‘Look and Feel’ Makes a Comeback

RH Donnelley and Innovectra announced a deal for Dexpages, a searchable, clickable “look and feel” online version of the print directory. It can be downloaded or browsed online:

Each directory maintains the look of a print directory on a computer screen, and contains all of the information found in print versions, including local business and white pages listings, community information, and more. In addition, Dex Pages enables keyword search and displays hotlinks to email and website addresses, making it easy for consumers to contact businesses directly or discover more information on the business with a single click.

Currently available in the 14 states where R.H. Donnelley publishes directories for Qwest, Dex Pages will expand by the end of the year to include areas featuring the EMBARQ(R) Yellow Pages brought to you by Dex and AT&T Real Yellow Pages published by Dex. Once this is complete all directories published by R.H. Donnelley will be available on Dex Pages. Each virtual directory will be hosted by Innovectra using its ActivDirectory software.

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Other publishers such as Idearc are doing this too. Look and feel lost out to search (search style presentation) in the early part of this decade but is now apparently making a comeback. Appealing to a segment of the audience that has moved online but still likes the familiar print layout and display ads. So publishers have “diversified” with print, online print look and feel, IYP/search, mobile apps/Web as sources of traffic for their advertisers.

What do you think about look and feel. Like it? Hate it?

17 Responses to “‘Look and Feel’ Makes a Comeback”

  1. Joe Says:

    I think the folks responsible for this effort should be immediately recruited to apply the same creative thinking to newspapers as they have so obviously done here to yp.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Innovectra did this (maybe still does) for newspapers. And the NY Times has a product (Times Reader) that offers the print look and feel: http://timesreader.nytimes.com/timesreader/index.html?campaignId=34W88

  3. davidsabel Says:

    Given the lack of features that users have come to love about search style presentations/online directories:

    – maps/directions
    – reviews
    – other “enhancements” from the business like specialties, photos, videos, and real time coupons

    …L&F is not likely to win many converts “back” to the old model.

    Seems pragmatic from the point of view of the current book publishers, but feels a little like they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  4. Dave Hucker Says:

    Interesting. I was just having a chat with a similar provider of edirectory publishing services regarding eye tracking studies.

    I wanted to see if they’d ever had one done for YP directories. We all know about the ‘Google Golden Triangle’ for websites and SERPS, but I wanted to see a similar study for print yp. Thanks for the update on DEX & Innovectra

  5. Tom Bickel Says:

    The “Look and Feel” platform opens up many opportunities for publishers to present a consistent message about the work they do to deliver leads to advertisers. Integration of the features davidsabel astutely mentions in his comments above is available in this format.

    In addition to those features, there are numerous other tactics around using “look and feel” to further engage, and bring ROI to advertisers.

    This platform provides strong opportunities for YP publishers to demonstrate consistency throughout their delivery mechanisms and showcase how their other products complement one another to connect sellers and buyers.

    Full disclosure: My company is a look and feel provider. We believe deeply in this format and its ability to deliver value for publishers of all print channels.

  6. Chris Silver Smith Says:

    I’ll risk being pompous and quote what I wrote about this sort of thing from my article on “What Could Save The Yellow Pages: 10 Ideas“:

    “Using scanned print YP ads on your internet product? Are you kidding me?!? Converting books to PDF?!? This is about like suggesting taking one of the antique printed Sears catalogs and putting it on DVD so people can thumb through it on their flat-screen TVs. Wake up — no one wants to do that! If the content isn’t easily searchable and isn’t interactive, then it doesn’t compete today. Stop trying to retrofit print YP ads into something profitable on the internet — that is so pre-Y2K!”

    I still feel the same about this as I did back in January: it does not work well.

    This sort of format made a lot more sense 10 years ago when people were just making the leap to figure out what an online yellow pages might be like. Now, it feels a lot like an evolutionary throwback — a variant that can’t survive in the wild.

    There are numerous reasons why sites based on aping the print versions of books do not perform well: clunky usability, lack of interactivity, lack of table-stakes features like maps and links, and worst of all — lack of good search capability. These sites are typically terribly poorly constructed, so the content doesn’t get effectively indexed by search engines.

    Such sites, when built as standalones, rarely ever can build up sufficient enough traffic to be attractive marketing channels compared with their more contemporary cousins.

    My opinion would be different if someone were to actually create such a site in strong combination with contemporary features, effectively marrying it to the current version of online yellow pages or local search.

    As it stands, the one value such sites provide to the YP companies which offer them is to create the illusion of a value-add to their advertisers when sales reps tell them that “…and the ad will automatically go live on our website where you can see it…”.

  7. Rich Rosen Says:

    Hard not to agree w/ Chris. Is this innovative? Maybe there is something to this deal we don’t see. Innovectra is paying for the content, or doing it for free? Would RHD really put resources behind this as a new product because merchants are clamoring for it?

  8. Will Scott Says:

    Among the selling points of CD based L&F solutions was that they were acceptable behind the firewall. And as I recall there is a print reduction bonus paid for placement in large print-book consumers.

    In other words, if with one CD I can eliminate 300 books dropped on the doorstep of the 3M plant in White City Oregon I save RHD the cost of printing and get my “Green” card stamped.

    We used to produce these CD based books for a number of customers at YPsolutions (now part of Local Matters) and their primary purpose was to maintain a presence in facilities which were refusing the palettes of dead trees.

