For my first Google Whisperer case, I thought I’d look into

I’ll start out each of these by disclosing whether or not I have any relationship or financial interest in the company I review. In the case of, I don’t have any relationship to them nor their parent company Thryv. was owned by SBC and BellSouth (later AT&T) from 2004-2012. I worked for AT&T from 1996 to 1998 but the AT&T I worked for ceased to exist around 2005 when it was acquired by SBC (which took its name).

According to SEMRush’s “Winners and Losers” report, lost about 8% of its SEO keywords and over 55% of its SEO traffic in March 2024. Ouch.

If you’re old like me, you can remember a time before the Internet when the Yellow Pages were THE only way to find businesses. I don’t mean the Yellow Pages Web site, I mean the giant book that was delivered to your door once a year that contained residential addresses in the white pages, business listings and ads in the yellow pages, and a bunch of other interesting information.

What happened to the Yellow Pages is a story we’ve seen in America over and over again, from Pan Am to Blockbuster video to Toys R Us to Woolworth’s to Kodak. A brand known and widely loved by Americans dies because it fails to adapt to changing consumer needs, opening the door for competitors to take their place.

In the case of YellowPages.Com, the domain itself was purchased in 1996 and—as was typical in the days of the dot-com boom—passed through a series of investors until it was sold to SBC (who later purchased and took on the name of AT&T). The new AT&T sold its stake in 2012 to a private equity company, which is usually the kiss of death. The Yellow Pages business was named YP Holdings LLC, merged with Dex Media to form DexUP in 2017, changed its name in 2019 to Thryv Holdings.

On paper, it looks like is doing gangbusters in SEO. Yes, it lost 8% of its keywords this past month, but boy, it looks like in the last year they more than doubled their SEO keywords. That’s great, right?

Not really. That graph shows the keywords that is ranking in the top 100 of Google. Here’s how many keywords it has ranking in the top 10, you know, the search results that people actually see and click on.

This is actually the real tale of the tape for’s SEO traffic.

So what exactly went wrong? The Core Web Vitals for aren’t horrible. They have descriptive Title Tags. They have good structured data. They have an organized URL structure.

So what went wrong?

To answer this question, I pulled up a search for restaurants in my own home town.

On the surface, it looks like a perfectly fine directory page. But anyone who knows anything about restaurants in my town will see a few things right away.

  1. The sponsored ads are for restaurants that are at least a 30 minute drive away. These advertisers are paying for ads which no one will ever click on and worse, most will find annoying.
  2. Going through the organic listings, the first listing Bevanda closed in 2020 because of the COVID lockdown. The second one Laverne closed in 2020 after a fire. The third one Ethos nine years ago. I’ve never even heard of Bruzell’s—and I’ve lived here for 17 years (it turns out they were a long-time institution that closed before I moved in). I kid you not—about 50-75% of the listings were of restaurants that were closed.

Try the same search in your home town, and you’ll very likely find the same or worse.

When I click to an individual business listing, it gets even worse. I see menus, photos, and dated reviews that are copied verbatim from TripAdvisor (which begs the question. why not just go to TripAdvisor?)

When I compare Yellow Pages side to side with Yelp, here’s what I see:

On paper the two pages look pretty much the same. There’s the name of the business, a star rating, the hours, photos, a menu, and reviews.

So what’s the difference?

The answer is obvious to everyone (except perhaps to the executive team at Thryv). Yelp’s focus is on its users, both those who come to the site to find a local business and those who contribute content in the form of reviews and photos.

Who is focusing on? It’s painfully obvious that it’s not their users. The main goal just seems to be keeping Yellow Pages on life support, while marketing to the shrinking population of people who actually remember what Yellow Pages were. They do offer a “free listing”, but it’s obvious that this is just a way for them to generate leads to sell their small business marketing services to. And despite the glowing reviews on sites like the BBB and G2, as with any business the “real” reviews can be found on sites like Reddit.

