So Many Yellow Pages, So Little Ad Budget

LCT Staff
Posted on February 1, 2007

A 2004 study shows that out of 4,000+ Yellow Pages headings, limousine services were ranked number 112 in popularity of lookups. It appears that people are still “letting their fingers do the walking” to find the limo services they need. If you are a limousine operator doing retail business, you’ve got to be in the Yellow Pages and get the right marketing exposure.

A great boost to our industry is the fact that many life events cause people to search Yellow Pages more than they normally would. These life events include getting married, going to prom, having a baby, graduating, retiring, getting a promotion or winning a company award, and buying a new home. Any of these events can prompt a phone call to order a limousine ride to celebrate the occasion.

Making a Tough Decision

According to the Yellow Pages Association, there are more than 200 Yellow Pages publishers, who publish everything from the local phone book to specialized directories, including neighborhood books, business-to-business books, and special-interest books. This doesn’t include Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs) such as Switchboard.com, Yahoo! Yellow Pages, Verizon SuperPages, Google Local, and others.

My company is bombarded by sales calls pressuring us to be in this book and that book and various Internet sites. It can truly intimidate an operator to worry that your competitor will be in a book or site that you are not in, and it becomes truly a “keeping up with the Jones” situation that can easily spin out of control.

Fortunately, the silver lining is that most IYPs offer free advertising. The IYPs are just as eager to have you in their listings as you are to be there. They are attempting to conquer the traditional Yellow Pages and realize they must be comprehensive in their coverage. For operators in small communities, you are bound to show up in the Top Five listings of an Internet search on these IYPs, simply because you have limited competition. In large cities, you may need to budget for “pay per click” advertising or “sponsored” ads, which mean you pay for placement.

In order to prepare a budget for either traditional Yellow Pages or IYP advertising, you must decide who you are trying to reach. Obviously if you are a retail service seeking wedding clients, you need to be in your local phone book. If you seek only corporate accounts, it is more important to spend advertising dollars for top placement on IYP sites.

Measuring Lookups

The effectiveness of Yellow Pages advertising is measured in “lookups.” This is the number of times people looked up one of approximately 4,000 headings. According to a study conducted by Knowledge Networks, the number of lookups for print Yellow Pages is clearly on the decline, and the number of IYP lookups is on the rise. In 2005, there were a total of 16.3 billion lookups. 14.5 billion were in the traditional books. In 2002, 15.1 billion lookups were made in the traditional books. This represents a 1.4 billion decline in Yellow Page book lookups from 2002 to 2005. 1.8 billion used an IYP for their lookups in 2005 compared to only 1.1 billion in 2002.

The Power of IYPs

In a recent analysis, comScore Networks reported that in July 2006, 68 million IYP searches were conducted. This represents a 46% increase over July 2005. This statistic is not surprising considering that in 2005, 65% of all homes in America were wired for high-speed Internet access. The number of Wi-Fi “hotspots” in hotels, airports, and restaurants quadrupled in 2006 as American’s use their laptop computers on the go more and more and the demand for immediate information made popular by the Internet has soared. Online users typically have a higher income level than traditional book users, which for our industry is right on target. Seventy four percent of IYP lookups are narrowed to results in the consumer’s home city.

Many IYP search engines now have the capability of determining what city the inquiry is being made from. This is an important technology improvement. There are roughly 10 million small businesses in the nation, yet only 250,000 are currently paying for IYP listings. Most people equate the Internet search to a search of the entire globe. However with this technology advance, IYP searches can be narrowed down to zip codes, area codes, cities, counties, or states.

So Many Yellow Pages to Choose From

There once was a day when the phone company made the phone book and dropped it off on your doorstep. There was one phone book per community per year. Then came an independent publisher who decided to make its own book. And so began a new tradition where it is now common to have as many as three or four phone books covering one community. To make matters worse, they are distributed at different times of the year, which confuses consumers.

In my city, we have the phone company phone book issued each year in January. In June, another company distributes its directory, which is valid from June to June. Then another company does its using a major freeway as the dividing line of East and West editions at yet another time of the year. All include a free listing whether you buy a display ad or not. So, even if you don’t buy an ad in every phone book, you are included in the book.

Another dilemma faces operators who serve large areas, which include multiple cities. Which community books to advertise in is determined by two factors. The first is how far you want to travel to your client pickup location, and the second is the advertising budget you have allocated for yourself.

