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I read with interest a recent post by Jennifer Osborne on Search Engine People regarding how Millennials fundamentally search for products and services differently as compared with those 30 years old and older. One of the fundamental differences Osborne points out:

Millennial Brains do not have the same neural networks that ours do.
That’s a fancy way of saying that they haven’t been trained to use category search. Young people no longer use the Dewey Decimal system and paper Yellow Pages (headings). If they want to find something they go to a computer terminal and look up exactly what they’re looking for. And with a few refined searches, they usually find it.

Our neural networks (those 30+) have been programmed to do category type searches. But the average 16 to 24 yr old doesn’t know how to do category level searches. If a 21 yr old has a leaky sink, they’re going to search under “leaky sink” not “plumbers.”

At The Kelsey Group, we are often asked about print product innovation from a product orientation view, but of late we have been examining how the print product can and should fundamentally change from a usage and navigational standpoint. Taking Osborne’s points a bit further, perhaps the way to fundamentally change the Yellow Pages is not a another product or specialty section but rather it is the core navigation of the product that needs to change.

One idea some major U.S. publishers have privately discussed is the notion of introducing a keyword version of the Yellow Pages that takes the most used keyword searches (natural search terms and widely used category terms) and creates a new directory that is “search” friendly. Some publishers have subtly begun experimenting with this with the introduction of new categories and “referral headings” that guide people to where they can find the information they are seeking.  

Publishers have access to the most popular keywords both from their own IYP properties as well as from their SEM efforts that should provide enough insight into the new way people search for local business information. Creating a new way of navigating the product would mean breaking apart a 100-year-old paradigm, but the fact remains that the product needs to fundamentally change if it can hope to hold off the decline of usage in the under-30 segment of the marketplace. Introducing a keyword version of the Yellow Pages would allow users to select the version that best suits their needs — category search or natural search.

The goal of local advertisers is to be found and contacted; changing to a form of natural search in print seems like, well, a natural step for publishers to explore to help push more leads and address the search needs of a growing segment.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Lets face it, yellowpages are not meant for the 20 year old person or Bill Gates. Think about it, most 20 year olds are either living with their parents or in an apartment. When the toilet plugs up, they either call the super with their Iphones or IM Dad to get it fixed. Bill Gates probably has 2 plumbers on staff at his mansion. The good news for our industry is that there are very Bill Gates and all 20 years olds will become 30 and 40 and 50. All the sudden, life is not about reading reviews on the latest restaurants but more mundane things like: getting rid of that family of raccoons in the attic, fixing that sink hole in the driveway, why is there 2 inches of water in my basement… The better news is that 20 year olds are great at finding out the best sources of information and telling each other about it. All the sudden, they will remember their parents mentioning something about “yellowpages” or “yellowbook” or something yellow, and they will go to Google and type in “yellowpages”. And behold, they discovered that there are actually people and companies that can fix my garage door that I accidentally backed into with my hybrid crossover.

  2. Just another point to add to my earlier post. Besides going to Google to look up yellowpages, the previously 20 something person will still call Dad and Dad would respond by saying “did you try the yellowpages”. You mean that big book in front of my house that I use to throw away. “Oh, is that what’s use for, maybe I should keep it just in case”. Dad will say, “yes, that’s a good idea”.

  3. Alfred. Good points, but the concern here is if these 20 somethings are not schooled on how to use the Yellow Pages then they are less inclined to suddenly migrate over to them. While we wait for Millenials to mature they are having a different way of search ingrained into thier behaviors that the YP industry may not be able to address when the current core markets ages or disappears. The point here is that the product is still very valuable, but it needs to learn and adapt to ensure a healthy future with its up-and-coming target market.

  4. I think what this really means is that if the IYPs are going to stay competitive which means becoming less reliant on search engine referrals for traffic they will need to become a much more compelling service for people. Category search, if not quite dead, is on its way out. Users could care less and for search engine spiders (the most important user of all) the crazy category hierarchies employed by most yellow pages sites is an impediment and just a great way to reduce the flow of PageRank or MicroHooRank to your most important pages. And now that GOOG is getting really good at showing lots of local business links when it detects a local Web search query the only place local search providers have to go is to a more granular keyword level. But even this tactic is in trouble as GOOG is already showing 10 local plumbers when you search “leaky pipe pleasanton, ca”.

    So it’s time to massively improve the product and crank up the branding. Maybe one of the big YP co’s should even consider a bid for YHOO?

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