There’s only one thing I see on that seems to be unique—they tell you how many years the business has been operating. While it’s a useful piece of information, is it enough for me to dump Google Local, Yelp, and TripAdvisor?

When Yellow Pages was a print directory it was the only game in town. They could charge thousands and thousands of dollars for a small square ad in every business category. That’s because there were only a handful of places a small business could advertise, and the Yellow Pages was the first place everyone would look.

The problem with is that there still seems to be that “people are going to come to us anyway” mentality that plagues former monopolies. And it’s true—there is a certain population that still thinks “check the Yellow Pages” when they’re looking for a business. But that population is diminishing fast.

You’ll notice that I didn’t once talk about what most people think of “SEO” as to why their SEO is floundering. Like I said, their technical SEO is mostly fine.

To fix their SEO, Thryv needs to thinks back to what made the Yellow Pages “The Yellow Pages”.

While their slogan “The Real Yellow Pages” is catchy, what I see on their Web site is a far cry from the “Let Your Fingers Do the Walking” experience I remember as a kid.

Remember that there were a LOT of phone book companies trying to compete in those days, but it was the “Yellow Pages” that R.R. Donnelley first published in 1886 that took off and became a fixture in American homes for 133 years. How did it do that?

It was special.

Every year around New Years every family on the block would get a giant phone book dropped on their door. We kept ours on top of our refrigerator, and it became a family tradition to take down the old phone book and replace it with the new one.

Maybe I was a geeky kid, or maybe it was because iPads weren’t invented yet—but I remember I loved to take the phone book down and read it from time to time. I’d be fascinated by interesting facts, maps, and other tidbits I’d find. I’d “explore” different business categories, and look for the most interesting ads. It was an experience.

Today’s isn’t an experience. It just seems like a sad attempt to copy what others have done—and done much better. It’s as if sites like Yelp and Google Local eat the main course, and is happy to pick up their scraps that fall on the floor.

To fix its SEO, needs to reinvent itself, and that means its executives need to stop treating it like a cash cow that’s fast approaching its last moo and invest some of its money into making it a destination again.

Here’s exactly what they need to do:

1. Become a destination again

Most people who stumble on these days do so by accident. And when they see a page that’s a poor imitation of a page on Yelp or Angi, all it does is reinforce that they’re on the wrong site.

What could do to make it a destination? Ultimately, it’s by providing value.

Let’s be real. Thryv is a 800 million dollar company, so it’s not going to compete against Yelp ($2.7B), TripAdvisor ($3.61B), or Google ($1.94T) in building a better online directory.

So what could they do?

They need to stop trying to be all those other companies remember exactly what it was that made the original Yellow Pages indispensable.

  1. Be Accurate
  2. Be Honest
  3. Be Useful
  4. Be Relevant
  5. Be Brief

When you looked up a business in the Yellow Pages print directory, you knew exactly what to expect. You’d find a business that was pretty reliable, local to you, and was actually a business.

When I look at plumbers in my area, I see a bunch of ads for national brands or referral services. When I get to the presumably organic part of the page, I see more referral services and a few local plumbers that are more than a 40 minute drive away.

When I Google it, I see five local plumbers, as well as sites like the BBB, Angie’s List, and HomeAdvisor that do a decent job of vetting their listings.

Is there any question as to why isn’t appearing in SEO?

Someone at who was “doing SEO” decided to change the Title Tag to “Best 30 Plumbers in Town Name. While that’s great, the simple fact is that NONE of the plumbers mentioned in the top 30—or the top 100 for that matter—fit that description. A clever dynamically-generated Title Tag may have worked 20 years ago, but it doesn’t anymore.

What could do to gain back the trust it once had in every household in America?

2. Fix the &$%#@! data (Be Accurate)

When Dad needed to find a business, I observed how he’d take the book down from the refrigerator, flip to a page, call the number, and get someone on the line right away. It was reliable—there wasn’t a single time that he called a number and someone didn’t pick up.