Placement is Important

Obviously where your ad shows up either in the traditional book or in the Internet Yellow Page search results is important and you will want to discuss this with your representative.

Traditional Book Placement

In the Yellow Pages book, placement is done by size first. Obviously a full page ad generates the most money for the publisher. The next placement goes to ¾ pages, ¼ pages and so on, with the smallest ad getting the last placement. However, if you move up from a ¼ page to a ¾ page and another operator in your book has had a ¾ page before you, your ad will fall under his until he moves up or dropsout. Remember to proof read your ad several times, since once it is printed, you are stuck with it for one full year. Check phone numbers and addresses.

If you are not sure just how effective your Yellow Pages ad is, ask your account representative to provide you with a “tracking phone number” or a “blind” number. Your ad will appear with a phone number, different than your actual phone number. When clients dial the phone number in the ad, it will be forwarded to your actual phone number and you can obtain a monthly report showing just how many people dialed the “fake” phone number. Next, take your monthly Yellow Pages fee and divide it by the number of calls received to determine your cost per call.

IYP Placement

One of the most effective ways to use IYP advertising is called “pay per click.” Every time a consumer does a search, he will be presented with as many as 10 matches per page, referred to as search results. From here, the consumer can decide to click your link to go to your own website. The company you advertise with such as Google or Yahoo! is motivated to keep your name at the top of all search engines as they only make money when someone clicks to your site.

People perceive if you are listed in the Top Five search results that you must be one of the five best in the search category. Even though this is clearly not the case, it pays to be on top and you should conduct searches regularly as if you were a prospective client to see where you show up in the search results. If you are not consistently in the Top Five, you can discontinue service and try another IYP provider. This is not an option with the phone book, which requires a minimum one-year commitment. At least with this format, even if your service is not called AAA Limousine, you can still be listed first in your community.

The same type of tracking can be used for IYP advertising as with phone book referrals. Not all clicks to your site will result in sales, just as not all phone calls will result in a sale. Your IYP provider can provide a report of how many people visited your site as a result of “clicking through” on the IYP site. However, you already have a set price per lead based on the “pay per click” price agreed upon. Either way, it will be much lower than the cost per call of the traditional Yellow Pages.

Many companies offer free listings, which will include the clickable link to your website, if your website is already listed on Internet search engines. The bonus of consumers being sent to your website from the IYP is that you can change your website as often as you want including holiday specials and other promotions that you simply cannot do with print Yellow Pages.

Since Internet users are driven by a need to have information right away, you can assume they want to place a reservation now as well. By accepting online reservations as well as providing detailed descriptions and pricing, the sale is practically made for you as soon as the consumer clicks to your site.

Budgeting for Yellow Pages Ads

Advertising costs can vary from city to city and by various phone books. The ranges can be huge. By the same token, IYP ads can vary from flat rate “preferred listings” from $25 and up to “pay per click” programs as cheap as $.05 a click to as high as $8 per click.

In general, most companies in our industry create advertising budgets based on a percentage of the prior year sales. That percentage can range from a low of 1% to a high of about 10%. Personally, I invest 3% of sales per year on advertising, with 35% of the entire ad budget devoted to traditional Yellow Pages advertising. An additional 8% is spent on Internet advertising, which includes enhanced listings and lead fees to companies such as Limos.com, which charge per delivered lead.

Two Seconds to Reach Buyers

It is important to note that regardless of where your ad appears, you have a whopping two seconds to make an initial connection with prospective clients. Relate this to walking into a convenience store to pick up a snack. You will glance around the entire store until something catches your eye. If you decide on chips, another two seconds may be spent looking at the chip rack before you grab a specific bag and the final decision is made.

The Yellow Pages are a “store” where prospects come to shop. Their initial view is a quick two-second, once-over view before deciding which listing will get the closer look. You must “capture” the prospect immediately by something eye catching such as a large or creative headline.

Once you have captured attention, you must continue their interest by satisfying a need for immediate answers. The more information provided, the more they will keep coming closer and closer to a sale. Things to consider are what type of vehicles do you offer? What are your hours? What credit cards do you accept? Make sure your phone number is prominent. Make sure in print ads to refer to your website for more information, if you have one. Obviously your website can contain a greater amount of information than your print ad.

If wine tours are popular in your area, include a statement that features them. If you have been in business for a long time, say so with a statement such as, “Serving you since 1990” or “serving you for more than 20 years.” If you feel comfortable that your rates won’t change for a year, state your hourly rental rates in your print ad.

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