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Your Print Directory: The History and Future of Getting Found

The vast majority of local business owners say their number one goal is to generate new customers, as shown in our 2016 State of Local Advertising report. This has always been the case. While the platforms and tactics businesses marketers rely on to reach this goal have evolved over time, the bottom line has remained the same: make it as easy as possible for people to find your business when they’re looking for the type of product or service you offer.

These days, one of the best ways for a business to guarantee they’ll be found easily is to appear on page one—or as close as possible to page one—in search engine results for a given topic or search term. That’s why so many small business owners are investing in improving their digital footprint.

But the race to the coveted first page is not a phenomenon that is digitally specific. In fact, it began long before the internet age. The history of getting found begins and ends with the local directory.

This 1993 LA Times article examines a strategy for attracting customers that’s still popular among local business owners today: choosing a front-of-the-alphabet business name to position themselves as close to the front of the phone book as possible.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“Most of the first three pages of the white page listings, about 700 individual entries, are of businesses beginning with the letter A, sometimes two A’s, sometimes six A’s in a row.

Bob Johnson, a listing service product manager for Pacific Bell, said that when companies wage war in the Yellow Pages to be the first listing in each specific category, the cumulative result is pages of A’s in the white pages. Johnson explained the time-tested formula used to determine the critical phone book placement.

‘There is a fairly sophisticated sorting routine,’ he said. ‘When one or more single letters are used at the beginning of a business name, each single letter is considered a separate word. So a single letter of A processes prior to two A’s. So when you have A and A, that would be classified as two single words and would process before AA.’”

This “A Aaaaa Phenomenon,” as the LA Times dubbed it, is still used today as a way for local businesses to cut through the noise and stand out over the competition. Want more customers? You better be the first business on page one.

Why is page one visibility so effective? Well, savvy business owners are well aware that consumers don’t typically bother to flip past the first few pages for a given business category. People are busy. They’re impatient. They go with what they see first.

This behavior isn’t unique to print. People tend to give preference to page one businesses online, too: the top links in a Google search get 72% of all clicks, according to HubSpot.