How to Create Effective Yellow Pages Ads

Yellow pages advertising really does work, but it is expensive. And, with your ad likely appearing along side your competitors’ ads, it’s imperative for your ad to be as compelling as you can make it. Here’s a guide for designing winning yellow pages ads.

Yellow page ads can bring you a pot of gold…if done correctly. It’s often the first place that buyers go before they decide from whom to buy. Eighty-four percent of the people who go to yellow pages contact a business listed there and 49% of them actually go on to purchase something from that business. That is why yellow pages are so important!

People go to the yellow pages with intent to buy. You don’t have to create demand for your product; it’s already there. All you have to do is convince the buyer that you should be the business that they call first.

The only downside to yellow page advertising is the cost of the ad placement. It’s not a one-shot deal. It is a commitment for a full 12-month ad run. It is essentially the same as going down to your local paper and making a deal to run an ad every day for the next year without the opportunity to stop or change the ad throughout the year. That’s a huge risk. I don’t know any businesses that do that except for car dealerships, but they get to change their newspaper ads as often as they like.

95% of All Yellow Page Ads Are Weak!
As you can see, yellow pages have a potentially big payoff but also have a big risk factor. That’s why you need to be very careful about the ad that you place. It needs to be a winner. If it isn’t, you’ll be flushing your money right down the tube every month and there’s nothing you’ll be able to do about it. If you’re going to advertise in the yellow pages, make it pay off.

The good news is that 95% of all yellow page ads are WEAK. Why? Usually, because small businesses worry more about how much they are going to spend rather than the ad itself. Far too many businesses let the yellow page company do the ad design and layout. Big mistake!

This is the advice you’ll typically get from a yellow page rep:

  • Use a big ad
  • Use a heavy border around your ad
  • Add color to it
  • Use a bigger ad
  • Make your name and logo really big, and have a lot of “white space” in your ad
  • Use an even bigger ad
  • Give your hours of operation, phone number, address, as well as the MasterCard and Visa logos (if you accept them)
  • Use more than one really, really big ad under multiple listings!

The yellow page companies have no incentive to make your ad work. They only care about how much they will make from the ad. That is why I always recommend having a professional marketer do the design or at least do an assessment on the ad. Listen, it costs the same to run an ineffective small business yellow page ad, as it does to run a super-responsive one. Why not make it responsive and get your moneys worth?

Your Primary Yellow Page Objective
It’s critical to know what your primary yellow page objective is before you begin to design your ad. I’ll cut to the chase right now. Your primary objective is to get your prospect to call you. Not to sell them on your product, not to get them to come into your store, but to call you. Besides, that’s why they grabbed the yellow pages anyway, to make a phone call.

Knowing this now, you should design everything in your ad to get them to not only give you a phone call, but to be the first and only one they will call. That is the first step. Once you get the phone call, your primary objective is to get them to visit your store.

Before Designing Your Ad, Answer this One Question
What is your prospect looking for when they look in the Yellow Pages? The answer is slightly different for businesses selling products versus businesses selling services.

People looking in the yellow pages for a small business selling products are looking for:

  • Something that differentiates you from your competitors and matches their wants
  • An indication of price affordability and high quality
  • Specific brands of products or services
  • Location of store and store hours
  • Contact information
  • A warm, fun feeling

People looking in the yellow pages for a business selling services are looking for:

  • Something that differentiates you from your competitors that match their wants
  • An indication of price affordability
  • Quality of your service
  • Experience and credibility
  • An indication of trust and honesty
  • Location of office and office hours
  • Contact information
  • A warm, fun feeling

Notice the slight differences between consumers who are looking for businesses selling products versus businesses selling services. The consumers looking for services want to know about the quality of their work, their experience and credibility, and an indication that they can be trusted. This information makes a BIG impact on how you will develop your yellow page advertisement.

It’s important to remember that people do NOT look in the yellow pages to determine whether or not they should buy a product or service. They have usually already thought that through. That was phase one of their buying process. Now they are moving into phase two: the gathering of pertinent information that will help them make their decision.

“Something that Differentiates You from Your Competitors”
Notice the first item on both lists indicates that people who use yellow page ads are looking for something that catches their eye that differentiates you from all the other “look alike” ads in your section. Most ads in a given category say the basic same thing.


Well, usually when the deadline to put in the ad is fast approaching the business owner will often look at what other competitors are doing and create their own, based on what other competitors have done. Now, who do you think has produced many of the other ads in that section? Right, the yellow page ad company, probably the same guy (or gal) who is selling you the ad!

