Yellow Pages Advertising Costs: Does it Still Work?

The Yellow Pages, known for its thick printed phone directories, has a long history dating back to the late 19th century. The first official Yellow Pages directory was published in 1886 by Reuben H. Donnelley, marking the beginning of a revolutionary tool that would transform how people found businesses and services. For over a century, the distinctive yellow-paged directories were a staple in households and businesses.

With the rise of the internet and search engines like Google, however, the relevance of print Yellow Pages has declined sharply. In recent years, Yellow Pages has transitioned to focus more on digital offerings like website listings, search ads, and business profiles. While the print editions still exist, they are a shadow of their former distribution. The transition to digital has allowed Yellow Pages to remain relevant but also diminished its once-dominant market position.

Yellow Pages Advertising Costs

A full-page Yellow Pages display ad can cost between $2,500 – $5,000 per month on average, depending on your location.

The cost to advertise in the Yellow Pages can vary greatly depending on the size and type of ad. A basic listing with just your business name, address and phone number usually starts around $5 per month. You can also pay extra for options like bold text or different colors for around $10 per month. Display ads that include imagery, logos and more text start at around $35 per month for a small ad. Prices go up for larger display ads and premium positioning.

Pros of Yellow Pages Advertising

While Yellow Pages advertising is not as effective as it used to be, there are still some advantages it offers to local businesses. Some of the main pros of Yellow Pages advertising include:

  • Long-established brand recognition: The Yellow Pages brand has been around for decades, so many people still associate it with finding local businesses. This established brand recognition means consumers may be more likely to notice ads.
  • Reaches older demographics: Though younger generations rely more on digital search, older demographics are still more likely to use the Yellow Pages out of habit. For some businesses targeting older customers, it can be a way to get in front of this audience.
  • Passive exposure from basic listings: Even a basic free listing in the Yellow Pages provides some passive exposure to consumers browsing the directories. There’s no guarantee they will see or call from this alone, but it does provide a minimal presence.

While these advantages do exist, they are becoming less impactful each year as fewer people use the Yellow Pages. But for some niche businesses, the brand recognition and reach with older demographics can still provide value.

Cons of Yellow Pages Advertising

While the Yellow Pages used to be one of the main ways customers found local businesses, it is not as effective in recent years as people shift to using online search and discovery methods. As a result, Yellow Pages advertising comes with some major drawbacks for local businesses today.

One of the biggest cons is the declining usage and effectiveness of the Yellow Pages. Print usage has dropped over 90% in the last 10 years, and engagement with the digital Yellow Pages is also on a downward trend. Less than 15% of the population uses the Yellow Pages today, making it much less likely your ad will drive new business.

Yellow Pages advertising is also very expensive compared to many digital advertising options. With print, you’re paying for space based on circulation, not necessarily results. Even a small ad can cost hundreds per month. With digital, you still pay just for impressions, not clicks or conversions.

Finally, it’s much harder to track ROI and optimize Yellow Pages ads. You only see aggregate response metrics like calls generated. There’s limited ability to target customers or adapt messaging for better results, and you commit upfront without the flexibility of pay-per-click models.

More Effective Options for Local Businesses

While Yellow Pages advertising may seem traditional and familiar, most small businesses today find better returns by investing their marketing budgets into digital options. Here are some of the most effective alternatives to explore:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) involves optimizing your website content and technical elements to rank higher in search engines like Google for relevant keywords. By ranking on the first page for local searches, you can drive highly targeted traffic to your site organically. Typical SEO costs range from $500-$2,000 per month based on complexity and competition. 
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) platforms like Google Ads and Facebook Ads allow you to display targeted ads to users as they search and browse online. You only pay when someone clicks your ad. Startup costs are low and you can precisely track ROI. PPC works well when combined with SEO.
  • Review management sites like Yelp and Google My Business allow customers to leave feedback about your business. Monitoring and responding to reviews can boost positive sentiment and search rankings. Basic access is free for all businesses.
  • Email newsletters and social media ads help you engage directly with customers who have opted-in. Tailor content and offers to different segments for targeted campaigns. Costs scale based on size of lists and promotion budgets. Start small and test different approaches.

