Opting Out of the Yellow Pages

Last February, I wrote about the dying business model that is printed phone directories. Like Lee before me, I argued for a shift from ‘blanket the country with 30 million phone books a year’ to ‘let people opt in to receive them’.

Today I read on Rebecca’s site that the Yellow Pages Group has finally implemented an opt-out option. They’ve framed it, rather absurdly, as a ‘Custom Delivery Program’:

You can now choose to receive more copies or to be removed from the distribution list. At all times, you can also consult our online directories YellowPages.ca and Canada411.ca. In addition, you can select gadgets and mobile applications to access our Yellow Pagesâ„¢ directory content on the go.

The deadline to opt out of the next delivery is November 19, so if you don’t want the Big Useless Stack of Yellow Paper, get thee to this web page and decline your copy.

I’m not going to fall all over myself giving credit to Yellow Pages Group for this because:

  1. It’s 2009, and they could have easily implemented this five years ago. Heck, they could have done it 25 years ago by including a comment card in the physical directory.
  2. You’re not declining delivery permanently. From their frequently asked questions (PDF): “Your registration is valid for two directory deliveries. After that time, you must register again at http://www.ypg.com/delivery.”
  3. It remains an opt-out system, meaning that waste will be reduced, but it certainly won’t be eliminated.
  4. The Devil and the Details

    I wanted to explore a few of the nuances of how they’ve implemented this program. The home page for this section is interesting in and of itself. There are two text links in the introductory text which are far more visible than the ‘Continue’ button, which is buried unobtrusively in the bottom righthand corner. It’s surprising, but we often see links in text receive higher clickthrough rates than graphical buttons:

    Yellow Pages Opt-Out

    Why are the frequently asked questions presented as a PDF? Is there a more effective way to discourage people from reading them? Additionally, the page doesn’t render correctly on my version of Safari (BroswerShots confirms that it’s not just my machine–note the overlapping text and oddly placed field):

    That’s a bit ironic, if user stereotypes hold true. It seems to me that your average Mac user is far likelier to want to opt out than your average Windows user.

    Lower down on the page, after you’ve entered your details, they offer some alternative apps for your mobile device. I don’t care to marketed to when I’m engaged in a customer service experience, but that’s their prerogative. What I do object to is the explanation-free captcha at the bottom of the page:

    You need to complete this captcha to move to the next step in the opt-out process. To veteran web users, the captcha’s function is obvious and it’s easy to complete. However, I’d guess that many (a majority of?) Canadians have never completed a captcha, and has no idea what to do with one. Yellow Pages Group offers no context or instructions regarding what it’s for or how it works. It thus presents a significant barrier to the opt-out process.

    Why do they need a captcha in the first place? Other forms on their site don’t include captchas. Do they really think they’re going to get a ton of spammers opting into or out of receiving directories? And isn’t it rendered unnecessary by the subsequent email confirmation step?

    Finally, there’s the confirmation step:

    The heading is oddly worded, considering that I have declined, not ordered a delivery. And they’ve included another commercial offer, despite the fact that I was viewing the page with Safari.

    Am I picking on the Yellow Pages? Yes, and I probably shouldn’t, because I want to encourage sustainable behaviour. I’m obviously underwhelmed by this effort, though. In web design and usability, the devil is in the details and the mistakes I’ve outlined are pretty obvious ones.

    This opt-out process seems designed to create barriers between the a site visitor and their desired outcome. Here’s the fundamental question: have they made it as easy as possible to opt-out? I’m afraid the answer is obvious.


  1. Wow, that’s a tedious opt-out process. Many companies in the USA already offer opt-out systems. However, just because they accept out-out requests doesn’t mean they honor them. I’m 2 for 2 so far (three different companies print spam me every year) on receiving books I opted out of a year ago.

  2. I’m not optimistic about this working either. I saw no First Name field in the form, but the confirmation had “First Name: Miller” and “Last Name: Miller.” I wouldn’t be surprised if my deliveries don’t get cancelled because I don’t exactly match what they have in their existing database.

