A recently published study by Media Screen found that more than half of America's homeowners begin their research into home improvement products and services by typing a descriptive phrase into an Internet search engine. Eight out of 10 of those searches use Google. Yet most home improvement companies seem to spend far more on Yellow Pages ads than on Web search engine-sponsored listings — if they spend anything at all.

Sponsored Listings When a homeowner does a search for “replacement windows,” Google delivers the results with a pale blue panel at the top of the screen highlighting several two- to three-line sponsored listings. A column on the right contains more sponsored listings. In the center of the page are the unpaid, “organic” listings. Many of those are for informational, lead-brokering sites that are now, by virtue of their seniority and traffic, entrenched in those high-ranking positions.

Your efforts to optimize your position in the unpaid listings may eventually pay big dividends … but don't hold your breath. While you're waiting for the search engines to discover your site, you should be pursuing an aggressive pay-per-click program that will put you at the top of the search results in the blue box — a program that pays measurable dividends right now.

Yellow Pages vs. Google The Yellow Pages has, in years past, been the place a consumer begins his search for product information. Today, fewer prospects let their fingers do the walking, preferring to let their mouse do it. In a little more than three years, the Google Adwords program has supplanted the Yellow Pages as the leading directional medium. What's more, a Google Adwords pay-per-click program offers some important efficiencies that the Yellow Pages can't match. While you must buy Yellow Pages by municipality — by the book — Google Adwords allows you to buy sponsored positions on all searches originating from computers within a geographic radius from your address or any other point you choose.

Plus, Yellow Pages requires an annual commitment. Google Adwords allows you to test the medium and your message with exquisite precision and no long-term obligation. You can set up an Adwords program before breakfast, measure the results during your coffee break, change the content after lunch, and kill it at teatime.

With the Yellow Pages, you never know just where you'll rank among your competitors. A new client of mine had committed to an increased Yellow Pages buy, confident that his hefty investment would keep him at the front of his category. But when the book came out, he was four pages back and that hefty investment is virtually a write-off. We are now fine-tuning a Google Adwords program that will keep him in the blue box at a price he can afford.

Yellow Pages directories charge you for the chance to get your headline and a few words of copy in front of a prospect. A Google Adwords program charges only when a prospect actually reads your headline and clicks through to see your compelling, information-rich Web site in glorious color, vibrating with flash animation and streaming video.

Where to Start If your media mix hasn't changed during the last three years go to www.google.com and type in the word or phrase that best describes your business. If your message doesn't appear somewhere on the first page, you can assume that as many as a third of the homeowners researching your product will never consider your offering.

Then promise yourself this: you will not speak to another Yellow Pages rep until you have a Google Adwords pay-per-click program in place. —John Stevens is a partner in Peterson Stevens, specializing is brand-building and lead generation for the home improvement industry. He can be reached at 800.270.0911 or www.petersonstevens.com.