A True Phoenix: Yellow Pages Canada's Digital Resurrection

Conrad Yu

A True Phoenix

For people that grew up using a phone book, the Yellow Pages telephone directory was the holy grail for finding local contact and address information before the information age. For millennials, however, having grown accustomed to digital tools and interfaces meant an attention span too short to both figure out how to use as well as actually use a phone book.

So Yellow Pages figured it out for them, and from the company that was once “The Yellow Pages” arose a new company, with the same DNA, just born to exist within the digital world. Yellow Pages (YP), a Canadian owned and operated media and marketing solutions company headquartered in Montreal, began a drastic transformation into a primarily digital business several years ago. Today, the company has a network of digital properties that see over one million visits each day and sees 62% of its total revenues now coming from its digital products and services. This equals half a billion dollars in digital revenues annually, a figure few Canadian companies are able to match in the digital space. Yellow Pages Canada is also now the company that many digital brands turn to as their Canadian partner in local search data and services, including Google, Apple, and Yahoo!.

The company’s successful resurrection began with the epiphany that some value propositions never become obsolete; merely the method of delivery and execution can become outdated. People will always need and seek information. The “what” doesn’t change, but the when, where, and how can evolve to meet market demands.

Often times, companies make a mistake in philosophy when attempting to transform themselves that relegates them to irrelevance. But not YP. Just as the axiom goes, instead of asking themselves what their digital strategy should be, they asked what their business strategy should be in a digital world. The company soon found out that the difference meant it was not going to be as simple as taking its old model and putting it online. If Yellow Pages had just put their phonebook on a website, it would have just become an online directory.

For instance, imagine a user who’s looking to find somewhere to take a date for dessert and instead of finding the closest ice cream store within walking distance, his search yields only the stores of whomever paid most to advertise. It is of neither value nor relevance in the digital age for a user to receive location information that is not based on that user’s current location.

So what does a company born into the digital world look like? For starters, understanding the new ways users search for and access information meant becoming a mobile-first company. To create a killer app and website, the company merged its IT and marketing departments to discard the old “Line of Business vs. Technical” mentality in order to form cohesive teams under business units.

Next, the company employed a massive ground force to acquire data on local businesses. By using their own employees instead of relying on the merchants or users themselves to acquire fundamental info, YP was able to accumulate a database that continues to be even more reliable and accurate than Yelp’s. This data superiority would eventually lead to Apple Canada’s decision to pursue a partnership with YP as its Canadian local business data supplier.

With the product in place, the company realized that to regain market share, it had to win on two fronts: SEO and performance of its digital media properties, including the flagship destination YP.ca, both of which depended on speed. It became apparent that their main user base were people on the go. In other words, they were people using a smartphone to access their site through a low-bandwidth cellular network.

It was then imperative that the user received an optimal experience interacting with the page – starting with how fast it loaded. This part was the crucial metric to user retention. Visitors who experienced slow load times often never came back to the site, even if it returned as the first search result. Convincing users to come back to the YP site also represented the fundamental stepping stone in getting them to download the app.

Site performance became not just important, but a priority. Initially, YP Canada commissioned a traditional CDN to deliver their site before switching to Instart Logic’s unique application delivery solution. It soon became clear that legacy technology built on a hardware standard simply wasn’t acceptable. Not only could a content delivery network not control what happens to the data packets beyond its edge servers, but it also could not monitor and analyze how they are executed in the browser. The ability to do both allowed YP Canada to iterate based on fast feedback loops, which was crucial to both user acquisition and retention.

For enterprises that operate high-traffic, high-conversion online assets, there simply isn’t an alternative to maintaining control over every part of the user experience. It is a must to staying relevant. In the modern era of short attention spans and even shorter patience, users not only demand but expect high-quality, retina display images and content that is both accurate and customized, all delivered by the time you count to three. If a company only redefines the what and why while neglecting the who, when, and how of their value proposition, they’ll find themselves reinventing themselves into something people won’t use. And wouldn’t that be a shame?

Click here to download the YP Canada Digital Resurrection Case Study

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