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December 2, 2013

How Big Data Keeps Yellow Pages Group in the Black

Alex Woodie

Whether you’re looking for a plumber in Halifax or a Greek restaurant in Montreal, your search will likely touch upon the vast content holdings of Yellow Pages Group of Canada, the largest digital advertiser in the country. Thanks to a sophisticated network of data management and analytic tools, the company is able to keep its business on top of changing consumer trends.

To anybody over the age of 30, the name “Yellow Pages” conjures images of massive phone books sitting next to corded phones in kitchens and studies everywhere. Yellow Pages Group–the company that has exclusive rights to the Yellow Pages name in Canada–does a fair bit of paper-based publishing. But the Montreal-based company is moving swiftly into the digital realm, which today accounts for about 40 percent of its roughly $1 billion (CD) in annual revenue.

The company’s business model uses a mix of old school locality and new school technology to help it deliver hot leads from 35 million Canadians and visitors to its 300,000 paying customers. YPG employs 1,000 consultants whose job is to help that technology-challenged plumber in Halifax create a multi-channel marketing strategy that boosts demand-generation with a blend search engine optimization, social media placement, and printed ads in the phonebook.

“Our business model is about local advertising,” says André Boisvert, chief architect at Yellow Pages Group. “We have the content about all businesses in Canada, 1.6 million approximately. So if you’re trying to find a plumber near your home, you’re going to come to us, directly or indirectly. Resistance is futile!”

Content is king to YPG, and managing and leveraging that digital asset is critical to the company’s success. Whether a consumer comes directly to the company’s website at, goes through Google or Yahoo (both of which license YPG’s content), or through a targeted site like TripAdvsior (which also has an agreement in place), it’s likely that YPG is playing a role in connecting that Canadian consumer or visitor with the products or services she wants.

Keeping such a big, data-driven infrastructure running and adapted to evolving technologies is no easy task, explains Boisvert. “That’s one of our challenges–to put in place the right techniques and people and technologies to get the most accurate, up to date, and rich information,” he says.

The company keeps the content flowing using a combination of operational and data analytic tools from a variety of vendors. Overseeing the golden record of information about Canadian businesses is the Master Data Management (MDM) tool from TIBCO. Once the data has been primped and cleaned, it’s sent to a content management system that YBG developed internally to project the information to the various properties, such as to the, through its mobile app, or through APIs that it makes available to allow third parties to search its database.

YPG’s business intelligence tool application is based on the WebFocus product from Information Builders running atop a column-oriented database from InfoBright. Search technology is provided through the Apache Solr project.

YPG relentlessly tracks each page view and each click-through on behalf of its customers, and it uses the analytics tool to help its customers gauge the effectiveness of their advertising purchases. “Analytics is central to our strategy,” Boisvert tells Datanami. “The whole thing about digital advertising is proving the value. People know that it should work. But then they say, ‘Please prove it to me?'”

YPG is also working with IBM to streamline its Web and mobile properties. According to an IBM Canada video, Big Blue helped YPG improve its click through rates by more than 22 percent, which made YPG’s clients happy. It’s also using IBM Smarter Analytics technology to improve Web searches, and to decrease null result searches by 15 percent. Considering that one third of all Canadians visit at least once per month, on average, that level of optimization is worth a lot to YPG.

TIBCO is currently expanding its footprint within YPG beyond the MDM product. In the past year, the company expanded its licenses to include six TIBCO products. It has already deployed TIBCO’s core enterprise service bus (ESB) technology to integrate applications, and is using business process management (BPM) with its digital fulfillment processes. The company has also started using the Spotfire visualization tool to identify bottlenecks in the system, and is using Tibr for an internal social media project.

YPG has some interesting plans to use TIBCO’s Complex Event Processing (CEP) with the part of its business focused on generating discounts for consumers, something a bit like the Groupon model. The plan is to combine a deeper analysis of consumer behavior with the real-time capabilities of CEP to serve more relevant and targeted offers.

“At the end of the day we have multiple platforms, and with CEP we’ll be able to capture in real time all the events coming from these platforms, aggregate them, and identify patterns in order to provide them proper content,” Boisvert says. “So as we learn about what our consumers are doing on our properties or other properties, we’ll be better able to profile those consumers and therefore providing them with more relevant content.”

Keeping YPG’s content delivery platform compatible with the latest consumer technologies and trends is a non-stop task, and a core component of the company’s goal to retain the title as Canada’s biggest digital advertising company. Consumers know that YPG is the place to go to find services, and companies know YPG is the place to go when you want to reach consumers. Sitting, happily, in the middle is YPG, using its data to play digital matchmaker for consumers and brands.

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