This is a big mistake. People desperately want to pick out something different about your ad that will make them call you. They don’t want to shop all day and make a bunch of calls. They want to find a business that advertises benefits that match their wants and then move on with the buying process.

You must be different! You must design your ad so that it stands out and provides the right information for your customer, which forces him to call YOU instead of your competition. With this in mind we are ready to talk about the key elements of your winning yellow page ad.

Your Attention Getting Headline
All good ads start with a dynamic, attention getting headline…NOT your company name or logo. I repeat, don’t start your yellow page ad with your company name or logo! Your heading area is the most important real estate in your entire yellow page ad, don’t blow it by splashing your company name. Remember, people don’t care who you are; they care about what you can do for them!

The headline is the lure that instantly communicates your primary advantage over all others. Up to 75% of the impact of your ad is determined by the headline. And a strong benefit-oriented headline can increase the pull of your ad by up to 20 times. You may also want to put a sub-headline to support the main headline.

Here are a few examples of headlines from the spa and pool industry to get your juices flowing. Don’t get hung up on the spa and pool stuff. Apply the style to your own small business:

Headline # 1:

FREE Report Reveals 10 Important Ways to
Save Money on Your Custom Gunite Pool

“Learn the Insider Secrets to Getting a Great Pool
at a Great Price Without All the Hassles”

Comment: Who says that your headline has to be about the product you offer or about you in general? Remember, your headline must be eye-catching and must invite your prospect to call you. This headline does both! It will also give you a chance to tackle the price issue right up front.

Headline # 2:

Discover the World’s First Surround
Sound Entertainment Packed Spa

“Relax to Your Favorite Music While Enjoying a Warm, Soothing Rest in Your Own Jacuzzi-Equipped Concert Hall”

Comment: This headline calls out a package option that provides a unique selling proposition; in addition to, summoning up comfortable and relaxing mental images.

Headline # 3:

Take a Vacation Every Day Without
Ever Leaving Your Home!

“Imagine Being on Vacation 365 Days a Year with
Your Own Fly Away ‘Virtual Vacation’ Spa”

Comment: Who wouldn’t want to have a life of luxury and fun in their own home. This headline provides a strong benefit and psychologically combats the competition (RV’s, travel agencies, or Disneyland).

Headline # 4:

Warning: Don’t Call Any Pool Business
Until You Read This!

“Local Pool Company Reveals the Hidden Truth to
Making the Right Pool Decision”

Comment: This headline usually stops people right in their tracks. It is a powerful headline that almost forces your reader to look at your ad. This headline would support an editorial style yellow page ad. People almost always read editorial matter over advertising (by a six-to-one margin). They also tend to believe editorial much more than advertising.

Headline # 5:

“With 15 Years of Custom Pool Design and Construction Experience and 1,000’s of Happy Customers…

…You Can Be Assured that You Will Get Exactly What You Ask For  (and a whole lot more…its our promise!)”

Comment: This headline calls out your extensive experience in providing high quality services and that you have a high rate of customer satisfaction. Providing guarantees in your headlines is also a good strategy. If your guarantee is strong and you are proud of it, why not use it in your opening headline. Customers will perceive it to be a unique advantage over your competitors.

These are just a few sample headlines that are benefit laden and call out for your customer’s attention. Again, the most common mistake that small businesses make is to slap their company name in the headlines and think that it is going to persuade someone to call them.

Give Your Prospect a Reason to Call You
When your prospect finds your ad and reads it, he is determining whether or not to call you. Give him a good excuse or strong reason to pick up the phone and call you. I can’t think of a better reason to call a business than to received free, valuable information.

This form of marketing is commonly referred to as Education-Based Marketing and is in my opinion, the most effective marketing that a business can engage in. If you do it right, you’ll have customers running to your doorsteps.

Your first step is to create a report that you think would be valuable from your prospect’s point of view. “Five Things You Must Know Before You Buy a XXXXX” or “How to Shave Thousands of Dollars off the Price of Your XXXXX.” Your prospects desperately need this information and will want to contact you to get the information.

You can ask them to call you directly, go to your website, dial a local 24-hour voice recording to give their name and address, or come down for a personal store visit to pick up the information.

This may be the single most effective element of your entire yellow page ad. I strongly urge you to include this component in every one of your yellow page ads. (See, “Education-Based Marketing” section for more information)

Add Action Pictures
Nothing can turn a mediocre yellow page ad into a great one faster than the right picture. It can be, in some instances, even more of a grabber than the headline. If you decide to include a photo in your small business yellow page ad, ensure that it depicts the benefits of you are selling. You want your prospect to see themselves receiving the same benefits that they see in the photo.

