From the Couldn’t Resist Department:

Tara Nelson of the, “the insider source for everything local”, wrote an article today called “Yellow Pages v. Social Media Marketing” on the subject of shifting your budget from print yellow pages advertising to social media marketing.  Now readers of this blog know I am all about positivity and sunshine, and I sure don’t want to knock Tara for trying, bit once you get past the catchy headline you quickly realize this is the insider source for, well, I am too much of a Christian to say what.

Tara’s argument is essentially that no one uses the print yellow pages anymore. To support this notion she reveals the following facts:

“AT&T has been allowed to cease delivering white pages to doorsteps in Missouri’s largest cities. Customers can call a toll-free number to ask for a residential book and it will be mailed for free. During similar pilot projects last year in Atlanta and Austin, it was noted that fewer than two percent of customers requested paper phone books.

Missouri Public Service Commission Chairman Robert M. Clayton III stated, “But we also have to recognize times have changed and many people aren’t even looking at these (yellow pages) anymore.”

Ok so first Tara, I believe the Missouri case is talking about eliminating white pages directories so not sure how you’ve made the case that no one uses the print yellow pages. And thanks for totally doctoring Chairman Clayton’s argument to make it look like he was talking about yellow pages when in fact here is the actual quote from

“I’m concerned that certain members of the community who use the white pages may be slightly inconvenienced,” said PSC Chairman Robert M. Clayton III. “But we also have to recognize times have changed and many people aren’t even looking at these any more.”

I think in journalism the technical term for this is “making shit up”.

Update: I just looked and they have removed the made up stuff from the article.  Good for them.  But just to make sure that they know that you and I know what they know let’s go to the trusty Google cache.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming:

And then there’s this gem:

“keep in mind that a vast number of (phone books) sit unused in a drawer or closet somewhere…This also makes tracking metrics and accurate conversion rates nearly impossible.”

Ok so let me get this straight – because most people don’t use their phone books you can’t track conversion rates of the people who do?

But wait, there’s more!:

Let’s say you were going to wipe off the dust and try to use one of those big, bulky phone books. Which one? Have you ever stopped to consider just how many different versions there are? Chances are high that your potential client will grab a book that you are not in. Building your online presence is infinitely more effective today.

Oh really?  Tara, have you ever stopped to consider how many local search engines, online yellow pages, SEM firms, SEO firms, web developers and yes, social media marketing firms, are trying to sell your reader a presence on their fabulous system?  Chance are high that your potential reader will drop his yellow pages ad, invest in a website, blow a bunch of money on Google ads before he figures out the ROI blows, forget the login to his Twitter account and angrily hit the spam button every time one of his buddies from fifth grade Facebooks him.  Oh yeah and then when his yellow pages rep calls him up he’ll be so desperate for leads that he’ll pay even more to get his “seniority” position back in the book.

Now readers of this blog know that I am not a cheerleader for print yellow pages, but the truth is that for certain categories the print book provides fantastic ROI.  “Boring” categories like assisted living facilities,  signs, bail bonds, etc.  But knowing that stuff would require a journalist to actually do a little research, wouldn’t it?

But let’s give Tara the benefit of the doubt and agree that the printed yellow pages are dead.  Again she lays a foundation of reason as solid as concrete bubble wrap:

“Social media allows you to arm yourself with more precise analytics.”

Really?  So x Tweets = y leads and x friends on Facebook = $y?  Like that kind of stuff?  Cool. Well, no actually this:

“TMP Directional Marketing indicated 61% of search inquires are made online as opposed to in print. Social media is the clear answer for standing out in the crowd and announcing your presence to the world.”

Oh, now I get it.

There are too many marketers out there trying to sell businesses on fuzzy, hard-to-understand stuff because it’s shiny and new.  Normally sane business people can succumb to the peer-pressure hype of this fabulous new world of social media marketing and the education can be expensive.

That said, there is a strong case to be made that many types of businesses can get a great ROI from social media marketing.  But to make that case, you actually need to make the case.

Some sites that make the case for social media marketing:



97th Floor

Collective Thoughts

Twitter 101 for Business

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38 Response Comments

  • Devin  July 28, 2009 at 4:15 pm


    I generally agree with your posts – and mostly, I agree with you here.

