Remember the Yellow Pages? No, I don't mean YellowPages.com. I mean the actual giant yellow indexed book of businesses. They would plop that bad boy on your front porch once a year -- along with the white pages and the community pages and some neighborhood directory -- and when you needed a plumber or a painter or an escort for the evening, you let your fingers do the walking (ahem).
Recently, I was trying to find the name of a moving company I had used in the past and I got to thinking about the old Yellow Pages and how they had become almost entirely obsolete thanks to the Internet. This is true of quite a few items that used to be in wide use, but are no longer thanks to technology -- hello "car phones" and floppy discs. But what is interesting to me is that Google, in particular, has replaced the Yellow Pages not just in content but in the way we interact with the information.
Descriptions and Keywords over Categories and Indexes
The first search engines were a lot like the Yellow Pages. They indexed things by category. Google shifted all that by allowing people to search by keywords. So, instead of looking for a plumber when that may not be what you need, you search for "water seeping up through my foundation" to get your answers. It represents a fundamental change in how we search for help.
Alphabetical and Numeric Order Minimized
Companies used to purposefully name themselves AAA Plumbing or A-1 Roofing so they could be at the top of the alphabetical list of a particular category. Now, names are based on what works best for a domain name or what is most descriptive. No more battles for first place through the alphabet, just battles for first place through search engine optimization. Maps and Directions Included
Companies previously needed to take out ads to give people directions or the image of a map. Google does that automatically. No more dialing the phone just to find out where someplace is. Just hop on Google Maps and get turn-by-turn directions.
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Phone Numbers Not the Main Thing Being Searched
We all still use the phone a lot to get information, but when searching Google, it is not the most important factor. Now, people want directions and descriptions and detailed information about a business they can get from a web site. And the phone number can be as complicated as you like because, on a phone, you tap to dial instead of having to remember the number.
Maybe the single most important change has been the reviews. There was no way of knowing if a company you called in the Yellow Pages was reputable. Now, with Google (and Yelp and Angie's List and on and on), there are reviews right at your...fingertips.