The term yellow pages is used to refer to the business section of a telephone directory, which is conventionally separated from the residential section in large cities. The separation of business and residential listings in a telephone directory appears to have originated in the United States, which began using and referring to the yellow pages in the early part of the twentieth century. Since then, the concept has spread to other nations, including those which do not speak English, and in some countries it is a branded term, rather than a generic one.
The idea of an alphabetized telephone directory which covered a certain geographical region also originated in the United States, in Connecticut in 1878. Along with names and phone numbers, the directory typically included the address of the telephone subscriber, along with his or her profession. Less than twenty years later, most telephone directories were separated into business and residential listings, allowing consumers to look up businesses by name or type, and the separation began to be indicated with pages printed on yellow paper, rather than the white typically used for residential listings.
Originally, the yellow pages took the form that the white pages do, a series of alphabetically arranged listings in an easy to read, uniformly sized typeface. However, directory publishers quickly realized the advertising potential, and most modern yellow pages offer advertising opportunities. Businesses can increase or bold the typeface used for their company, as well as buying ads within the yellow pages section to attract the eye of consumers. Many telephone directories also allow ads or text in color to further draw the eye.
Generally, the yellow pages of a phone book are distributed free to all telephone subscribers within the area, including those with unlisted, private, or ex-directory phone numbers. To look something up in the yellow pages, the consumer typically searches by business type. For example, if someone needs new glasses, he or she would look up “optometrists” in the yellow pages. In some cases, the yellow pages also includes an alphabetical listing of all of the businesses in the area, so that a consumer can look up a specific business.
The term has also jumped to the Internet, in the form of online yellow pages, business directory websites which allow people to find listed businesses all over the nation. A number of sites provide online yellow pages, usually networking with several phone companies and allowing businesses to place advertisements and provide more information about themselves, including a web address.