    Obviously there are certain categories where yellow pages make a lot more sense than social media marketing – the ‘boring’ categories, as you put it.

    That being said, we track ROI and (as you may know) work in the assisted living field.

    When it comes to that particular category, I do have to disagree with you. While we remain unsure that the time is rife for social media (and, in fact, would argue it’s rather early) – shifting the money those companies are spending in yellow pages and moving it online to SEM (generally – Google PPC and SEO) has proven a boon for Assisted Living client – community after community.

    That being said – overall – I think you’re right on target that jumping spend on an overall basis from YPs to SMM without doing your research and knowing your category is, by and large, a mistake.

  • Chris Bennett  July 28, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Awesome post Andrews, I agree. While I make cases for social media marketing all the time and see its benefits over and over again, I hate the absolutest crap. To say one form of advertising is perfect for every business and that another form is bad for every business is naive.

  • Gab Goldenberg  July 28, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    You fucking killed it Andrew! Excellent article, and funny too (lmao @ bubble wrap!).

    My problem with it was more that she just asserts that social is the replacement for the yellow pages, then does nothing to back that claim up with logic or data.

    That said, I think this isn’t made up, just exaggerated: “Ok so let me get this straight – because most people don’t use their phone books you can’t track conversion rates of the people who do?”

    I took her to mean that you can’t track distribution to phone calls very accurately. But you rightly point out that you can track conversion rate on the calls you do get or traffic that does visit the (vanityurl redirected) site.

  • Andrew Shane  July 28, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Andrew –

    Thank you for your assesment on Twitter. I will try not to be too much of a commercial.

    My company, Idearc Media is transforming itself to become the local advertising agency for SMBs. We don’t believe one size fits all for every SMB; we do believe the right mix of advertising will do the trick in helping SMBs secure leads.

    We are also providing SMNS w/ two differentiating programs (commercial warning) – and

    Thank you for the opportunity to comment,
    Andrew Shane

  • Andrew Shotland  July 28, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Devin, thanks for commenting. I mentioned assisted living facilities after asking someone who works for a print yellow pages which categories saw the best ROI. That said I don’t work in that niche much so your experience could be the rule rather than the exception.

    Chris. ditto

    Gab, the made up part is the quote about yellow pages by the Missouri guy. Re the tracking thing you may be right but if that’s her point it’s pretty convoluted and a fairly meaningless.

  • Andrew Shotland  July 28, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    Ok Mr. Shane it sounds like you are taking a good approach but I am starting to edge over to Tara’s side – Your promise to try not to be too much of a commercial lasted 237 characters – 196 if you don’t count the spaces.

    Come back Shane! Come back.

  • James Stratford @JRStratford  July 28, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Thanks for covering the Tara nelson’s post in the Examiner. It’s enlightening to see how things are twisted and askew in so called journalism.

    Social Media Marketing is alive and well as the most relevant method for reaching locals.

    Your quote by “TMP Directional Marketing indicated 61% of search inquires are made online as opposed to in print. Social media is the clear answer for standing out in the crowd and announcing your presence to the world.” Is a great one.

    Social Media Marketing with a proper strategy (Utilize a consultant if you don’t know how it’s done) It’s the method that is both measurable and quantifiable in terms of visitors, conversion, and ROI. That simply can’t be beat! The drawback for many is the lack of knowledge or inactivity which will erode the end result sine you have to plan, set it in motion, and put everything in place for it to work as planned. It’s just like everything else in our business or even personal lives. We must make the plan and then work the plan if we expect the end result we planned for.

    Thanks for the sites that make the case for Social Media Marketing.

    My Two Cents!

  • Doug  July 28, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Wow. You tell ’em. I am sure that even the worst print journalist rolls his eyes at some of those expert blogs I see. The internet has given a voice to so many, and they seem happy to just “make %^^$ up” as you put it.

    I am amazed at how many experts there are on the subject of Local Search. I would never call myself an expert even though my credentials are real. But every Tom, Dick and Harry in California who didn’t like their day job is now a local search expert and blogger.