Case Study: California Plumbing Business Goes Fully Digital

One compelling case study covered by Your Digital Resource details how a plumbing business in California stopped using Yellow Pages ads and switched to a fully digital strategy. This local plumbing company has consistently advertised in the Yellow Pages directory for over 20 years. At its peak, it was spending $1,500 per month on a large display ad.

However, the owner started to notice a steady decline in call volume and new customers from the Yellow Pages ads over the last 5 years. As a test, he decided not to renew his Yellow Pages contract and redirected that budget into Google Ads, Facebook Ads, customer review management, and search engine optimization.

In the first year after canceling his Yellow Pages ad, the company’s revenue increased by 15%. The owner also reported a 525% increase in website traffic and a 61% lower cost per lead compared to when he was advertising in the Yellow Pages. While residual referrals from the directory continued for a while, the digital strategy proved far more successful in connecting with local customers.

Tips for Evaluating Yellow Pages ROI

Measuring the return on investment (ROI) of Yellow Pages advertising can be challenging, but there are a few tips businesses can follow:

  • Track phone calls and foot traffic from ads by using unique phone numbers and promotion codes for each ad campaign. This practice allows you to directly see the leads and sales generated.
  • Ask customers how they heard about your business when they come in or call. Keep track of referral sources to determine what percent come from Yellow Pages.
  • A/B test different platforms like Yellow Pages, Google Ads, and Facebook to find where you get the most valuable customers. Rotate ad spend between channels and track acquisitions costs and lifetime value.

While measuring Yellow Pages ROI takes some effort, it’s vital to optimize your ad budget. Use these tips to quantify the impact of your ads.


Local business owners often have questions about the value of Yellow Pages advertising and whether they should make the switch to digital options. Here are some frequently asked questions:

Is Yellow Pages advertising still effective?

While older demographics may still use the Yellow Pages, usage has declined dramatically over the past decade as more people search online. Yellow Pages is no longer an effective way to reach the majority of customers.

Should I stop my Yellow Pages ad and go digital?

Most experts recommend shifting your focus to digital channels like SEO, paid search ads, and social media marketing. These methods allow you to track ROI and engage with customers online.

What if I still get calls from my Yellow Pages ad?

Consider keeping a basic free listing for passive exposure, but avoid expensive display ads. Calls may come from older demographics still using the directories.

How do I cancel my Yellow Pages subscription?

Call their customer support line to cancel auto-renewal of your ad. You may need to submit written notice depending on your contract terms. Don’t let ads auto-renew if you aren’t tracking ROI.

How can I advertise locally besides Yellow Pages?

Focus your budget on SEO, paid search, social media ads, review platforms, email marketing, and other digital options that your ideal customers actually use.


Now that we’ve weighed the pros and cons, analyzed the costs, and covered alternative options for local advertising for small businesses in 2023, let’s summarize with some final thoughts.

The verdict is clear: for most local small businesses today, Yellow Pages advertising does not provide a good return on investment anymore. The costs are simply too high given declining usage, and much more effective options now exist in the digital space to reach local customers.

That’s not to say Yellow Pages advertising is completely obsolete. Having a basic free listing can still provide some passive local visibility and brand presence, especially for older demographics less active online. However, you should critically evaluate any paid display ads or premium listings, as that money is likely better spent on targeted local SEO, paid search ads, social media advertising, review management platforms, and other digital options.

Evaluate your target customer profile, typical purchasing journey, and existing brand visibility when allocating marketing budgets. Be extremely wary of long Yellow Pages advertising contracts or premium packages without first testing performance. Focus your resources on driving measurable actions aligned to your business goals, not just passive impressions.

While the big, thick printed phone directories were effective back in their heyday, those days are gone. Local business owners who want to thrive in 2024 need to shift focus and budget to more modern, targeted, and trackable forms of digital marketing and advertising.


Ian Kirby has been working in digital marketing for over 15 years. Having worked both with and for digital marketing agencies and in-house with multiple companies, he has a specific interest and expertise in online reputation management, online reviews, and the implementation of business systems. Ian’s writing, videos, and interviews have garnered millions of reads, views, and listens.


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