Major shift away from Yellow Pages advertising taking place

November 2, 2011 By    

When is the last time you picked up the phonebook to look up a business in the Yellow Pages? Even in small-town America, it is just too easy to use your favorite search engine to search online with your computer or smart phone.

Propane marketers have been slow to shift away from Yellow Pages advertising. For decades, the Yellow Pages made the phone ring in propane offices across the country. Most marketers did post an obligatory website a few years back when it seemed like the way to keep up with competitors, but most looked at it as an additional marketing expense rather than an eventual replacement for their time-honored friend, the Yellow Pages.

My, how times have changed. Many propane marketers are now cutting Yellow Pages back to minimum levels or doing away with that form of advertising altogether. They are investing some of those savings into updating their websites because more leads and contacts are being generated from that source, including the phone calls that Yellow Pages used to attract.

In my work with the National Propane Gas Association Benchmarking Council, I am a facilitator for one of the nine groups of marketer members. My group of 13 members decided to benchmark their companies’ websites and learn more about social media.

Ben Gutkin from Warm Thoughts Communications, www.warmthoughts.com, was brought in to put on a one-and-a-half day website evaluation workshop for our members. Members reviewed their own website and studied other members’ websites prior to the meeting. Gutkin performed an excellent and insightful evaluation of each website, with the members providing input along the way. The evaluations were interesting, educational and sometimes brutally honest.

The review included the homepage, overall design, content and architecture. Analytics or measurements of effectiveness were reviewed with members who were subscribed to such services (highly recommended).

The homepage is the most critical component of the website. You have an average of three seconds to make the right impression on visitors or they will switch their search to your competitors’ sites. Important questions that need answered on your homepage are:

■ Does the site have the products and services I’m seeking?
■ Does the company service my area?
■ Is it someone I want to do business with?
■ How do I contact them?

In other words, do the visitors know what you want them to do, and have you given them a reason to do it?

Your phone number needs to be prominent on your homepage. For propane companies that have call centers answering most customer and prospect calls, it is more important to have added features on your website, such as new customer sign-up and automated bill paying. These features help to make up for the perceived shortcomings of call center performance.

Companies that have local field offices answering calls find that extra features on the website are useful but not as important as a friendly, knowledgeable local voice walking the callers through the process or inviting them in to handle an issue in person.

In either case, the phone number is a critical part of your website’s homepage. It is important to promote your website to draw visitors. Your website is an affordable way to give visitors reasons to call you – which is why websites are replacing Yellow Pages.

The workshop also included an update on how social media can fit into a propane retailer’s marketing plans. The message here is that social media will become an important factor in propane marketing in the future, but don’t go there until your website is operating at peak performance and you have a plan to keep it that way. Social media is to websites what websites were to Yellow Pages five years ago.

The marketing change cycles are getting shorter as electronic media innovation leaps forward. Make sure your 2012 marketing plan is not looking too “Yellow” around the edges.

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