Why White Pages brand names don't work in today's Yellow Pages world


Where do you go when you know who you’re looking for but not where to find them? The (usually online) White Pages directory. Where do you go when you know what you’re looking for but not who sells it? The Yellow Pages.

Or maybe you just go to Google, which works like both, but more like the Yellow Pages.

The problem is, too many businesses have White Pages names, meaning that customers who don’t know them by name won’t find them.

That was then

This way of naming businesses goes back to the late 19th Century, when telephone directories were first invented. Back then, business founders named their companies or products after themselves (Ford, Oldsmobile, Chrysler, Macy’s, Procter & Gamble, Miller Beer) or where they were located (Chesterfield cigarettes, made in Chesterfield County, VA; Pontiac and Plymouth, both suburbs of Detroit). Not only was there no Internet then, but the world in general was smaller, and folks were more likely to know who was who. Later on, in the 20th Century, many companies had corporate names reflecting what the company did as a whole (like General Foods) but product names that didn’t describe the products (like Oreo or Tide). Still later in the last century, there was a trend to giving businesses meaningless, made-up names, like Altria. All of those work fine, so long as you have millions of dollars to spend on advertising to promote your name each year and lots of years to keep doing it until it sinks into the public’s consciousness.

Unfortunately, small businesses don’t.

This creates a Catch-22, especially for new, small businesses: Customers who don’t know your name can’t find you in White Pages directories (or name searches) because they don’t know your name.

This is now

Consumers are out there looking for what you sell, and your brand name has to make it easy for them to find it (and you) – by fitting the way they search. And this means putting your product or service category into your brand name.

If you already incorporated your business with a White Pages name, changing it to a Yellow Pages name is usually quick and easy by registering a DBA (doing business as) name with your city or county government. Here in Henrico County, VA, for example, it takes about five minutes and $13.

Or, for a big ten bucks a year, you can register a new URL that includes what you sell and point it to your main domain. A client of ours in the custom home building business named their domain after the initials of their corporate entity – gce-llc.com – and wondered why they had no search engine visibility. When we built them a new website, we gave it the URL customhomesva.com, and the client went instantly to the top three rankings for “custom homes” and “home builder” Google searches. Not bad for ten bucks. And lots better than $300-400 a month for SEO services. According to 2008-9 Webvisible and Nielsen research, 50 percent of consumers first look for stores and other vendors with search engines. Another 24 percent first turn to the paper Yellow Pages. Almost three out of four consumers – 72 percent, to be specific – use search engines more than they did three years ago, and 23 percent use the paper Yellow Pages less. Those numbers actually understate the case, because fully 82 percent of consumers find products and services with search engines.

That’s why it’s important to make what it is you sell an integral part of your brand name. Someone here in Richmond who wants a new home built would never know to look for, say, gce-llc on a search engine. But if they’re searching for custom homes and customhomesva pops up, they’ll find it.