    I am not in the yellow page business, they are my competition. But, I would never recommended a client drop a successful campaign. I am telling anyone out there, the actual use of printed books will surprise you. It is easily proven to me time and time again, to my dismay. The vary fact that someone is reading this blog biases them to a preconception that everyone acquires information the same way they do. Most smart businesses use CMS numbers to track leads from ads. When I am calling on someone and they show me a report with the recorded calls from 43 leads from a yellow page directory that last week and ask if I can do the same with local search, it is a tough question to answer. The CMS calls are real leads, a click on a url is not as real as a phone call and doesn’t convert at the same rate I would guess.

    On social media, as an advertising outlet, is it ready for prime time. I tried and tried to advertise on Facebook. The business model just wasn’t there. What I mean is some guy who sounded like he was working out of his dorm room would call fix my account, start me over, and then delete my campaign again. We went through this several times before I had to just give up. I took a poll of all my friends and no one paid attention to those ads, so I quit trying. Hopefully, they have made progress by now.

    As I have been saying, I would want to be the last business out of the yellow pages and the first business on web. That means advertising will cost more, not less.

    Thanks for a great article. I am refreshed.

  • Andrew Shotland  July 28, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Doug, truly honored to have you here. If I can refresh just one person I day I too shall be refreshed.

  • Jonathan Kraft  July 29, 2009 at 12:11 am

    Jim Edwards used to have something called the Friday Night Smackdown where he would take something like this and totally lay into it.

    You did some EXCELLENT sleuthing here. AWESOME work. Great job correcting misinformation and exaggerated claims.

    The Yellow Pages still do have a place, and lots of people lose lots of money before figuring out how to effectively market their businesses online.

    Relevant Side note: We threw our yellow pages phone book in the recycle bin yesterday (same day it arrived).



  • Brian Wallace  July 29, 2009 at 3:15 am

    Well played, Andrew. I’m sure that most people were waiting for you to prove out more of a point that the Yellow Pages were going out of style and Social Media is taking over.

    I mean, it’s not like industries that are long establish can just be overtaken by a new technology and approach?

    *cough*cough* where did all those encyclopedia salesmen go? Ah yes, they were eaten alive by a little CD that had a bunch of public domain images – they called it Encarta…which was later pretty much decimated by a silly online encyclopedia that thousands of people manage – Wikipedia.

    So yeah, it can be done, but it’s the better mousetrap (or the better marketed mousetrap) that wins. Not saying that the Yellow Pages is evaporating quite yet, though and it does make sense for local companies. That’s why they call it a marketing mix. Nobody (hopefully) is saying the social media cures all ills, while solving world hunger and peace.

    Thanks for the Collective Thoughts mention — we’ll have to get another post out before the next Yellow Pages comes out 😉

  • Andrew Shotland  July 29, 2009 at 4:15 am

    Good to see you lurking about Brian.

  • Lisa  July 29, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Thank you so much for bashing Tara on her hideous excuse for “facts” and reporting. You will be interested to know that I work for AT&T as a Search Engine Marketing Manager (SEM).

    My job is to teach and help sell internet marketing programs to our clients since all of the sales reps are only used to selling print products.

    One of the biggest myths out there is that our book (Yellow Pages) is dead or dying! Alot of advetisers want to pull money out of the print and move it to the internet – DISASTER!

    It’s because of article like Tara wrote that make my job harder. Pulling money out of the AT&T yellow pages is the worst thing you could do.

    Thanks again for the great rebuttle Andrew!

  • Andrew Shotland  July 29, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Thanks for stopping by Lisa. I don’t necessarily think it’s a disaster if a business wants to move its marketing budget to the Web. As long as they take the time to learn how to use the Web it could be a great move. But as you probably know most will not take the time.

  • jlbraaten  July 29, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Goodness, Andrew, she certainly did get under your skin. I definitely see your point though. I do notice how a lot of what she said is full of rhetoric. To your point, go where the ROI is. Do your homework and find out how the varying media can help you promote your business. Then act. Don’t declare something dead because you heard about it on TV.

    And the bit about them editing an article post-publishing… classy. Any Social Media expert knows that honesty and full disclosure after a mistake is the only way to redemption in the new, every-thing-is-indexed world.

  • AhmedF  July 29, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    I believe the phrase is ‘nailed em’

  • Dev Basu  July 29, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    I’m glad you called Tara out on this Andrew. Honestly, misinformed and fabricated journalism such as her’s is a bane to the search marketing industry.

