Internet Yellow Pages vs. Google AdWords: getting the most from whole sales cycle

Thanks to Jon Battelle for getting me thinking about this again. Jon argues that Google has “no reason” to buy a Yellow Pages company. Actually there is a very good reason for Google to purchase a Yellow Page company: visitors coming through Internet Yellow Pages (IYP) sources have different behavioral characteristics and expectations than visitors from AdWords visitors. In 2006 and 2007 we found that in the child care services sector, significant differences existed between visitors from the two sources. This effectively seemed to come down to the particular stage of the sales cycle each source seems to best work for.

The Internet Sales Cycle falls into four major categories:

  1. Need Recognition. “I have children but I need to work. What am I going to do?”
  2. Information Search. “What kinds of child care exist? Where will my kids have the best experience? What can I afford?”
  3. Evaluation of Alternatives. “What local child care centers exist? Why should I choose a formal training center as opposed to a more open learning process? What accreditation exists? What does the center look/feel/smell like?”
  4. Purchase Decision. “I like it, I can afford it. How do I get it?”

We found that IYP advertising seemed to reach consumers who were late in the Information Search or Evaluation of Alternatives stage. They expected narrower concept categories, deeper discussion of each concept, and specific information about location, safety, curriculum, hours, etc. We defined these visitors through a persona whose core goal was:

“I’m pretty sure I know what I want. I have some specific questions I need answered. Help me find those and don’t waste my time.”

AdWords visitors, in contrast, were earlier in the Information Search. They were more omnivorous, more likely to stay on the site longer assuming they didn’t bounce immediately, and were interested broad, rapid, low-detail information queries. We characterized these visitors with the following quote:

“I need to learn more. I’m looking at a lot of different sites, so first impressions are important. But, if this site looks promising, I’ll stay and look around a little bit. I may even schedule a visit on impulse if I like what I see.”

In our core analysis late in 2006, we found that IYP bounce rate is about 12%, as compared to 36% for Paid Search visitors, but that conversion rates for IYP and conversion rates were nearly equivalent.

In other words, if the visitor didn’t immediately leave, paid search visitors were more likely to schedule a visit than IYP visitors. Why was this happening?

Effectively what we discovered was that our client had developed a website that was optimized for early Information Search visitors, but that struggled when reaching visitors who were later in the sales cycle and ready to make a decision. These IYP visitors, often driven to the site through local search efforts from superpages and, would get frustrated and leave the site after significant pogosticking and circular searches.

Our solution was to help focus the action and detailed information sections of the site, but it also helped us understand that visitors coming from AdWords and the IYP sources were very different, and both were valuable sources.

As much as we like Google’s Paid Search system, we always consider it limiting to believe that Paid Search is the only cornerstone of online advertising methods. In our experience, the only other system that comes close to competing with AdWords is the Internet Yellow Pages networks, and in fact they have continued in the last 18 months to perform at equivalent levels of quality as the AdWords advertising channel.

So, coming back to Jon, why would Google want to buy a Yellow Pages company? Well, the data from our analytics console is just as freely available to them, and if they are doing even a cursory analysis of the competition, they will notice that if they did have an Internet Yellow Pages product they would have large chunks of the Sales Cycle driven by online search methods sewn up, especially if they can track consumers through the sales cycle and learn what drives them to move from stage to stage. For Google it would seem to be a huge opportunity, as well as for the companies whose ads they serve.