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Founder & CEO of BookingBug, Glenn leads the 100-strong team across the firm’s offices in London, Boston and Sydney.

On Yell and business directory revenue models

It was reported yesterday in the Telegraph that Yell have had to raise £500mln from their investors, and they are currently saddled with nearly £5bln in loans.

£5bln in loans!

This goes to show something that we at BookingBug have known for sometime. That although there is a lot of money is listing businesses, some companies are very, very bad at capitalizing on it.

It’s no secret that Yell has been slow to monopolise on its dominant position, despite have a huge volume of data, and large numbers of paying customers, if you google a company, it’s rarely ever a Yell listing for it that comes up top, if at all. No, it’s one of the more specialised business directories, or one of the smaller more agile ones, that may not have the level of cash available but does understand SEO and how to make the best of what it’s going – and they’ve been doing a lot better job than the incumbents like Yell have. Yell rely on people coming to the site directly to search for things, rather than ‘Googling’ it which is going to be a harder and harder model to pursue.

I feel a twinge of sympathy for Yell and other business directories that still produce a printed version. The cost and difficulty of maintaining on and off line versions is huge, the use of the offline is declining rapidly – when was the last time you looked something up in a  printed Yellow pages? Of course, if you’re reading this, that’s probably because you’re fairly internet savvy. However there’s still a large number of people, particularly an older generation that may not have internet access, or just prefer the printed directory, and they’re going to be around a while longer.

There is no doubt however that things are moving in the direction of the internet, and one of Yell’s problems is that its listings still basically reflect it’s printed copy, and that’s a very poor use of the capabilities of the internet. Okay, so they have a link to the business website it they have one (and if they’ve paid for it), and they might have a link to a map. But they’re still both simple, static information really, and as internet use grows, its failure to have more than just a static listing will become glaringly inadequate.

The thing is, we no longer use a business directory to look for or purchase goods: We no longer phone round bookshops to find if they have Fly Fishing by J R Hartley when Amazon tell us who sells it and if they have it in stock. We will now go directly to the website of electrical stores to see if they have something in stock in a local branch, and the concept of being able to reserve in store, goods that you can them pick up yourself is common now, and you never even need to phone them.

So now we often only use business directories for looking up services – and your crucial question there, is ‘are you available?’

Are you available for a driving lesson ? Are you available to come and unblock the drains ? cut down a tree ? take a family portait ? teach me to play tennis ? Whatever you need.

There’s money in answering that question quickly and simply for the customer, and for the likes of Yell that money might be crucial to their survival.

Service businesses are starting to wake up to the idea that it is their time that is the commodity they are selling, and business directories in turn need to wake up to the idea of helping businesses sell that time simply and efficiently.

Looking for an emergency plumber ? The business directories should be able to tell you not just the list of phone numbers of nearby plumbers, but that one is available now, and only a short distance away, and thank-you-very-much-he’ll-be-in-there-in-a-jiffy. With technology, phones  and GPS’s we’re becoming an always connected world, and service businesses, whose time, literally is money, are starting to use technology to help them manage that time.

Business directories such as Yell, and many others needs to reinvent themselves to take advantage of the modern, connected, real-time web, those directories that do will become that Amazons of the future, that don’t will fade into obscurity.