    Plus, I decided I still wanted a white pages, and selected “1” for how many I wanted, since that’s what it was asking. On the confirmation, it told me I was getting 1 additional copy, so I had to go back.

    The page for Facebook/iPhone/BlackBerry/text apps was bizarre too. If I selected any, what would happen? I’m guessing I’d get taken to their various download stores/app confirmation pages, but they give no indication, so I was wary to try.

    And man, a Yellow Pages toolbar for Internet Explorer? Is this 1998?

    Anyway, we’ll see if it works. You’re right, it could have been far, far better.

  3. Who gets a Yellow Pages? When I’ve lived in condos there was always a huge pile of them in the mail room – but certainly not enough for one per condo (although still too many). Is it tied to who has a landline?

    Whilst I agree with many of your comments I was confused about your reference to the FAQ pdf. I’ve used the site and ione click and it appears. Why would this would discourage me?

    1. For lots of users, clicking a PDF has sup-optimal results: they’re prompted to save something to their desktop, they don’t have Adobe Acrobat installed, their MIME-types are all screwed up and so forth.

      Additionally, if you link to a non-web page, it’s a best practice to tell your users what to expect, usually by putting PDF or MP3 in parentheses after the link.

      In short, offering a PDF can be a significant barrier to usage for a lot of people. Anecdotally, I’m far less likely to bother with a PDF link than a regular old link to a web page.

      So that begs the question: why not just put the FAQ on a web page?

  4. I agree that putting PDF in parentheses would be nice to see and the FAQ could be a simple web page.

    I’m not so convinced about it being a significant barrier to usage. It depends what it is. Frequently opening the pdf, either in the browser as I have safari set up or downloading the file, is actually preferable.

  5. I was going to leave a comment about the phone books. But your comment form required me to put in my name and e-mail address. I think many people don’t have a name or e-mail address and thus this is a significant barrier to usage.

    1. On the contrary, I’m pretty sure most people have both a name and an email address. In any case, I’m not making claims to the contrary, or operating a business.

      The Yellow Pages Group news release about this program says “Canadian households can easily customize their directory delivery”. I’m arguing that, in fact, it’s not all that easy to complete the process.

  6. Yellow Pages, Can Pages, Superpages, etc., must try to do a better job – just to slow down the inevitable. Google has put them fully in the online crosshairs this month; tick tock. It’s a wonder to me that they cannot recognize this – is there anyone steering over there?

    I tried to update my business listing on CanPages – it would not recognize the data I input; I’ll try again from Windows… ugh.

    So why does Google consider these companies as trusted sources of local information? Seriously, they border on incompetent.

    …from a (smart ass) usability perspective; Darren, why are so many of your commentors so snarky? Or is that just this post and they’re YP employees?

  7. Darren – thanks for your comments and apologies for the delay. We’ve been a little busy lately launching the new YellowPages.ca and our mobile app for the Palm Pre. I thought you might also be interested to hear that we have recently won a silver waste minimization award from the Recycling Council of Ontario for our ecoGuide.

    In terms of your comments about the Custom Delivery Program, we genuinely appreciate your feedback. As you know, this is our first step at implementing an opt-out option for Canadians (we are the first directory publisher to do so), and as is the case with all of our products, we are always open to suggestions for improvements. In fact, it was user comments that helped us design the program you see today in the first place.

    The choice of using a PDF for our FAQ was merely based on expediency and because we feel PDF is a valid way to append info on a Web page.

    I can assure you that we will take your suggestions, as well as the feedback from users across the country, in to account as we work to improve the system and make it as user-friendly as possible. We encourage other directory publishers to do the same.

  8. I feel yellow pages will be completly dead soon especially if they continue to charge so much to place your website link on their online directory… they think they are dir.yahoo… last I checked it was $300 Australian a year to add your website link to your internet listing. As for their phone books… they should be banned, apart from wasting paper and being door stops they are useless.

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