’s just too expensive per lead.

Per number of eyes that actually fall on your ad, print advertising is way over-priced. Do you know anybody who can even read the small print in Yellow Pages without a magnifying glass? I know over 45ers who use tablets and eBook readers solely because they can boost print size.

I’d rather pay a few dollars for an in-bound Adwords click or a Facebook Like Campaign than pay thousands per year for a nine-inch square of unreadable text buried in a thick yellow book.

I guess that sets the tone of this article. Phone directory lovers may now leave the room. :)

Toronto PHone Book

A Yellow Pages Audience

It all may depend on your industry and audience. Some people are simply techno-phobic – others too old or reluctant to learn about new-fan-dangled computers.

Specialist industries (for example, prosthetic limb manufacturers) may issue regular newsletters or a magazine that could yield results. When the average conversion rate of a print ad is around 2%, you really want a lot of relevant eyes on your product.

Most young, hip, modern smartphone users Google (and then Uber) their way to that well-reviewed city restaurant or panel beater.

Mature professionals (often doctors, accountants or lawyers) may prefer to saunter up to that tome in the hallway, whilst wiping the grease from a magnifying glass.

Australia’s aging population is something to consider, but do you really want to advertise your product to someone who doesn’t know what a modem is and baulks at the idea of a call-out fee?

An Online Audience

While privacy laws stop us from revealing website visitors by name, past sales dates combined with web analytics and tracking tools do reveal (to me at least) enough demographic information about your site visitor to make a fairly good decision about where you should spend your ad pennies.

Phone Book Tunnel

No Sir. My money is on website advertising. More eyes, more leads, less money.

Although . . . it’s not all free beer and skittles.

Google’s constantly shifting goalposts

The web roads are no longer paved with gold and that road is rocky (Mmm, chocolate).

When Google updated their search algorithm (program) in early 2012 about 95% of my (then 125 client) websites lost around 30% of their website traffic. Google did a major update to their indexing algorithm and everyone lost position in search.

Read more about Google’s incessant algorithm changes here.

“Uh-oh, in-coming!” thought I. Man the phones! . . .

Nothing happened.

Which just goes to show who is (and who isn’t paying attention to their online presence.

I did, however, get a couple of curious emails. I always bang on about “keeping your website up to date” and so most clients they felt they had it coming (read this case study where I annoyed my good friends at Canning Bridge Cycles if you’re interested in reading webby rants).

It turned out that my lovely clients actually blamed themselves for the loss in traffic. They hadn’t been keeping their sites up to date with fresh content.

Strangely enough, after one Google revision, a select group of clients saw website traffic increase threefold. In one case, traffic increased by 500%. Even my website (this one) had so much traffic, I was getting new website requests almost daily.

Why so much traffic? (YOU: I want!)

When I checked clients’ site traffic, it was blatantly obvious what had happened.

Those clients who actually wrote blog posts, added news or regular articles on their website saw a huge surge in traffic. The ones that just left their sited blowing in the proverbial Google wind, saw a 5-30% drop in traffic. Of course.

Google loves text. It eats text for breakfast. Writing regularly on your website will push it up the search engines. Period. You don’t have to be an SEO expert to realise that. You don’t even have to employ SEO experts like us.

Argon the Dragon made from old phone book directories

Update your website today

If you are serious about having a relevant online presence, updating your website is the single most important thing you can do. If you don’t update, your site may look like the lights are on, but there’s nobody home.

If you have dead links (God forbid!) – that is to say – links in old posts or pages that don’t go anywhere because the target website has moved or changed its address – Google could stop crawling your site and check out your competitors instead. Website owners who do update regularly (say writing new posts, tidying up old posts and removing bad links) will bubble higher up in search result pages.

The web moves quickly. VERY quickly.

Everything moves quickly. Not just the groovy web.

New ideas, social media networks and marketing technologies that once changed every year are now gutted and rebuilt monthly. While this article (the original version was written in May 2012) has been online so much has already happened.

For example;

  • When I wrote the original version of this article in May 2012, there were only 600,000,000 websites. There are now 1 billion+ (which means it’s nearly twice as hard to get found)
  • Where I used to update client sites for free (i.e. an hour or so every few months) – I now have to charge a maintenance fee because now I’m updating and tweaking each clients’ website nearly every week. Believe me, I work hard for my 96c per day (and all my clients do well in search)
  • Website software (and associated apps) are evolving super quickly.
  • By the end of 2015, there were approximately 1,000,000,000 websites (the number of websites roughly equates to the number of people using the web)
  • Presently, every 18-24 months, the number of people using the web (and the number of available web pages) doubles
  • Websites are becoming more complex with more resource hungry bells and whistles

If I were a mechanic, building websites would be like designing a steam car, fitting a petrol engine and then decorating the body with solar panels.

My job really is that nuts sometimes. I’d hate to be stuck in a large company doing this. Most of my web buddies (the good ones) are going freelance! You can’t train staff or revisit your business plan every single day of the week.

It’s a mystery how companies – steeped in the world of Intellectual IP, business process and moving staff – survive in this changing space. But like News Corporation, with a little adaptation, survive they do. The web is not for the faint-hearted. :)

I digress . . . where were we? Oh, yes..

