Not advertising online yet? It's time. Every so often, the phone book is nearer than my computer, so I reach for it to look up a service provider. And I always get frustrated. "This isn't searchable!" The paper version of the Yellow Pages is so limited—it's only updated once a year. Also, it doesn't have customer comments and ratings, so how do I know which company offers a better service? Like me, more and more people are realizing that Internet phone directories offer more information to help make decisions faster.

If your business isn't advertising online already, Internet phone directories are an easy place to start—and you don't need a website. Three quick benefits:

1. Online Yellow Pages allow you to pay your way to the top.

Try this: Get on the Internet, and go to your online Yellow Pages of choice (I use superpages.com or dexonline.com, but a different directory may be more popular in your area). Search for a service provider in your industry, and see where you come up. As in the print version of the phone book, you don't have to pay to get a regular listing in the online Yellow Pages. You're listed—but are you No. 624 in a list of 1,867 contractors? If so, your listing is virtually useless. In order to rise to the top, of course, you're going to have to pay extra. But it could be worth it. Contact your rep to see how much you'd have to pay to get special placement.

2. Online Yellow Pages provide extra services that drive sales.

Customer Ratings:  As you were searching for yourself in the online phone directory, you probably noticed how easy it is to find businesses by categories and subcategories. This "searchability" is, as I mentioned, why more and more people are going to the Internet to search for businesses. You may also have noticed that some vendors have customer ratings associated with them. You'd be amazed at how these ratings drive sales, showing that you're a proven solution instead of an unknown quantity.

Pay Per Call:  In addition, some Internet phone directories provide services that can drive business directly to your phone. If you don't have a website but have a great phone staff, you can direct customers to call a special toll free number that tracks each call. In this case, you'll only pay when a customer calls you—for example $10 a call. Your rate will be determined by how competitive your market is. Ten dollars a call may seem expensive, but if you try it out and discover that it drives sales with acceptable costs, you'll want to continue.

3. Online Yellow Pages provide flexible payment options.


 

One of the disadvantages of a print Yellow Pages ad is that you are committed to it for a year. You can't let customers know if you've moved, changed your phone number or added new services. And you have to pay monthly for your ad even if it doesn't bring you much business. Online Yellow Pages offer you more options. (I'm just generalizing here—services and costs are always changing, so you'll want to ask your rep about specific details).

For example, you can pay a fixed fee to achieve top placement, so no matter how many customers click or call, you pay a set cost. If you want to pay for it, you can buy a colorful display ad in a column next to the regular results. Or you can "pay per click"—when a customer clicks through to your website or to a web page set up for you by the phone directory. Or you can "pay per call" as I mentioned above. Or any combination of the above.

One thing we've discovered in advertising on the Internet: Avoid long-term contracts. We look upon every new advertising opportunity as a chance to test the claims of the advertiser. An online phone directory may want you to sign a six-month or year contract. Just make sure there's a way to either cancel or pause your account in case it's not working for you.

So, if you're not advertising online, try an Internet Yellow Pages provider. If your print Yellow Pages rep can't help you, find a contact phone number on your favorite online phone book site. All it takes to get the ball rolling is a phone call.