The Ten Commandments of Yellow Pages Advertising

by Barry Maher, syndicated

Too many businesses have no idea of how well their Yellow Pages ads are working—or even if they’re working. That’s why my Yellow Pages advertising workshops are filled to overflowing at conventions; why my book, Getting the Most from Your Yellow Pages Advertising keeps moving off the shelves. But most businesses could be generating more business—if they only stopped breaking the Ten Commandments of Yellow Pages advertising.

First Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Whip It Up

Many Yellow Page ads are whipped up in the few minutes the sales rep has left after trying to sell you a bigger ad. Askno, insist—that your directory publishers develop an ad for you that justifies the cost. If they can’t or won’t, have the ad produced yourself.

Second Commandment: Honor Thy Headlines

The first piece of ad copy that readers see—the headline—has to be powerful enough to drag them away from all those competing ads. Never use your company name as your headline unless it really is that powerful—unless it really is the most important selling copy in the ad.

Third Commandment: Honor Thy Illustration

Nothing can turn a mediocre Yellow Pages ad into a great one faster than the right illustration. If your picture isn’t worth a thousand words, find one that is.

Fourth Commandment: Remember All Key Selling Points

You have to include all the hard, factual information potential customers need to make a decision to call or drop by: be it about image, market niche, type of cuisine, specialties, additional services, pricing, quality, speed, hours, location, credit cards—whatever it might be.

Fifth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Overburden the Eyeballs 

Your ad is competing for visibility and readability with every other ad under the heading. If it’s difficult to read, it isn’t going to be read. You’ve got to refine your copy until you can provide all the information directory users want and need in an ad that’s so uncluttered and inviting that reading it becomes automatic.

Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Forget Placement

Unfortunately ad size is important. All things being equal, bigger ads get a greater response. They also get the best placement–closest to the front of the heading. And placement can be even more important than size.

The good news is that all things are seldom equal. The biggest ad under the heading is not always the most effective. And a well-designed, visually appealing ad can make up for a lot of size, especially under a smaller heading where all the ads are on the same page or two. It’s much more difficult of course to compete with ads on an earlier page. That page may never even be turned.

Always consider placement when you’re deciding on ad size. Have your sales rep show you where the size you’re considering would fall in this year’s directory. That should give you an approximate idea of the position—relative to the competition—you’d have next year. Sometimes going up a single size and spending just a few more dollars will move you much closer to the front of the heading. Sometimes you can cut back in size without losing much at all in the way of position.

Seventh Commandment: Remember, Position over Color

Color is eye catching. It’s also expensive. If the money you’d be spending is approximately the same, you’re far better off significantly improving the size and placement of your ad than the color.

Eighth Commandment: Thou SHALT Track

Perhaps the surest way to waste money is to advertise in a directory no one’s using.Always make your rep prove value—especially when you’re considering an independent (non phone company) directory. If he can’t, don’t put any real money there. Instead, try something small: perhaps even a simple in-column ad, or even just a listing. Track your response—survey your customers to discover how they discovered you–and next year you’ll have your own proof. One way or the other.

Ninth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Squander Yellow Pages Dollars in the White Pages

You bought that costly new in-column ad in the white pages because . . . ?

If you’re Albany Emporium and you’re in the midst of seven white pages of Albany this and Albany that, you do need something beyond a bold listing to make it easier for your customers to find you. Or perhaps you’re Ralph’s Refrigeration and Randal Refrigeration Service usually falls on the same page, and you want to siphon off a few of their calls.


If your customers are looking for you alphabetically in the white pages, they will find you. And call you. You don’t have any competition in the white pages. A bold listing is sufficient.

Save your hard-earned advertising dollars for the Yellow Pages.

Tenth Commandment: Never Rely on Faith for Your Yellow Pages: Get a Proof

Always insists on getting a proof for your display ad. Remember the small error one publisher made in an advertiser’s ad, turning “Dan Hadley, therapist” into, “Dan Hadley, the rapist.”

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Barry Maher is the author of the book, Getting the Most from Your Yellow Pages Advertising, as well as a highly regarded speaker on management, sales and, yes, Yellow Pages advertising. His other books include Filling the Glass: The Skeptic’s Guide to Positive Thinking in Business, No Lie; Truth Is the Ultimate Sales Tool and the SF-fantasy novel, Legend..

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