Articles & News

Is your Yellow Pages ad working for you? – by Carl Burroughs

As each year goes by, more and more dentists are advertising in the Yellow Pages and the size of these ads are getting bigger and bigger. The Yellow Pages suite of products can swallow up most, if not all, of a practice’s marketing budget. However, does it provide a good return on investment and does it attract your desired patient?

There is no doubt that if used correctly, some of the Yellow Pages products can help build certain practices. However, there are a number of issues that are worth considering when deciding IF and WHAT you are going to spend your hard earned dollars on and also what the alternatives are. Some of the limitations include:

Cluttered media- you spend a lot of money to place your ad and where does it end up? Depending on the size if your ad and the alphabetical order if your name, probably right next to hundreds of dentists all competing for your next patient.

High cost- by the time you have a decent sized ad, plus an online presence, telephone find a dentist service and your local guide, you can easily spend in the region of $20,000. At these rates, it takes many patients just to break even.

Fixed media- once you have placed your directory ad, you are stuck with it for 12 months. If you get your message wrong or some piece of information changes, there is absolutely nothing you can do.

Is your ad reaching the right market?- Yellow Pages ads tend to attract emergency patients and telephone shoppers. While these patients can augment your regular clientele, they are not the kind of customer upon which you can build a healthy, growing practice.

Anyway, that is the bad news.

The good news is that used correctly and as part of an overall marketing strategy, the Yellow Pages products can be productive. But it is worth remembering that a Yellow Pages ad is NOT A MARKETING STRATEGY! Too many practices rely solely on yellow Pages and do not try other mediums to build their businesses.

The other good news is that 95% if Yellow Pages ads are weak! Why? Usually because dentists worry more, about how much they are going to spend rather than the ad itself. Far too many businesses let the Yellow Pages do the ad design and layout. Big mistake!

This is the advice you will typically get from a Yellow Pages rep:
- use a big ad
- use a heavy border around your ad
- add colour to it
- use a bigger ad
- Make your name and logo really big, and have a lot of white space in your ad
- Use an even bigger ad
- Give your hours of operation, phone number, address, as well as the MasterCard and Visa logos (if you accept them) and
- Use more than one really, really big ad under multiple listings!

The Yellow Pages companies have no incentive to make your ad work. They only care about how much money they will make from the ad. That is why I always recommend having a professional marketer do the design, or at least do an assessment on the ad. It costs the same to run an ineffective Yellow Pages ad as it does to run a super responsive one. Why not make it a responsive and get your money’s worth?

What is your primary Yellow Pages objective?

It is critical to know what you primary objective of advertising in the Yellow Pages is before you begin to design your ad. I would suggest that your primary objective is to get a potential patient to call you or visit your website, not to sell them anything or get them to walk into the practice. The reason they grabbed the Yellow Pages was to make a phone call. The same principle applies to Yellow Pages online. Your primary objective is to get them to your website, again the reason they are online is that they en joy using this medium and probably want to know more about you, either through your website or by calling you.

Knowing this now, you should design everything in your ad to get them to not only give you a phone call, but to be the first and only one they will call. That is the first step. Once you get the phone call, your primary objective is to qualify them and then to get them into the practice.

When designing your ad, consider this one question…

What is your prospect looking for when they look in the Yellow Pages?

People looking in the Yellow Pages for a dental practice are looking for:
Something that differentiates you from your competitors that match their wants;
An indication of price affordability;
Quality of your service;
Experience and credibility;
An indication of trust and honesty;
Location of office and office hours;
Contact information and
A warm feeling

Potential patients want to know about the quality of your work, your experience and credibility and an indication that they are in safe hands. This information makes a BIG impact on how you will develop your Yellow Pages advertisement.

It is important to remember that people do NOT look in the Yellow Pages to determine whether they should go to a dentist. They have already made that decision; that was phase one of their buying processes. Now they are moving into phase two- the gathering of pertinent information that will help them make their decision.

Differentiating your practice

Totally Teeth Yellow PagePeople who use Yellow Pages ads are looking for something that catches their eye that differentiates you from all the other ‘look alike’ ads in your section. Most ads in a given category say the basic same thing. Why? Well, usually when the deadline to put in the ad is fast approaching, the dentist will often look at what other dentists are doing and create their own, based on what other competitors have done.

Now, who do you think has produced many of the other ads in the first place? Right, the Yellow Pages ad company, probably the same person who is selling you then ad!

People desperately want to pick out something different about your ad that will make them call you. They do not want to shop all day and make a bunch of calls. They want to find a dental practice that advertised the benefits that match their wants and then make an appointment. You must be different! You must design your ad so that it stands out and provides the right information for your potential patient, which forces them to call YOU instead of your competition.

So let’s start designing your ad:

Attention getting headline

All good ads start with a dynamic, attention-getting headline… NOT your company name or logo. I repeat, don’t start your Yellow Pages ad with your company name or logo! Your heading area is the most important real estate in your entire yellow pages ads, don’t blow it by splashing your company name all over it. Remember, people do not care who you are; they are about what you can do for them!

The headline is the lure that instantly communicates your primary advantage over all others. Up to 75% of the impact of your ad is determined by the headline. And a strong benefit-oriented headline can increase the pull of your ad by up to 20 times. You may also want to put a sub headline to support the main headline.