History of the Yellow Pages

According to Wikipedia, the big yellow tome was invented in 1883. Traditionally directories were published by one local phone company, but there are now a multitude of independent directory publishers. Strangely, the term was never trademarked and so can be used in different countries around the world. The basic business model is the same today as it was then. Charge a premium price for a small ad in a freely delivered big book for everyone.

Distribution is a large part of your fee.

No single web site I work on today will look relevant in one year’s time.

The uber-modern alternative does have its drawbacks. It’s not easy to get found on the web when Google only shows 10 search results per page and the number of competitors in your industry doubles every 18 months.

Only last year I was advising clients against print-based advertising, but I see things a bit differently now. If you are relying on natural (organic) search results for the success and exposure of your business, you are putting too many eggs in the one basket. Google is fickle. Due to so much gaming of the system over the years, the company is single-handedly trying to stamp out black-hat SEO marketing techniques that force your website to the top of the pile.

It’s now almost mandatory to advertise the fact that you have a website. Print based advertising is one option, but your social media footprint (Facebook, Twitter and Linked In), white-hat search engine optimization and other factors are just as important.

I guess I just wouldn’t spend as much money as my clients do on print advertising.

A website isn’t a book

A lot of people think that a website is a bit like having a print ad – or a colourful fax – waving about in cyberspace – faithfully advertising your wares 24/7/365.

“Now we’re on the web, that’s the net bit sorted.”

I’m sorry Budenski, but nothing could be further from the truth. Once a website is built, the real work starts. You have to keep that puppy up to date. Regularly! When a website design (just a small part of what I do) starts to look a little dog-eared after just one year and Google keeps feeding your clients competitor links, the very least you should do is keep your website up to date. I use the most modern software and CSS wizardry but I know that the site I build today won’t look so hot to me in about 6 months’ time.

In short, Google loves content, but static content (content that doesn’t change – like in a book) is your enemy.

Regular blogging increases traffic. Period. Across the board. Google eats words for breakfast, lunch and tea. Feed it your thoughts.

Be mindful of SEO

There’s a whole (updated) article on SEO here if you want to read more:

SEO refers to the laborious process of tweaking on and off-site factors with the sole aim of getting a higher rank in search results. Great idea in essence. More descriptive headings, in-bound linking schemes, meta-tag and image tweaks, key-phrases in your body text etc. etc. etc. etc.. It’s laborious work done partially by software, but best done by hand. That means it is also expensive. You can play the SEO game daily if you like – providing you have the budget to pay an SEO Company. You could, if you were so inclined, learn about the dark art yourself. It’s actually not rocket science at all. While you can learn most of it by reading a leaflet, SEO experts charge like wounded bulls. You can avoid this. If you do nothing else but simply add new content to your site on a regular (weekly is best) basis, you’ll be doing more good to your site than ten SEO experts working full time for a week.

The problem with search engine optimisation is that everybody in the field is obsessed with clicks, rankings, demographics and statistics. Not much attention is paid to the actual site itself – or the real people who regularly visit your site. What do your anonymous hordes actually want? Ask them on your site (if you do this regularly, the silence will break in a few weeks). I can’t tell you how many websites I’ve written assessments for – only to find that the contact form isn’t working or the email address isn’t coded correctly. No contact form = floating fax in cyberspace.

I was asked to look at a guy’s clothing site very recently. They had literally thousands of vistors per month (up to 8,000 actually) but weren’t getting any calls. When I eventually found their contact page, it had the message Please don’t email us unless you want to book an appointment. Well done!

SEO has a bit of a dirty name but there are some genuine hard-working players. Some shady operators believe that Google is out to eradicate the field all together. But it’s not. Google will reward relevant, up to date websites with high-quality content by pushing them higher in search results. If you concentrate on building a high-quality website that is not only great, but offers a new perspective to your industry, your site will automatically do well.

The best approach to marketing your website

A good combination of online and strategic off-line (print) advertising, a well thought through landing page design (a landing page is the “sell” page buyers land on when clicking an ad), simple testing of your points of contact, responding to people’s comments and emails and weekly updating is the best way to run your online show.

My Yellow Pages hard at work

By all means spend some money on print media but keep it in perspective. The thousands you spend on one ad in a big book (or it’s online incarnation) will go much further online.

While some of my client’s websites back in 2013 got as much as 10% of their traffic from online directories, it’s far different now. Most repeat-traffic comes from Google Search. Consider spreading your investment and updating your site in-house on a regular basis.

A good marketing mix

Don’t put all your eggs in the one basket. Print directories are only a small part of the marketing pie. Find out where your online clients are coming from first and then tweak your website to suit.

Creating a great website that people will want to return to again and again is the real goal. People are no longer nervous about making a $ commitment over a web connection.

A website should be about trust. Think of a clever and honest way to transmit your age old idea or product and you’ll do very well.

Further reading


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Author: Edwin James Lynch

Edwin wrote his first (Harrier Jump-jet) computer program in 1982. Today he builds websites and guides companies through best practice, future-proof web development. He lectured 15yrs+ at Curtin University where (in 2007) he was voted 5th best tutor out of 2,500+ Open University Australia tutor / lecturers.

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