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No. 220
February 26th, 2009

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Local Search Behavior by Industry Category

As part of a fascinating Local Search webinar yesterday on Search Marketing Now,  Greg Sterling presented a slide (above) from Comscore / TMP Directional Marketing last year (2008) about how people are searching based on industry category.

With the caveat that many more “General” searches are now yielding 10-packs at the top, I find almost every single one of these verticals fascinating.

The data clearly shows there is real value in IYP sites for less-sophisticated services (i.e. plumbing vs. dental). Perhaps this is because the quality of search results is so poor for these kinds of industries where practitioners are less likely to have web presences–there aren’t enough signals to go on to rank them accurately–see Mike Blumenthal’s study from last summer.  In the case of locksmiths & limousines, they’re also ravaged by spammers.  Or, it could be that people are just more comfortable turning to IYP’s for these industries based on their behavior before the Internet came into existence–it’s a more direct translation of an offline habit to an online one.

Frankly, I was shocked to see that so many people use IYP’s to search for insurance, which seems like a more research-oriented query than something like “moving & storage,” where you’re more likely to make one phone call & be done with it.

I’ve long been a proponent of getting your business on as many different portals as possible–as my friend Gib Olander likes to say, “other” is the 3rd largest Local search engine–both for the direct traffic they can bring as well as the increased number of citations in the #1 and #2 search engines — Google & Yahoo.  But this data suggests that the direct traffic might be significant for lower-return-per-conversion clients like plumbers–I readily admit I have no experience in marketing these kinds of businesses. 

Also interesting was the dramatically higher percentage of people using Local Search sites for Hotels.  Perhaps because sites like, Expedia, Orbitz, etc. have built up great brand names through offline advertising (I assume these are included as specifically Local rather than “General” which strikes me as Google, Yahoo, MSN).  

Anyway, I just wanted to post a few thoughts & potentially get some discussion going about this slide in the comments.

  • David, is there a definition of each of the categories? IE what is in Local etc?


  • That is fascinating research. What are the definitions and what constitutes home services?

    Of interest, historically banks have never been large buyers in print YP. Yet they can be very large advertisers on a local basis. On the other hand, my experience was that movers were huge YP advertisers in Print, often taking out full page display ads in expensive markets. It would appear that trend continues with regard to IYP’s grabbing visibility in that category.

    One thing that grabs me, based on reviewing a couple of categories in the old AOL dump of data from a couple of years ago, it appeared that IYP traffic was roughly 1/2 based on high rankings in search engines and 1/2 based on originating a search by going to the IYP.

    I know that some of the IYP’s have put time and effort to rank highly in the SE’s for some categories. On others they don’t make an effort. Could be that their relative usage by searchers is a function of how they rank for certain categories.

    They still are overwhelmingly salesy with regard to pushing their service. That was the case in the print days and it is the case now. I have a meeting with one today. LOL. I recently got 2 calls from the same company pushing their package of services. After I told the first that the second had also contacted me….she raised her voice and said…”I called you first”.

    I pretty much know I’m not buying. The category for the particular business skews toward the lower end of IYP usage. LOL. I’m interested in hearing from them though.

    I wonder how much overlap there is with tendencies for heavy advertising and heavy usage in print vis a vis the IYP penetration into certain categories.

    Thanks for sharing the information.

  • Bummed that I missed the presentation. Hopefully it pops up in On Demand soon.

  • “Home services” is probably a catch-all category that includes a range of things. Note “home improvement.” I would guess that the latter involves contractors and construction and the former involves “lighter duty” (plumbers, housecleaning, etc.).

  • Wow, I’m shocked at the small amount of people using local search for Dental. I have a dental client and we’re targeting Ads, Social and Local and Local is kicking butt! Once we got them on all the Local engines and Directories that matter that is.

  • I have just scanned traffic sources for 4 local businesses across different markets segments & market areas and only one of them had any significant web traffic from IYP (5%). This made me realize that it is probably different across different industries AND market areas.

    When I called and asked her what her arrangement was with Superpages she noted that she had negotiated some web presence as part of the print deal but had not clue what it was. But it obviously played a role in the traffic.


  • David,
    I share your IYP amazement. My own search habits simply aren’t reflected in these stats. If I’m looking for something local, my path tends to be local>general>IYP, but really, I almost never get to the IYP part. Looks like I’m swimming against the tide. These stats are remarkable.


  • Thanks for posting this data David. For those that are interested in more details behind this study please feel free to download the whitepaper here

  • Thanks for that, Monica! Mike et al, hopefully you can head over to LocalSearchStudy 🙂


  • Wouldn’t the fact that about 90% of all IYP traffic comes from search vs. direct navigation be a big factor here? If the dentist or insurance company isn’t present in the local results, usually it’s some sort of directory…so naturally that would drive IYP.

    People are not going to these directories on purpose, a lot of times they just happen to be the top results on local search.

    This presents an opportunity for the local business to create the content to win their own search….directories are easy targets.

  • @Chris

    Great point. On the sites of ours that I examined above, we always strived for and succeeded at ranking above the directories for our search terms and brand and were able to achieve reasonable placement. Perhaps that explains the low showing on my sample vs. the TMP.

    If what you are saying is true, then the study might reflect the poor state of SEO, more so in some industries than others, rather than any intrinsic value that the IYP directories provide.

    I am heading over to the study to see what’s what with it.

  • I recently looked into relative traffic levels between search engines, IYP, and local review sites in Canada and wrote about it here

    Similar to what Mike Blumenthal just said, I see very little referral traffic from the IYP websites. This for a couple of auto services businesses, a landscaper (home services or home improvement?), a painter, a lawyer, a B&B. The websites get 70% , or more, of their traffic from search engines while IYP sites (in this case and some of their other properties like send LESS THAN 1%. Well less than 1%.