With that said, don’t go overboard with the size of your picture. Remember, the bigger the picture the smaller the selling space you have to work with. Your photo should support the ad copy and not overpower it. In fact, big pictures attract attention but do little to get your reader to actually call you.

The whole reason you want to use a photo is to obtain some kind of emotional response from your reader and to catch their eye. Make the picture an eye-grabber and make sure that it shows people using and enjoying the benefits of your product or service.

On the other hand, an effective use of photos could also be a “before” picture of someone (or something) before they’ve received the benefit of your product or service. Over dramatize the picture so it catches people’s eyes. For instance, a “before” picture for a drycleaner would be a man in a suit that has thousands of crumples and crinkles.

Another good example for a house cleaning service would be a picture of a business woman with here hair going in a thousand directions (like she just put here fingers in a light socket) while she’s crying and her makeup is streaking. Your headline could say, “Help! My House is a Freak’in Mess!” Okay, you might want to leave out the word, “Freak’in” but you get the idea.

Don’t include drawings and sketches. They reek with cheapness. If you are going to use illustrations always use photos.

Include Benefits, Benefits, Benefits
Leave room for your biggest customer-centered benefits. Ask yourself why people would want to do business with you and not anybody else’s. Don’t tell me its because you or your business has won a bunch of awards. Your customers don’t care about that, they care about what THEY get out of the deal.

For example:

  • “100% No-Questions-Money-Back-Guarantee”
  • “Houston’s ONLY Board Certified Specialist”
  • “We’ll Do It Right, Or You’ll Get It FREE”
  • “FREE Checkup, FREE Cleaning, FREE Treatment”
  • “Nation’s Only Chip Free, Crack Free, Rip Free Surface”
  • “Delivered Same Day . . . Guaranteed!”

Give your reader your strongest selling points – or the single biggest benefit they’re likely to care about most. The benefits you list should clearly separate you from your competition. Readers should be able to look at your ad and say to themselves, “I’d be a fool not to call this business.”

Make a Specific Call to Action
Don’t be vague. End your ad with a firm “call for action.” In other words, you want your reader to do something, don’t you? Well, you’ve got to tell him or her exactly what your want them to do.

Tell the reader to pick up the phone and call now or tell them how they’ll benefit from calling you right now. People need to be led. If you ran two yellow page ads that were identical in every way, but one had just a phone number, while the other one instructed the reader to “pick up the phone and call now,” the one with the “call for action” would out pull the other by a large margin.

Consider Including Some Customer Testimonials
Testimonials are a powerful tool for creating trust and believability. We as humans have an internal urge to follow what other people do; we have an internal resistance to venture out on our own and be a guinea pig. If we see someone else do it then something triggers inside of us and tells us it’s okay for us to do it too.

Why do you think people put a few dollar bills in their tip jars at the beginning of the night to simulate tips left by prior customers? Or why do you think some Evangelical preachers have been known to seed their audience with “ringers” who come forward at a specific time to give witness and donations? It’s the same reason we label some of our products, “best sellers.” You don’t have to convince your customer that it is a good product because so many other buyers can’t be wrong, which is proof enough.

Be Easy to Contact
Nothing is worse from a customer’s perspective than not being able to contact you. Include your email address, phone number, fax number, address and if you’re the owner, you might even consider leaving your personal number! Take customer calls at home…eeee gad no!

What stronger statement can you make about customer service than to give your personal home number. The fact is that most people won’t call you. They will respect your privacy and admire you for being courageous enough to include your personal phone number.

You might even consider, no you should strongly consider, including a small map to your store location. Your store location might be the only reason they are looking in the Yellow Pages anyway. If you speak Spanish and that is important, make sure you tell your reader, “Si, se habla espanol.”

Insist on a Proof
Even the best phone directories aren’t always accurate. But there are so many things you can get wrong on a yellow page ad that it would be suicide not to get a proof before it gets printed. Barry Maher, a yellow page expert, shares several stories where a mistake in just a letter or two in an ad has meant disaster.

One plumbing company had their non-local address printed in their ad three years running, which dropped calls from 40 per day to only four. A dental ad went south when his slogan ran, “Where Caring Treatment Costs More” when it should have been “Where Caring Treatment Costs No More.” He had people calling in asking how much more. Another ad for a therapist read, “Dan Hadley, the rapist” but was supposed to read, “Dan Hadley, therapist.”

