Case Study: Yellow Pages & Print Advertising vs. Internet Marketing

If you own a small home improvement business that has been around for longer than 10 years, you probably can remember a time when most of your new business came from the Yellow Pages and other print advertising.

If you are still relying on those old advertising media for business, you are probably wondering why the results aren’t what they once were.

50 Year Old Business Moves from Traditional to Digital

Van Beek's Original WebsiteOriginal Website Prior to working with WSI

Van Beek’s Garden Supplies started in business in 1962. Here is a screenshot of the website they had until 2008. In May 2008 WSI Milton launched their first website and internet marketing system.

Their 2008 season was tremendous with the addition of pay per click marketing to their new website, and after seeing these results, they decided to invest in search engine optimization (SEO) leading into the 2009 season.

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This profile video was created in 2010. 40% growth during a recession!

Vanbeeks 2nd generation websiteNew site launched May 2008

The company realized that most of their business was being driven by internet marketing and began questioning the worth of traditional print media, especially Yellow Pages advertising.

They decided to test the Yellow Pages results by having a unique tracking phone number inserted into their Yellow Pages ad. This experiment proved to them that they were getting very little value from the $60,000 that they were investing annually for multiple print directories.

Yellow Pages’ traditional business model has been collapsing for years, and they are currently scrambling to reinvent themselves at digital marketing experts, but beware-in my opinion, they have very little to offer in this area.

Van Beek's 3rd Generation site launched Feb 20123rd Generation Website launched Feb 2012

The Yellow Pages have been offering more online marketing to offset their lost revenue from print, and they have a strong sales pitch and years of loyal paying customers to support this initiative.

What the Yellow Pages fails to tell advertisers is that the link to your site from theirs is classified as a “no-follow” which basically means that it offers absolutely no value to your website from an SEO perspective. All the online marketing that they are “selling” their clients is in fact directing traffic to the Yellow Pages directory and not the client’s actual website.

Here is the actual comparison of yellow pages traffic compared to Google traffic, evaluating 4 and a half years of data for the Van Beek’s website: approximately 236,000 visits from search engines compared to about 3500 visits from the Yellow Pages.

Do the math and you will see that they get 6742% more search engine traffic than Yellow Pages traffic. Where would you choose to invest your marketing?

6742% more search engine traffic than Yellow Pages traffic

Van Beeks gets Six Thousand Seven Hundred and Fourty-Two (6742%) percent more traffic from Search Engines than from Yellow Pages!

If you’re having trouble deciding where to invest your marketing dollar to get the best return on investment, just ask us for help.

  Discuss This Article

Comments: 13

  • Adam says:

    Hi Jason,

    I would like to hear your thoughts on the value of the leads from each source. Do you have any metrics on the conversion rates between the sources? In my experience does deliver lower traffic, but can be very profitable when you look at the cost per sale. At the end of the day it is not about how many clicks a campaign delivers but the value of the business it delivers and the cost associated.

    • Jason Gervais says:

      You make a good point Adam. Typically visits from the yellow pages does have a higher conversion rate but we don’t have systems to track the actual revenue generated.

      In the case of Van Beek’s, they were able to measure the leads they were getting from the Yellow Pages by including a unique tracking phone number in their online YP ad. The results proved that the YP ad was not working.

      The success was measured by the sheer volume of leads and the fact that their actual sales grew significantly in general, with the only change being the Internet Marketing.

  • Jason, on the analytics why isn’t or on the report? is a small site.

  • Joe R says:

    How is it that usage ranks in the top 50 url’s searched within the USA using

  • Lori says:

    My understanding is, that passing page rank with “follow” links does not always follow Google’s best practices and can harm a business website more than help – which would be in this instance? My understanding is that the reach & distribution of data from & the YellowAPI adds tremendous benefit, along with a higher conversion rate as Adam has mentioned as well.

    • Hi Lori, as long as links are used for ranking websites, there will always be followed and no-followed links. What Google is against is paid link schemes which passes pagerank. We can’t argue with the reach and distribution data of YP, but this case study is a comparison of the ROI per money spent. In this case, a 6742% in search traffic is a clear indication which method of marketing was best for this client.

  • Ian Cheow says:

    Fantastic article, thanks for sharing this. I am in the SEO/SEM business in Singapore and one of the key market that we tackle is the Small and Medium Businesses (SMB) market. And most of them are still loyal customers of Yellow Pages because they think Yellow Pages are still converting for them.

    Your blog post serves as a fantastic case study for us.

    Once again, thanks for sharing.


  • Peter Chapman says:

    Hello Jason, surely a study of one customer doesn’t make great science. Your figures are also misleading as you say
    “$60,000 that they were investing annually for multiple print directories” but you are comparing digital traffic. One more point to consider is that Yellow Directory sites offer contact details on the search results page so it is not necessary to click to a customer website if you are ready to purchase. Obviously a good digital strategy is high in importance for any business but so is accurate tracking and reportiing of Return on Investment for each lead source not just a poor study aimed at your personal benefit.

    • Jason Gervais says:

      Peter this is one case study, yes. However I have never had a single client in 7 years as a Digital Marketing Consultant say that they felt their advertising spend on Yellow Pages advertising was worthwhile. In fact 100% of my customers are cutting back on both print and digital yellow pages advertising because it has prove over the past 10 years or so that it does not work for their business. You can’t argue with that fact.

  • George says:

    Great case study, but you cant just say YP doenst work for this business, so its generally bad. There’s still companys that are heaviely dependent on print YP (Companys adressing clients, who not use the internet eg. older people).

  • John T says:

    $60,000 a year? Wow, I don’t know of any YP company that can still charge those rates. Since the industry was deregulated 20 or so years ago, hundreds of independent YP publishers have entered the market and destroyed the phone companies’ monopoly and driven rates down. You can get a very robust program in our directories for less than $2,000 a year, which, BTW, provides a very healthy ROI.

    As far as “reinventing ourselves,” most YP companies (especially independents) have been very successful in doing so. From an SEO perspective, many of our clients’ sites do very well just from the on-page optimization we perform.

    We’re not stupid or just have slick sales teams that can sell ice to Eskimos. We know that we must provide value to each and every customer, otherwise they will not renew. Customers press us constantly to prove our value by demanding we produce statistics on both call volumes and website analytics. And if we fail to do so, they’re outta here.

    We also know how to hire. My background was exclusively web until I came onboard. I previous owned my own web company; now I use my knowledge to help the company become successful on the digital side of life.

    Fact of the matter is, in our markets, consumers use a mix of both print YP and Internet to find a local business, and we’ve positioned ourselves quite well to provide both types of marketing services to our clients.

  • Casey Lewis says:

    Jason, I like this case study. I would like to link it in an article that I am going to use as a Whitepaper handout, I spent over 30 years in the YP business and have watched the major 3, now 2 companies fall all over themselves trying to move into digital marketing. I am appalled at the lack of value they bring to the table as they take advantage of the naive ignorance of many of their own customers who need to move away from print advertising and into an Inbound Marketing strategy. We have recently partnered with HubSpot and I must admit that I am simply amazed by the excitement created when a customer who has relied on Yellow Page advertising can see those days revived with a well planned and executed strategy using Inbound principles and methods.

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