Compare that to YellowPages.Com today. As you saw above, 4 of the first 5 listings for restaurants in my town are closed—one of them for over 20 years. That doesn’t exactly make me want to come back, and if I don’t come back, why would Google?

The reason the original Yellow Pages was so accurate was because it was owned by the phone company, and the phone company knew exactly which business phone lines were in use. The irony is that Thryv has this in their DNA dating back to companies like R.R. Donnelley, Dex, and SuperPages. And yet their sites today are some of the worst maintained ones around.

Accuracy of business listings is a notoriously difficult problem to solve. But it’s not impossible, and you’d think the company that figured it out for 133 years would be able to figure it out.

3. Dance with the one who brought you (Be Useful, Be Brief)

One of the reasons people loved the print Yellow Pages was its convenience. Everyone knew the slogan “Let Your Fingers Do the Walking”. And yet seems to want to compete with the Yelps and TripAdvisors of the world to see who can come up with the longest, most convoluted page for each business.

Believe it or not, I don’t disagree with their decision to syndicate content for their restaurant listings from TripAdvisor.

What I disagree with is their decision to just lazily spit out all of the data they get from TripAdvisor’s data feed, which essentially creates a duplicate version of TripAdvisor. I’m sure at some point some SEO guy told them that they “need more content”, and what better way to get content than to get it from TripAdvisor’s fire hose?

I’ve seen this time and time again. Data feeds (whether you’re talking product feeds, news feeds, or location feeds) aren’t meant to be sucked in and spit out. A smart company will adapt the information in the feed to its specific audience’s needs. In the case of, its audience wants useful information, but it doesn’t necessarily want to read pages and pages of content.

AI represents a huge potential opportunity for a company like Thryv. I asked ChatGPT to summarize a few Yelp reviews and here’s what it came up with.

Note that ChatGPT isn’t entirely accurate (this restaurant is on the Queens-Long Island border, not the Queens-Manhattan border), but that’s where more data and proper quality assurance will help.

If could consistently provide accurate, helpful, and concise summaries like this on every business, would you consider trying them?

4. Hit ’em Where they Ain’t (Be Relevant, Be Useful)

Google, Yelp, and to a certain degree other sites like TripAdvisor and OpenTable have cornered the market on restaurant listings, which are the most common kind of local search. Good for them.

Again, isn’t going to out-Yelp Yelp, out-Angi Angi, or out-Google Google. So what exactly can it do?

What a site like needs to do is, in the words of Willie Keeler, “hit ’em where they ain’t”.

Everyone things like Google and Yelp are the bee’s knees. But they’re far from perfect. A company like that wants to be relevant again needs to be able to understand what these companies aren’t doing well, or not doing at all. Ironically, that’s exactly how these companies took over the dominance that Yellow Pages once had.

Here’s what the Yelps and Googles of the world do terribly:

  • They treat all business the same. That’s because they all copy Amazon’s review model. But the way you choose a nail salon is very different from the way you choose an emergency plumber, and neither of those are the way you choose a restaurant or a dentist.

    A smart company will “go deep”. Instead of treating every industry the same, think about the most important questions that people have when they’re searching in that particular industry.

    Again, someone at had the right idea but they just didn’t follow through with it. For example, if I search for a doctor, I see that there’s a section for “accepted insurance”, a question that most of us have when searching for medical or dental care but which is often difficult to find.

    The problem, of course, is that the information that gives isn’t trustworthy. Someone at should be talking to all the insurance companies or to trusted aggregators like HealthGrades to be able to use their data. Heck, if ever becomes trusted again, they could make deals where they’re getting this data for no cost in exchange for cross-promotion.
  • Their reviews can be aggravatingly annoying. I was once a “Yelp Elite”, but I stopped writing Yelp reviews when I saw so many other “Elites” where taking that moniker a little too seriously. Today, Yelp is overrun with entitled, self-centered brats who seem to revel in destroying small businesses with one-star reviews because one of their employees looked at them the wrong way or writing books on their experiences buying a slice of pizza (I know, I was one of the latter).