Are Bigger Ads Better?
Yes, ad size definitely matters but you can waste a small fortune buying more than you should. All things being equal a bigger ad does get a greater response. They also get the best placement, which is at the front of your category. Sometimes placement can be even more important than size. The good news is that all things are seldom equal. Your ad, which may not be the biggest, or sitting right up front, can be just as effective, or even more effective than a gigantic ad at the front of the heading.

The first thing to do is have your rep show you where you would be placed based on the size of the ad you’re considering. This should give you a good idea about your relative position. Determine if you can move up a little by making your ad the next size bigger without a big jump in cost or move back a little by reducing your ad size without a significant shift in placement but a reduction in cost.

Here Are Some Yellow Page Ad Statistics to Help You Determine the Optimum Size of Your Ad
Remember, all things being equal, a larger ad will increase its pulling power by a larger percentage than its added cost. Suppose you currently run a simple listing and get X responses. If you went to the smallest available “display” ad (usually a 1/16th page), you should get 13X responses for only a few times the cost.

If you further increase its size to a 1/8th of a page, your cost will less than double (because of volume discounts), but you’ll pull another 5X the response. If you go from a 1/8th page to a 1/4th page, your cost less than doubles again, and your response should jump by another 3X. Increasing a 1/4 page ad to a 1/2 page ad brings in another 3X response, again for less than twice the cost.

So going from a 1/16 page all the way to a 1/2 page results in less than a 8 times increase in cost compared to a 45X increase in response. Frankly, that sounds like quite a bargain.

Again, these numbers are based on merely increasing the size of the ad, not changing it in any other way. I rarely recommend using a full-page ad; it’s just not worth it. You’ll get close to the same response with a 3/4 page ad.

Should I Use Color?
This question is always one of the first asked of me by small business people. My response is always, “Maybe.” Red, blue, green, and white are all eye-catching but is it worth paying 50%-60% more?

Unfortunately, color ads usually cost at least two times (or more) the normal price. I am a believer that a color ad will most likely have a decent pull. However, I am also convinced that a well-developed black and white yellow page ad can have the same or even stronger pull.

As a matter of fact, I would recommend changing the size or placement of your ad before I considered using color. Remember, people will call you based on the content of the yellow page advertisement. The photo and color of the ad only supports the content. If you get the content right, even if its not in color, you are going to enjoy an advantage over all your yellow page competitors.

However, with all that said, if you have the budget for a color ad, and you’ve designed a strong pulling ad using yellow page ad best practices, then why not use color. For a well-established business with the cash flow this might be a smart choice. For the up and comer, I suggest being conservative and a smart advertiser before being a flashy advertiser.

Tracking the Success of Your Yellow Page Ad
Do you know what percentage of your business currently comes in through the Yellow Pages? If you know how well your current ads and listings are working, you can make informed decisions about next year’s program.

Track your ads. Ask your customers if they found you in the yellow pages. If you have multiple ads under different headings or listings or even in different directories you may want to ask them, “What page of the phone book did you find our number on?” The book will probably be right in front of them. The page number will tell you which directory and which listing section.

If you advertise in multiple yellow pages consider using separate phone numbers. Develop a call log to keep track of the calls that come from the different ads. This will allow you to have empirical data from which to decide whether it’s advantageous to be in more than one yellow page book.

Here’s a Little Secret that Will Ensure that Your Yellow Page Ad is a Success!
If you use these concepts and techniques when you create your Yellow Page ad, you’ll be able to easily adapt it to work in your local newspaper. Suppose you came up with two or three (or more) Yellow Page ads and tested them individually by running them in the local paper. By carefully tracking the ads you will immediately find out which ones are more effective and pull the best.

Put your best pulling ad in your Yellow Pages! If you really get serious about this you may want to try more than two or three ads in your test. Test different headlines, appeals, rationales, offers, etc. Find the combinations that work the best. This information will be valuable for years to come.

Yellow page ads are critical to small businesses; however, they present a big risk as well. Make sure that you ad is critiqued by a direct response expert to ensure that it pulls well because once it gets placed, you’ll have to live with it for the next year.

Use attention-getting headlines and offer an information product to entice readers to call you. Use eye-catching pictures sparingly and include your biggest unique benefits. Consider using customer testimonials to build trust and make sure you tell the reader to call you now!

The bigger the ad the better but always remember to get a proof before the ad is placed. Mistakes can be deadly. Use color if you can afford it, but make it a low priority. Before placing your ad, test it in the newspaper to see how well it pulls and then track it’s effectiveness throughout the year on a month-to-month basis.

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