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Online Exclusive: Interactive News

Online Yellow Pages Users Buy Quicker and Spend More

Study Compares Consumer Response on Search Engines

By Published on .

SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- In the battle for local online consumers, Internet yellow pages (IYP) attract a customer more prepared to buy -- and spend more money -- than the local search services of Google and Yahoo, according to a new study by ComScore Networks.
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The project is one of the first to look at consumer behavior in the online local search arena.

Quicker to buy
Released at the Ad:Tech Conference here at the San Francisco Marriott, the survey found that people do fewer searches on IYP before they buy. Consumers who turned to their online yellow pages directories to find specific retailers in their local area performed five searches before they purchased. On the search engines, they did eight searches.

"The yellow pages consumers were closer to the transaction," said Jim Larrison, senior vice president of corporate development at ComScore Networks in Reston, Va.

The rivalry for the local customer has heated up in the last year as all the major search engines -- Google, Yahoo, MSN, America Online and AskJeeves -- have started or upgraded local-search systems to exploit local markets across the country.

Yellow pages vs. search engines
With their technological expertise, the search engines can offer amenities like customized maps that point the way to a retail location. Plus, search engines have their well-known brand names to bank on -- Google means "search" to consumers online. But the yellow pages companies have 100 years of data to draw on, an army of sales people and the ingrained habit of the small-business person who may not have a Web site but automatically places an ad in the yellow pages each year, and for whom it's not a big leap to extend that ad buy online.

Mr. Larrison said the survey findings suggested that local marketers' yellow pages search advertising should be more targeted and specific, with offerings that nudge the consumer toward the sale, such as special promotions and coupons. "It should be very tactical because these are people close to completing a transaction."

Online, IYP consumers spent on average between 5% and 17% more than they did on the search engines in the category they searched in, the study found. And they spend offline, too -- between 13% and 17% more in brick-and-mortar stores after searching in IYP than searching on an engine.

"Search engines drew a higher transaction rate for things that were traditionally online, like online trading Web sites," Mr. Larrison said.

Entertainment sites
"People who searched in local search engines had a higher propensity to visit entertainment- and informational-type sites," Mr. Larrison said. "So they had a higher rate of visitation to community and gaming sites. The engines also indexed high on kids and teens sites."

The market research firm conducted the study independently at the result of a request by the Yellow Pages Association. The data was gathered in 2004 from the association's panel of 1.5 million consumers. The study was completed in March.

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