    Tara, if you are reading this – Shame on you. As a part of one of Canada’s largest CMR’s I’m letting you know that the Yellow Pages still has huge value over a variety of headings. How do we know?

    – Measured ad studies (keyed ads)
    – Vanity URLS
    – Vanity Phone Numbers with Tracking.

    Want more precise analytics? Try the above and add to it concrete data from Pay Per Click, and analytics data from any web analytics package.

    Loved reading this post Andrew.

  • Andrew Shotland  July 29, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    In defense of Tara she did email me and thank me for pointing out the “unintended” error in her article.

  • Dick Larkin  July 29, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    OK, so I’m a little late to the party weighing in.

    As a former SEO/SEM local online advertising guy who is now an Ink on Dead Trees Yellow Pages guy, I’m probably the only guy in American swinging back to old media.

    In 2005, I thought print YP was dying quickly. I REALLY did.

    I co-founded Weblistic in 2005 and dove into local online in a big way.

    We did lots of things right. Lots of things wrong. And I studied results for hundreds of local advertisers across the country using various online advertising methods.

    Online advertising works, and it often works very well.

    But it has its limits, and those generally mean that after the basics are covered, and the advertiser moves into more sophisticated pay-for-performance online advertising, the economics of lead generation can quickly turn south.

    I currently work for a publisher of 300 community directories that are very small format 6″ wide x 11″ tall that each serve a well-defined community.

    We focus on high local business participation by having great distribution (US Mail saturation) and exceptionally low rates (Eight page ads average $385 per year)

    There is no online advertising in these suburban and semi-rural communities that can even come close to generating a comparable return on investment.

    But that’s not the point, is it?

    Her point is that the huge, metropolitan coverage Yellow Pages no longer deliver for advertisers.

    Although these directories are my sworn enemy, the evidence to their effectiveness for many advertisers is substantial.

    My personal research has shown me that in most markets, for many advertisers, Yellow Pages delivers far more profit than the cost of advertising.

    I currently have 40,000 paying advertisers who renew every year as if their business depends on it. Because it does.

    I always recommend that businesses leverage their website, blogs, networks, SEO and SEM.

    YP isn’t dead.

    Just be extra thoughtful about your advertisements to make sure you’re reaching the right market with the right message.

    And when in doubt, Go Commando.

  • Jeff Mette  July 29, 2009 at 5:51 pm


    Great job on several fronts. I started working with SMB’s ten years ago in local advertising. The field is so competitive and you hear this kind of stuff all the time. I am one that feels that most all types of advertising have some niche areas where they work. I will say that this seems to be making a big shift from print (where I have spent the last ten years ) to online, but I would also agree it is to early to completely write off any categories including the yellow pages. The sad part about this is that so many SMB’s are good at what they do but are not up to speed on marketing and so they will buy into garbage like this if it sounds good.

    Thanks for all the hard work you but into this blog. It has been a great resource for me to help bring my clients up to speed in the online world.

  • Jim Niarchos  July 29, 2009 at 6:46 pm


    It’s about time folks stood up and told the whole truth. You said it better than most. The biggest thing that the print Yellow Pages has against it in some peoples minds is that it’s been around a long time. Well, so has toothpaste but just because mnay people are getting their teeth whitened by lasers does not mean folks have stopped brushing their teeth with toothpaste. Did I make my point? I hope so.

    Jim Niarchos

  • Andrew Shotland  July 29, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    We would all do well to heed the words of the YPCommando!

    Jeff & Jim, glad you guys stopped by. Jim I have started brushing my teeth with a laser but you make a good point.

  • Single Maria  July 30, 2009 at 6:38 am

    Thanks for the post. The internet and search engines have grown as competitors, which means long gone are the days when local advertisers had only to place ads in the print newspaper or yellow pages and be confident that they were reaching most of their intended market. The web must be considered. And when going out onto the web, local business need to ensure they’re measuring the web’s impact in their real-life activities. When people call by phone or visit a store — the top two actions after an online local search — is someone in the store asking about this? Asking about whether particular online sites were used may help local businesses better understand the potentially “invisible” drivers of traffic that they’re not aware of.

  • Stu MacFarlane  July 30, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    So good to hear the Good Christian fired up on the subject of old v. new media. Brilliant post.

