Yellow Pages – Doomed to a slow death … or

A short history of Yellow Pages


The first Yellow Pages was created in 1886 by Reuben Donnelley in Chicago in 1886. The use of yellow pages in the publication was an outcome of a printer running out of white paper and using yellow instead, in 1883. The iconic walking fingers logo was created by Henry Alexander in 1962 and it was only a year before the logo was adopted by Yellow Pages across the globe.
There is, or was, a Yellow Pages for every country in the world. In Australia YellowPages is created by Sensis  who are wholly owned by Telstra.  They began publication in Australia 1906.

A slow death

Since the advent of Google and SEO Yellow Pages Australia’s popularity has steadily

Though this loss in popularity could arguably be wholly attributed to the difference between online and Traditional Markets (The Law and Economics of Online vs. Traditional Markets), it seems more likely that the Australian Yellow Pages is a victim to falling behind the times and not having a good understanding or grounding in shifts in technology and search behaviours. This is not to say that Yellow Pages Australia hasn’t attempted to keep up with the times. They have an online version of the Yellow Pages and offer web developers tools to help integrate Yellow Pages into their websites.

Yellow Pages Australia have attempted to re-brand themselves as web savvy and technology capable but their continuing drop in popularity leads to me to the conclusion that they don’t really understand what is going on in the world right now. Fundamentally they stick to the same pay per advertisement business model and, though they have attempted to enter into the age of Web Services,they don’t seem to take advantage of the benefits that Web Services and, in particular, Social Media can offer.

If Yellow Pages Australia is to have any kind of a future it must re-envisage not only its marketing and sales strategy but also its product development strategy.

Product Development – Co-create products

To leverage the principle of participation Yellow Pages Australia could convert its traditionally business owner created advertisements into a wiki. Wikipedia has proven that users are more than happy to share their knowledge and expertise on a given subject. Google’s business pages have proven that consumers also are happy to share information about businesses they do and don’t like.
By allowing consumers to create, comment on, and manage business listings Yellow Pages Australia would be able to offer a product that contains information meaningful to customers of a given type of business (customers usually have a better idea of what they want from a business than a business does) and would have up to date and meaningful reports on the current status of a business that wouldn’t even need to be updated by the business owners themselves.

Marketing and Sales – Derive customer insights

By allowing consumers to comment upon business listings Yellow Pages Australia would be able to offer an up to date picture on the current status of a given business. Furthermore, by monitoring comments made by consumers, business would be able to respond to problems in their products and / or gain meaningful feedback.
It is even likely that comments made by consumers may offer businesses crowd sourced ideas about how they can better run their business or improve upon their product offerings.

Summing up

Though risks would be associated with both of these new modes of operation the
relevance and immediacy of the consumer based sources of information would turn
Yellow Pages from a bland static source of information into a dynamic and self-updating
source of information. Additionally, by asking the audience to participate in
the creation of their product, Yellow Pages Australia would be able to harness
a collective intelligence far greater than that of its existing staff base.


7 thoughts on “Yellow Pages – Doomed to a slow death … or

  1. Conor Farne Sang

    You certainly hit the nail on the head with this critical observation of YP. Reading through it, things started to click together for me as I realised just how obsolete YP managed to become with the progression of modern technology. I kind of have a hard time imagining what they could possibly do to help reinvigorate their image and core business strategy in the light of now powerhouse companies such as Google. But I guess that’s where the public comes into play.

    1. adenjones Post author

      Surprisingly enough they do still have a customer base so I think they still stand a chance, but it would require a complete re-envisaging of their business model.

  2. Adam Farne Sang

    Aden, do you believe that YP has the potential to further develop despite the need to adapt from their old model to a new one which incorporates the use of technology and how accessible everything is these days?

    Also, doesn’t offering consumers a comment ability on listing essentially turn it into a ratings service? My understanding was that it had to be listings only and not turn into a popularity based service; there are already lots of them. And with regards to businesses getting feedback from their customers that way, wouldn’t they already be using social media and other tools to connect?

    Sorry to nitpick, but that’s just my thoughts. Very insightful post overall, I completely forgot about YP and how they’ve been affected by these changes, so your post put it into perspective!

    1. adenjones Post author

      As I said to Connor, I think they still stand a chance. However it is my opinion that their customer base is primarily composed of businesses that haven’t adapted to modern modes of operations (social networking, web presence, etc).
      I personally see no problem with turning a business directory into a ratings service. These days, to find local services, I do a Google search and always read the comments people have left on the Google page to get an idea about what people like and dislike about a service.
      I agree that there are already a lot of ratings services but I don’t think any one of them has truly captured the market yet. If Yellow Pages was to act quickly they could capture the market, in my opinion.

  3. xavier1610

    I like your standpoint on yellowpages, and I agree that they still have a chance, attempting to re-establish the brand with social technologies can strengthen their image. Perhaps if they had a facebook chat service where they helped people locate places etc. Haha just my 2 cents. If you have time please stop by and have a read of my posts as well. Cheers

  4. mattjlow

    I found this an interesting read. I like the topic as I have a personal interest in ensuring my business is maximising its SEO. I see Yellow Pages as slowing dying out. The reason being is that who goes to their browser & opens Yellow Pages to search for a business when you can search directly from your browser? Second to that yellow pages directory is often not on the first page of your search results via google when searching for a business! I agree with you that they should incorporate some social widgets within their site to encourage comments & feedback but am not sure about the use of wikis! The reason being is that historically less than 10% of wiki users are wiki contributors. So I am unsure based on this how successful this would be as a revival for their business. Interested in any further thoughts! Great blog for discussion, well done!

    1. adenjones Post author

      Thanks for the response Matt. It is a valid point that only 10% of wiki users are wiki contributors, however that 10% has turned Wikipedia into the primary source for general information globally, so much so in fact that the Encyclopaedia Britannica has become redundant. I can’t however be certain that listing your local businesses is going to be as popular as sharing your knowledge on a given subject.


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