Will Microsoft Acquire a Directories Giant?

[UPDATED: Some disagreement in the comments over my use of a Compete chart below, so I’ve added data from ComScore].

Shares of U.K.-based Yell Group are up on rumors Microsoft has approached the directories publisher about a possible sale. The acquisition, if it came to fruition, would be Microsoft’s first merger in the local business and residential look-up arena, and could be interpreted as a play for search share. For instance, Yell’s online properties — including Yell.com in the U.K., YellowBook.com in the U.S., and PaginasAmarillas.es in Spain — could carry Microsoft Maps and local listings, along with geo-targeted advertising. And Yell’s sales force could upsell local marketers on Microsoft’s other channels.

Even so, YellowBook.com is hardly the leader in the space, particularly in the U.S.

According to ComScore, YellowBook.com’s April traffic pales next to category leaders YellowPages.com (AT&T) and SuperPages.com (Idearc). SuperPages.com is the dominant online yellow pages player with over 30 million unique. However YellowBook.com boasts the highest growth rate, having bean-stalked 156 percent since April 2007 to over 14 million U.S. uniques.

And here’s Compete’s traffic comparison, which mainly goes to show how utterly hopeless an endeavor independent traffic verification still is.

What a sale to Microsoft would mean for Yell’s working environment may be a point of some nervousness for the company’s staff. The firm was just awarded a ninth place ranking on the Financial Times’ list of the U.K.’s best workplaces.

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