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How to Promote Your Business with Yellow Pages Advertising

Boring, old print Yellow Pages advertising can still work sensationally for small businesspeople. If they do it correctly.

The Expert

Our expert on Yellow Pages advertising is author, speaker, consultant, Barry Maher. You may have seen Maher on the Today Show, NBC Nightly News, CNBC or in the pages of USA Today, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. His book, Filling the Glass was recently honored as “[One of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books” by Today’s Librarian magazine. Few people realize that Maher is also the author of the book, Getting the Most from Your Yellow Pages Advertising, and that he conducts Yellow Pages workshops at conventions across the country. According to TIME, “Barry Maher has helped thousands of small businesses get the most cost effective Yellow Pages advertising possible.” 

Does Yellow Pages advertising really work?

Well, it certainly can work. But it’s far more likely to work if you pay attention to a few key rules.

Can’t you rely on your Yellow Pages sales rep for any help you need?

Sometimes the rep can be part of the problem.  Too many Yellow Page ads are whipped up in the few minutes the rep has left after trying to sell you a bigger ad.  Ask, no, insist, that your directory publishers develop an ad for you that justifies the cost. If they can't, have the ad produced yourself.  Okay, so you need a great looking ad.  What about the content?        Content is another key. 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.

What other copy should you include?

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, products and services, features, brand names, expertise, pricing, quality, hours, reliability, speed, location, service area, credit available, whatever it might be. 

So you should use every bit of ad space you’re paying for?

Absolutely not. Your ad is competing for readability with every other ad under your heading or headings.  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 potential clients want in an ad that's so uncluttered and inviting that reading it becomes automatic.

What about visuals, like drawings and photos?

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. 

How about ad size: is bigger better?

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

A visually appealing ad can make up for some size, especially under a heading where all the ads are on the same page or two. It's much more difficult to compete with ads on an earlier page. That page may never 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 idea of the position, relative to the competition, you'd have next year. Sometimes going up a 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 in the way of position.

What about using color?

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

Some areas are covered by several competing directories.  Should you buy ads in all of them?

Make the sales rep prove value before you buy, especially when you're considering a directory for the first time. If he or she can't prove value, 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 responseFree Reprint Articles, survey your customers to discover how they discovered you. Then next year you'll have know.

What’s the biggest Yellow Pages mistake you’ve ever encountered?

That’s got to be the attorney who found herself listed not under ATTORNEYS but under REPTILES. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that was perhaps more truth in advertising than she bargained for.

Which reminds me: Always insist on getting a proof for your display ad.

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Fran Finley is a freelance writer. Expert Barry Maher has just released the completely updated third edition of the bible on Yellow Pages, "Getting the Most from Your Yellow Maher writes and speaks on leadership, management, communications and sales. A motivational keynote speaker, seminar and workshop leader, Maher is the author of "Filling the Glass," honored by Today's Librarian as "[One of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books." Other books include "No Lie: Truth Is the Ultimate Sales Tool." Contact him and/or sign up for his monthly email newsletter at

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