    These businesses however do nothing special inside of yellowpages other than have a listing, with a link to their site, and tied to their print YP ads. No featured listings.

    One, who has been using yellowpages PPC (reselling Google Adwords) gets a little over 2% of referral traffic from the yellowpages website. Still not much compared to the organic Google traffic.

    This does not account for those finding them in an IYP and making a phone call instead of clicking to view the website.

  • And just checked stats on a couple US based clients. Again less than 1% from IYPs (yellowpages, superpages, insiderpages).

  • Great point by Chris B above that brings to light that Google’s organic search results for geo-targeted keyword phrases have long been glommed onto by an army of second-tier online directories. But I am seeing solid indications now that fresh local content such as blog posts from area businesses and simple optimized videos can nudge down organic links from anyone feeding. So at a high-level it would suggest that as most or all traffic to feeder directories gets squeezed out of the Page 1 & 2 organic links on Google by fresh local content, editorial quality improves while oxygen deteriorates. The other feeding tactic of dominating AdWords for geo-targeted keyword phrases becomes the vital lifeline as far as counting on Google under the covers to provide your own core usage numbers. thx

  • Chris: Good point. I tried to say the same thing, though far less directly and eloquently.

    Again, I tracked IYP traffic from the anonymous AOL data from a couple of years ago. I tracked a couple of topics. My memory was that 1/2 of the IYP traffic seemed to be derived from search because of high rankings for the categories at which I looked. (of course that doesn’t take into consideration direct nav bar traffic to the IYP’s urls)

    Also, If IYP’s optimize for a category in search the IYP(s) will have high rankings for that category and simply pick up more traffic that way. IYP’s optimize for some topics and don’t for others. I suspect Chris Silver Smith or Will Scott could describe the phenomena with more detail.

  • One other thing. I just had a presentation from an IYP sales team. I act the dummy (not hard for me) in all these presentations. I’ve had many sales pitches over the years from YP sales reps. I will say the presentations for IYP’s are more informative and better than a few years ago.

    The entire first part of the pitch was based on gaining credibility and the credibility aspect of the pitch was entirely dependant on showing the prominance of market share with regard to the web, lots of selected statistics showing IYP’s traffic versus SE’s for businesses/services etc. It took a long time as they walked me through selected statistic presenting the case for IYP’s in general and this particular product.

    The above discussion is valuable and important. Do the IYP’s or don’t they deliver traffic? How much? Does it pay relative to what they charge? The argument very dramatically hinges on market share.

  • Chris & Tim–great points, both.

    @Stever, thanks for adding those stats. I see similar stats for my clients, as well (though they’re predominantly in higher-end services industries). I think that the interesting part of the study is that it looked at how people are searching rather than pure traffic of referrals. It could also be that people are looking first in the Yellowpages, then searching in an engine to find out more about the business to see if they want to call (a common phenomenon in the print YP’s for some of my clients).

    @Dave the argument is definitely all about market share, and I think the points that you, Chris, and Tim raise all speak to Will Scott’s idea of “Barnacle SEO” in terms of optimizing profiles on highly-ranked and well optimized directories and IYP’s.

    Great discussion, guys, thanks for all the comments.

  • One other interesting facet about the sales pitch today: The pitch included pulling the particular IYP’s tracking information for a particular business. The name of the business was blacked out. The internal IYP tracking shows where visitors clicked within the IYP ad/created section for the advertising entity. The business I saw had significant volume of visits over a year. I have no reason to doubt the info.

    Of great interest was that once a person hits an IYP ad it might navigate to the businesses website or might navigate to a video or an internal IYP information page….pretty much the equivalent or similar to the information provided in something like the Google Local Business Center. From that point the most logical next action would be a call to the business.

    Referencing above comments about market share and percentages of who does what… part of the presentation included a brief description and stats about how a visitor within yellow pages might contact a business–by web, by phone, by a physical visit. The IYP presentation suggested that visitors tend to phone the local business about 1.5 times as often as contacting the business via the web. This tends to agree with data supplied by Greg Sterling at Screenwerk, and it conforms with my business experience. We track sources of all calls. We do get a significant number of people who found us via the web but call us rather than sending a contact/form submittal or an email.

    I’m a skeptic about IYP’s. I already made up my mind not to buy….unless the deal is dirt cheap. On the other hand there might be traffic coming to local businesses via calls off of the IYP business ad local information page.

    We wouldn’t track that in any form of web data. The only way to probably track that is via special phone numbers attached to the IYP ad.

    It could be IYP is generating more activity than most webmasters or seo’s suggest. It gets complicated at times to ascertain how people are getting to you.

  • FYI
    For the purposes of the study:
    IYP= Superpages, Yahoo Yellowpages,, Dexknows, Yellowbook
    Local= Google Maps, Yah00 Local, MSN Local & CitySearch
    General Search Sites=,,, and

    The methodology included a survey with 3,023 respondents and observations of 1 million online consumers… they don’t define how the above data was assembled ie from one of the above methodologies or both and they didn’t define if it was just referring to original destination or referred destination….so there was not enough granularity in the info to discern whether Chris’s point was germane or not…


  • I pay for traffic in Google, Yahoo & Superpages currently.
    This month superpages brought 2-3% of all revenue generated by search (seo & sem), it’s a typical month.
    What I expect from an IYP is a decent roi on a low volume of sales.

    If you’re going to use superpages ppc, don’t forget to tag your url if you’re tracking in GA.
    If you don’t the superpages ppc traffic will show up under ‘direct traffic’ (the profile traffic will show in GA as superpages but not the ppc traffic, brilliant marketing by Google if you ask me)