The writing has been on the wall for years, Yellow pages is loosing place in the market. There have been surveys, speculations and studies, but here is a clear indication that users are taking notice.
Yellow Pages Loosing Brand Identification
If you haven't used it already, Google Trends is a nifty tool to view and compare the historical popularity of search terms. Here is a comparison of Google Maps (blue), Yellow pages (orange) and SuperPages (red):
Keep in mind that Google Maps was rebranded in April 2006 (from Google Local) and users shouldn't really need to search for the term anyway since it is already linked in the local results as well as above the Google search box.
Yellow pages could as well be entered into the URL, but we know that 41% of internet users typing in a query to locate a website, rather than entering that name into the address bar (from DoubleClick/Harris Interactive).
Nevertheless, the trend is clear users Google Maps is taken over in brand penetration over Yellow pages. The yellow page brands such as Yellow book and Superpages aren't even close and moving in the same downward direction as the general term "yellow pages".
Search is Key Distribution
Yellow page companies are not receiving enough user visible for their product make the jump online, however they still have a chance to deliver a viable product to their customers. How? Distribution through search engines. Google Maps is the largest growing section within the Google properties, growing over 20% in the last month according to Hitwise internet traffic sampling. Rather than spiting the competition, they will have to embrace, partner, and resell sponsored coverage in order to get results.
Advertising End Game
If only it as simple as writing a check to Google. Equally impressive as the Google Search algorithm is the AdWords marketplace. There are many dimensions in tailoring campaigns, monitoring and managing them to deliver effectively. Individual businesses either hire an online advertising specialist or spend hours managing it themselves; it takes uber technology powerhouse to properly manage 1000's of search marketing campaigns in scale.
RHDonneley has already acquired a search optimization/marketing firm specializing in local listing and I'd expect to see others taking similar courses of action. Print media companies are concerned that buy working closely with Google that they will be ultimately marginalized by the advertising giant. Ultimately, though, they provide something that Google doesn't: reach. While Google is the brand name of users, advertisers are much more aware and trusting of their local newspaper, Chamber of Commerce, network or organization. Packaging, selling and delivering a simplified online advertising service to offline companies is the land grab opportunity at stake.