    Are these still the issues? (@Tom Bickel – you’re probably closest to it)

    @Rich Rosen – this is probably the monetary incentive. Given the maturity of the Innovectra L&F platform their production cost is negligible and placement (with cost reduction) probably immensely profitable.

  9. Gene Daly Says:

    Google may trump this stellar “innovation” by producing a print version of their search results. 😉

  10. Pat Says:

    Nostalgic & comfortably familiar, but too cumbersome for the Internet. Won’t last.

  11. alfred chow Says:

    This is like building a car to look like a horse drawn carriage.

  12. Greg Sterling Says:

    I think the place that look and feel may make some sense (if only as a novelty or marketing tool) is in mobile.

  13. Rich Rosen Says:

    Great one Gene! I agree w/ Will that the CD works in the corporate center, but a press release? Not likely to convince folks that change is a comin’.

  14. Chris Silver Smith Says:

    Will Scott makes some good points about CD versions of print directories — indeed, I’ve heard of some people within corporations and government offices who like using YP on CD.

    However, the RHDonnelley deal announement above seems much more focused upon creating a version of print to use online.

    The Dexpages site is somewhat keyword searchable, and they do render email addresses and urls clickable in the directory, but the overall experience as I tried it just now is extremely poor. For instance, it appears one can’t search all the Denver area at one time, but you must instead first select and click upon links to the particular directory you want, first. Also, just a few seconds of the keyword search shows it to be based very much on name/category search, with little additional data for finding more specific stuff (can find “restaurants” just fine, but try to find restaurants which offer “eggs benedict” or even try to find listings for all the vegetarian restaurants in Denver, and it’s woefully incomplete).

    When performing keyword searches, various types of results appear in a very small lefthand column in a very nonintuitive manner. When I search for “vegetarian restaurants”, the sidebar results tell me they’ve found 1 Category, 2 businesses, and 3 keywords. Amusingly, under “Categories”, it states that “Exact Match Not Found 45% Matches:”, then it lists “VEGETARIAN-RESTAURANTS”, which is precisely the keyword phrase I searched upon! You couldn’t get much more “exact match” than that, yet it’s only a 45% match according to this system. When that category is clicked upon, a blinking pointer indicates the section of Vegetarian Restaurants listed on one of the pages. One business. Of course, this is just for the Central and Downtown Denver guide, not all of Denver, but I happen to know of more vegetarian restaurants in Downtown area than just this one result. Perhaps the print book database doesn’t have any other businesses cross-categorized or whatever. But, I can’t click to see this one biz on a map, and the overall experience is so limited and poor that I can easily imagine a consumer giving up and going over to a website which provides more robust results, or going to their iphone.

    (Ok, so I also tried searching the “Denver Metro” directory, which assumably would include Denver Central and Downtown along with all surrounding areas in greater Denver, but I get completely different results for the “Vegetarian Restaurants” search – still only one restaurant found.)

    Dexpages is completely separate from DexKnows site, which seems like a missed opportunity. Why aren’t they married together? Shouldn’t there be some way to click to view the print version of their listing from the DexKnows IYP listing?

    It also appears that you could indeed download the directories to use offline/locally on your PC, but they’re downloaded in executable form — so, you probably couldn’t use them on devices like the Kindle, which are intended to allow one to read content in a format similar to print.

    So, this stuff all fails from my perspective.

    Without a lot more attention paid to improving these sorts of sites in order to get them up to at least minimal acceptability for market competition, creation and maintenance of such a site seems like a considerable waste of money.

    Just a few things it needs:

    – For online search, why not make it so that it assumes upfront that one would want to search all of a major city at once?

    – Once a keyword search is returned, shouldn’t there be some way to identify what the user is most likely seeking, and actually display some results, as opposed to forcing the user to select down further to find what they seek?

    – Why not actually display multiple search results at one time, text/html form, and then allow the user to click to view pages? As it is, if I get multiple keyword hits at once, I have to click to view each sequentially, and often have to pan/zoom around just to see what the business name is, or what category I’m within, etc.

    – You’ve managed to sync up text and keywords from these print pages so that they can be minimally searchable — how hard would it be to actually link up those street addresses to a map?!? Even using just the phone number, one could pull up a Google Map pretty quickly.

    – How about have some usability testing/research to reduce the clunkiness of these things?

    – More development on taxonomy, thesauri, and fuzzy-matching — a search for “breakfast” should not return “BREAST PROSTHESIS” and “BREAST FEEDING”!

    etc.

  15. Tom Bickel Says:

    The emphasis on using L&F for cost reduction as Will describes is not the emphasis that it once was. In the past, that model has definitely been used. In recent times however, the focus has been on providing the right mix of products that the business customers want (similar to the recent Opt-in/Opt-out initiatives). The look and feel definitely plays a valuable role in this part of the interaction with the business customers that typically receive a large volume of books.

    Also, while I appreciate some of Chris’s position/observations, I would respectfully contend that there are many other benefits besides the one he cites. Some of his criticism of the platform is legitimate. It is the responsibility of the platform provider to supply a compelling user experience, or people will not use it.

    However, it is also important to point out that there is a category of user that values using the information in this format. The publisher is providing a product that those users like, want and choose to use.

  16. Tom Bickel Says:

    Chris – We were simultaneously writing comments and it appears you posted just before me. You make some really great observations immediately above. Thanks.

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