  • Andrew Shotland  July 30, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Stu – I was inspired by the recent passing of Reverend Ike. Praise.

  • Barry Hurd  July 30, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    Great review of the concept.

    As an opener – I have no love or hate of yellow pages. In fact my “corporate life” was at Verizon Superpages (LoL, best of both worlds for online and offline…)

    Like any medium or channel, you hit the nail on the head: each has a very specific use and target. Radio is great for Y adults, TV is good for X teens, Facebook is good for A someone, etc.

    I am a “social media believer” , but I have several clients that get GREAT return on YP ads.

    Yellowpages do have a great value appeal to some: you can’t really fake a YP ad. Sure you can cheat SEO or buy crap PPC, you can even create that crazy Twitter handle… but if you want to have that one inch ad in the Yellowpages you have to prove your business license, address, etc and pony up the cash.

    That is really big as an asset. Someone has to commit to 12 to 18 months of print advertising. You “know they are in the game” if they have done that to a far better extent than some nut-ball who just created a Facebook account and tried to friend you.

  • Nick Stamoulis  July 31, 2009 at 6:46 am

    Yes certain industries still do well in the print yellow pages. But even those industries shouldn’t neglect social media even if they are doing well in the print. Someday the print will not be as strong so it is important to keep up with all online efforts as well.

  • Mark Bossert  July 31, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Great post Andrew!
    Inspiring to see you be so critical of a point that, given your business, is actually of benefit for you. Yet your ethics brought out the smackdown. Cool!

    Great comments from your readers as well. I just left radio sales to concentrate full time on my local SEO business and like the YP, that is another broadcast industry facing hard times and tough choices. Does it still work? Of course, but echoing other comments, the ROI is there for certain niches and not for others. TV, newspapers, YP, radio, direct mail all have their place alongside SEO/SEM.

    Heck, even brochures properly designed and placed can have a 52 times ROI. I think having the fortitude to tell the real truth as to whether a certain niche will work – even if it costs you business short term – is the hallmark of a professional.

  • lee@ mobilephones  August 3, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Nice site, hope you had a cool break.
    Just wondered how you market the site, do you just do seo or marketing too? All tips gratefully received as I am still learning a lot! thanks

  • Andrew Shotland  August 3, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Thanks for stopping by Lee. While SEO is our main focus, we also provide a variety of additional marketing services to our clients including search engine marketing, social media marketing, site monetization strategies and more.

  • Ash Nallawalla  August 4, 2009 at 11:48 pm


    Great work! I’m in the online YP world but work closely with our print colleagues so I try to find every discussion on the subject. The referenced article sounds like lazy journalism where more effort was put into the headline than the content.

  • Anatoly  August 5, 2009 at 7:47 am

    I believe that business owners will not switch from the YP to SMM. First of all people have some kind of inertia and most of them will wait till the last YP book will printed and delivered to them. The second reason, jumping into the SMM without testing the water could be very costly.
    That’s why some ones do hire Professionals to pull them smoothly into SMM, the rest is still jumping back and forth from YP to the Internet.

  • Andrew Shotland  August 5, 2009 at 8:19 am

    I tend to agree with you Anatoly but I do think that peer/business pressure will push more and more SMBs to try out new kinds of marketing. And if agencies can provide this kind of service in a cookie cutter/predictable fashion (which is hard to do) they will get adoption.

  • Rich  May 16, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    We’re pretty rural here (VT/NH), and the yellow pages is still the go-to source if you’re looking for something local. Great article!

  • Andy  May 30, 2010 at 8:46 am

    Yellow pages rules ! I have few at house ans still use it from time to time.

  • haber  December 18, 2010 at 12:43 am

    it was educational about infographics, but you had me laughing all the way through. Great point on the traffic possibilities

  • Jeremy C  February 14, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Man, sometimes i wish i could go back in time and invent all this stuff before anyone. then i wouldnt be posting this comment ya know? Ha. this blog cracks me up.

  • Scott  November 1, 2012 at 8:31 am

    I think another aspect we are not addressing is the increased popularity of Yellow Pages mobile apps. If these apps continue to grow in popularity, some industries may consider shifting funds back towards Yellow Pages so they can be listed there.