A reason to call you

When your potential patient finds your ad and reads it, they will determine whether or not to call you. Give them a strong reason to pick up the phone and call you. A great reason to call a practice is to receive free, valuable information.

This form of marketing is commonly referred to as Education Based Marketing and is in my opinion, the most effective marketing that a business can engage in. If you do it right, you will have patients running to your doorsteps.

Your first step is to create a report that you think would be valuable from your patient’s point of view. ‘Five things you must know before having your teeth whitening’ or ‘how to get a great new smile in a matter of hours’. Your potential patient desperately needs this information and will want to contact you to get it.

You can ask them to call you directly, go to your website or call you into the practice to pick up the information. This may be the single most effective element of your entire Yellow Pages ad.

Add action pictures

Nothing can turn a mediocre Yellow Pages advert into a great one faster than the right picture. It can be, in some instances, even more of a grabber than the headline. If you decide to include a photo of your ad, ensure that it depicts the benefits of your practice. You want your prospective patient to see themselves receiving the same benefits that they see in the photo.

With that said, do not go overboard with the size of your picture. Remember, the bigger the picture, the smaller the selling space you have to work with. Your photo should support the ad copy and not overpower it. In fact, big pictures attract attention but do little to get your reader to actually call you. The whole reason you want to use a photo is to obtain some kind of emotional response from your reader and to catch their eye.

Customer testimonials

Consider using testimonials, as they are a powerful tool for creating trust and believability. We, as humans, have an internal urge to follow what other people do; we have an internal resistance to venture out on our own and be a guinea pig. If we see someone else do it, then something triggers inside of us and tells us its okay for us to do it too. This is also a great way of attracting the patient you desire and a well-worded testimonial from a certain demographic in society is likely to attract similar people. Certain dental boards do not allow the use of testimonials so check with your advertising agency first.

Be easy to contact

Nothing is worse from a customer’s perspective than not being able to contact you. Include your email address, phone number, address and you might even consider leaving your personal number! What stronger statement can you make about customer service than to give your personal home number? The fact is that most people will not call you. They will respect your privacy and admire you for being courageous enough to include your personal phone number.

Insist on a proof

You can get so many things wrong on a Yellow Pages ad that it would be suicide not to get a proof before it is printed. Do not forget it is a whole 12 months before you can change it again.

Are bigger ads better?

Yes, ad size definitely matters but you can waste a small fortune buying more than you should. All things being equal, a bigger ad does get a getter response. They also get the best placement, which is at the front of the category. Sometimes placement can be even more important than size. The good news is that all things are seldom equal. You ad, which may not be the biggest, or sitting right up front, can be just as effective, or even more effective than a gigantic ad at the front.

The first thing to do is have your rep show you where you would be placed based on the size of the ad you are considering. This should give you a good idea about your relative position. Determine if you can move up a little by making your ad the next size bigger without a big jump in cost or move back a little by reducing your ad size without a significant shift in placement but a reduction in cost.

Tracking the success of your Yellow pages ad

It is easier said than done. Remembering to ask every time the phone rings is hard, even for the most sales orientated of us. The Yellow Pages rep will encourage you to have a dedicated line but unless this already exists, it is just another cost you do not need. You could put a special offer in the ad that the patient has to mention but this can be very cheesy. I think the best way it to have the question’ how did you find out about us’ on the patient health questionnaire and really encourage your team to remember to ask the question. Have a big sign in the staff room ‘where are our patients coming from, don’t forget to ask!’ and mention it at regular staff meetings. This does not just apply to Yellow Pages but all your advertising. In a time where marketing is becoming essential and the cost of running a practice is on the increase this one activity can save and make you thousands of dollars.

Try before you buy

Having already said that Yellow Pages is very flexible, as once the ad is placed you are stuck with it, why not test a range of Yellow Pages style ads in your local newspaper. Suppose you came up with two or three (or more) Yellow Pages ads and tested them individually by running them in the local paper? By carefully tracking three ads, you will immediately find out which ones are more effective and ‘pull’ the best.

Put your best ‘pulling’ ad in the Yellow Pages! If you really get serious about this, you may want to try more than two or three ads in your test. Test different headlines, appeals, rationales, offers etc. Find the combinations that worth the best. This information will be valuable for years to come.


Yellow Pages ads are important to a dental practice, however they present a big risk as well. Make sure that you ad is critiqued by a direct response expert to ensure that it pulls well because once it is placed; you will have to live with it for the next year.

Make sure that it is used as part of a fully developed marketing plan and that a Yellow Pages ad is not the marketing Plan!

Use attention-getting headlines and offer information to entice readers to call you. Use eye-catching pictures sparingly and include your biggest unique benefits. Consider using customer testimonials to build trust and make sure you tell the reader to call you now!

Always remember to get a proof before the ad is placed. Mistake can be deadly. Use the colour if you can afford it, but make it a low priority. Before placing the ad, test it in the newspaper to see how well it pulls and then track its effectiveness throughout the year on a month-to-month basis.

Carl Burroughs helps design Yellow Pages adverts for dental practices as part of overall marketing strategies through his business, Integrated Dental Marketing. He can be contacted on 02 9211 1477 or