Online Yellow Pages May Deliver Buyers, But They Can be a Huge Drag.

A new study shows that people using online yellow pages are much closer to making an actual purchase than people using search engines. You needed a study to tell you that?
The study, by Comscore Networks, was presented at the Ad:Tech Conference in San Francisco this week.

Consumers using online yellow pages did five searches before purchasing, while search engine searchers performed eight searches. This shouldn’t be a big surprise as people looking up specific businesses are usually readier to buy--to go right out of their house with wallet in hand, than people searching via Google or Yahoo.

But why even five searches? I’ll tell you why. Because online yellow pages are still not formatted right, and you seldom get what you want on the first search.

Example: if I go to www.bigyellow.com and search for a plumber in Fanwood, N.J., I get a raft of listings for plumbers from everywhere but the Fanwood, NJ locale: Pine Brook, NJ, which is two counties away; chain businesses like Mr. Rooter and ServiceMagic; businesses with area-codes that are clearly in New York, but which advertise “local service available.” That means they are either so desperate for business they will travel that far or they will off-load the business for a finders-fee to a local plumber, which is what I wanted in the first place.

Do a similar search on “electronics” in the same town, and I get a lot of mush about broadband providers and some company in New York City called Datavision. Search for a French restaurant in the area, and I get a useless spammish promotion as the first hit, and one actual restaurant about seven miles away when I know there are a handful of others closer. When I click on the website for the French restaurant, the site is formatted to disallow me to use my “back” button to go back to www.bigyellow.com, requiring me to relaunch Explorer. Oh what Joy!

One of the reasons it takes five searches is that users keep refining their searches trying to get what they are after—-local businesses. Truly local businesses. Clearly these search results are coming up because these companies are paying some fee to come up, whether they are truly relevant to my search or not. Anyone who can structure search results so that truly local businesses come up in an online yellow pages search will really be on to something.

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