R H Donnelley, founded in 1886, was the first Yellow Pages publisher, and the company declared bankruptcy last year. It reemerged in February as Dex One.
For over 100 years, Yellow Pages were the place to look for local business information. But nowadays there is a "surprisingly sober outlook for the future of print directories," concluded market research firm the Kelsey Group after surveying yellow page publishers.
But what replaces the void? Yellow Pages are reliable and simple, and it turns out to be really tricky getting online local business listings right.
First, they can confuse the town name — there are several towns called "Mountain View" in the U.S., for example. Then some try to guess your location and get it wrong. I was at a company recently in San Jose and the Internet connection came from Englewood, Colo., a suburb of Denver. So Web sites showed me adverts from Colorado.
Mountain View's TheFind.com thinks I am writing this in Richmond, Calif., though I'm on the Peninsula.
Furthermore, it's hard for local search sites to come up with exactly the right business. For example, if you search for "barber Mountain View CA" using Google Maps, the first entry that comes up is for Cubby Kids, a kids' hair salon — technically a barber shop, but not your dad's barber. Sometimes you search for a business in Mountain View and are given one in Palo Alto or San Jose.
To make sure Google gets your business listed properly on Google Maps, go to http://local.google.com and select "Put your business on Google Maps." This takes you to Google Local Business Center. Here you can describe your business, upload photos, add coupons and see free reports on the search words that people use to find your listing.
Meanwhile, new options are in the works. Colin Pape has come to Mountain View from Canada to set up U.S. operations for another local business Web site, ShopCity.com. I sat down with Pape and local cofounder Jim Terry to discuss how ShopCity could compete with the bigger firms like Google.
First of all, they believe that to get good local business descriptions on the Web you need "feet-on-the-street." So they're building a network of representatives who make local connections with local establishments like the Chamber of Commerce.
Pape and Terry said they were in the business of making templates for merchants and reps to help them list businesses. The basic listing is free, but businesses can pay from $495 to $995 a year to get more coupons and ads and list under more categories.
ShopCity.com wants merchants to display the ShopCity logo in their storefront — just like Visa did when it started. ShopCity.com has invested in Internet domain names, like ShopMountainView.com. Given the fact there are several towns called Mountain View, they guess your location and allow you to select from alternative cities with the same name.
On the site, consumers can review and rate businesses as well as share favorites on social networking sites like Facebook. If you have a Mountain View picture, you can upload it to ShopMountainView.com, which helps build community.
It's too early to say who will win the local online directory/search/advertising game. There's Yelp, Citysearch, Local.com and Bing Local, just to mention a few, as well as Yellow Pages online sites. And of course, there are local newspaper sites like MountainViewOnline.com.
ShopCity.com has tough competition, but by getting to know a community through its rep network, it can help businesses build their online reputation. So look out for the ShopCity.com logo as you go around Mountain View, and if you're a merchant, claim your business listing on ShopMountainView.com.
By the way, if you want to save trees and cancel your Yellow Pages directory here are the numbers to call:
Valley Yellow Pages: (800) 350-8887
Verizon or SuperMedia Yellow Pages: (800) 888-8448
AT&T Yellow Pages: (866) 329-7118