    Again, an aggregator like could position itself as the “reviewer of reviewers”, finding ways to identify genuine, honest, transparent reviews from other sources and summarizing them in a way that helps their specific audience.

5. Be helpful

Perhaps the saddest things I see about is that they have a lot of good ideas, but they’re just executed horrifically.

I mentioned how they provide useful information like years in service and BBB rating but it’s all buried under a load of “content for content’s sake”.

I see that they have a “question and answer” feature, but it’s just an open, unmoderated feature that allows anyone to ask a question or give an answer about anything (“what are the side effects of painkillers”, “Does Aspen Dental Take United Healthcare”, “cost of root canal”).

The problem, again, is that they’re trying to be another Quora and expect people to just give them free content out of the goodness of their hearts.

If they really wanted to design this feature properly, they’d do a few things differently. They’d do the research and seed this feature with the most common questions that people have when looking for a small business and moderate answers. They’d do this industry by industry (what specific questions do people ask roofers? HVAC contractors? Plumbers?). And they’d properly incentivize their own customers to provide the best content.

I always marvel at executives who don’t understand why they spend thousands or even millions of dollars to build platforms to collect user generated content and then scratch their heads when no one uses it.

Smart companies know that there is always a value exchange with UGC. Why do people spend hours writing reviews on sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google?

It’s because they get value in return. No, they don’t get money. But they do get a dopamine hit every time they see that someone has “liked” their review or “followed” their account. And every one of these companies takes time and effort to cultivate and reward their top contributors. When I was a Yelp Elite I’d be invited to events and get Yelp tchotchkes in the mail. When I was a top Amazon reviewer I’d get companies sending me stuff begging me to review them.

Instead of developing product features in a vacuum, Thryv needs to be asking with every product they develop: what genuine benefit does this bring my customers? In the case of Thryv’s small business clients, they should be incentivizing them in every way possible to provide the most expert, objective answers they can. One incentive might be more visibility and reach by featuring these Q&As on their main category landing pages. Another incentive might be facilitating business owners to feature their own Q&As on their own Web sites (the value would provide would be identifying what questions in each industry lead to the highest conversions).

I could go on, but clearly what they have today isn’t working.

6. Remember what it means that the customer comes first

Reading Thryv reviews on BBB and TrustPilot, it’s clear that their business model is to employ an aggressive sales team to sign up small business and then get them on a monthly fee, hoping beyond hope that these small businesses just pay and don’t realize that they could get a lot of Thryv’s “services” themselves.

Every now and again Thryv gets a rave review, and it’s usually to call out a customer service agent who went above and beyond. It’s these customer service reps that are keeping this company alive.

Sadly, you can bet that the executives are probably trying to figure out how they can eventually save costs by sending all their calls to India. These executives should be doing the opposite. They should be reaching out to every customer service rep that gets a rave review and begging them to tell them what they did. They should be building that into their product. And they should be giving these reps a big raise.

7. Stop focusing on as a lead generation machine and start focusing on it as “The Real Yellow Pages”.

This is the most important advice I have for a company like Thryv, and the advice I know they will ignore.

It’s clear that Thryv views YP as a cash cow to dangle in front of their customers. Which would be smart—assuming that YP was a true destination and not merely a site that’s running on the vapors of a brand that’s been dead for decades.

If they want to be “The Real Yellow Pages” they’d make their site a destination again, be realistic about what they can and can’t do, and be helpful and useful to both small businesses and their customers again.

That was fun. Now what does all of that have to do with SEO?


SEO is about engagement. Google ranks sites that it knows is solving its users’ search intent. If they see a site which people click to and then immediately bounce from to look for an alternative (“pogo sticking”) they know they’re wasting their users’ time by ranking that site. is an example of a site that Google is ranking almost solely due to its past authority. Unless they fix some of the user experience issues and make their site useful, their decline in SEO will continue.

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