When you were younger, did you have a heavy, thick, white, or yellow paged book in your house? For those who were born in the 90s and early 2000s, there’s a strong chance you did.

They were called telephone directories – also known as a telephone book or telephone address book – which included contact information on people and businesses in your local area.

Once upon a time, they were incredibly popular and were present in almost all households. The widespread use of these phone books is what popularised the well-known slogan “Let your fingers do the walking”.

You don’t often see physical copies of these books in houses anymore, but do they still exist online? That’s what we’ll answer in this article. We’ll also explain what they are, what information they include, and how they can be used.

Yes, there are numerous online telephone directories to choose from. Perhaps the most popular ones are The Phone Book by BT and Yell.com – formerly the Yellow Pages book.

Both The Phone Book and Yell allow you to search for people and businesses in any area or city in the UK. Although their popularity has decreased over the last 20 years, some demographics still use them.

A telephone directory lists people, businesses, and their telephone numbers for a given region in the UK.

The first ever telephone directory was published in the United States of America in 1878. Since then, their use grew exponentially to the point where they were the primary source of information regarding addresses and phone numbers for businesses and people.

There were two types of telephone print directories – white pages and yellow pages. As their names suggest, white and yellow pages were called this due to the colour of their paper.

White pages typically outlined listings for non-commercial purposes, such as people, their residences, and even their phone number. People would subscribe to have their details listed in the directory, where they were published in alphabetical order.

On the other hand, yellow pages were referred to as a ‘business directory’. Instead of alphabetical order, businesses were categorised based on their field, such as ‘Plumbers’, ‘Dentists’, and ‘Barbers’. They had their street address, telephone number, services provided, and other related details printed in the directory.

These listings were almost always published as a form of paid advertising, with businesses spending vast amounts of money to have a larger spread or to be first in their respective category.

The key information that a telephone directory holds is a person's or business's phone number and the address they are registered at. This makes finding and contacting people or a company incredibly easy.

Since businesses and people can be found in a telephone book, they are often used for marketing purposes. Granted, these days, you may find more success advertising on search engines or social media platforms, but directories can still be a handy marketing channel for businesses. Therefore, you can often find additional information there, such as the company’s services, pricing structures, and a link to their website.

You can also use a telephone directory to find an area dial code. For instance, suppose you wanted to find the dialling code for Manchester. You can search this up using a directory. Alternatively, you can reverse search the dialling code to find where the number originates from. This also applies to international country codes.

Telephone books also include all contact numbers for emergency services, such as the police, fire brigade, ambulance, etc. Although it’s recommended to have these numbers saved on your phone or memorised at all times, they can be found in a telephone directory if needed.

With physical telephone directories, you had to go to a specific category or sift through thousands of names in alphabetical order to find what you were looking for. But online telephone directories are much more to the point than their physical alternatives due to their search tool.

Searching for a business

If you’re looking for details on a business, there are two ways you can find them. Firstly, you can enter the category and location into the search bar. For instance, if you need to find a florist, you can type ‘Florist’ into the search term and enter a location. You can specify a region, county, city, neighbourhood, or even postcode to find a florist closest to you.

Alternatively, if you know the business name, you can type it into the search bar along with the city they are based in. This will showcase all subscribed companies that match your search terms and can significantly help you narrow down your search results.

Once you have found the right business, simply click on their name to open up all details related to their company.

Suppose you are searching for a potential business to carry out some work for you. In that case, Yell also has a 5-star review system where you can read other people’s experiences with them. This can help you evaluate whether the company would be the right choice for you.

Searching for a person

If you’re looking for a person, you have many more options to search with.

The most straightforward option is to search by name and enter their location. If you happen to know their neighbourhood or postcode, you’ll be able to pinpoint the right person much faster. However, you can still narrow your search results by city or region if you don’t have this information available.

You can also do a reverse search. A reverse search is when you use a person’s contact details to find their name. For instance, if you know someone’s phone number but do not know their name or address, you can try a reverse search by entering their number into the search tool.

Alternatively, if you know their address but do not know their name or number, you can use a reverse search to find them.

You may find that not every person or business is in an online phone book. This is because to be featured there, you have to contact each directory and ask to ‘opt in’. Opting in means that you give permission for the directory provider to include your details in their phone book.

Whilst this is more common for businesses to do, many people do not want their address and contact details included in an online directory. Therefore, finding a specific person through these platforms can be much more challenging than before.

Since the late 90s early 2000s, the use of physical telephone directories has drastically diminished. The cause of this is the internet. As such, many telephone directories, such as Yell, have gone online. BT’s The Phone Book still issues physical copies, but they are sent out on request.

Even though these directories are now online, the number of website visitors is significantly lower due to search engines such as Google.

Google searches have allowed businesses to advertise themselves at a much larger scale. The result is that many companies tend not to post on telephone directories in general. Instead, they focus their marketing efforts on search engine optimisation and social media platforms since they tend to reach a greater audience.

You probably notice it yourself; it’s much easier to simply Google’ accountants near me’ instead of finding an accountant through a telephone directory. In fact, many kids, teenagers, and young adults don’t even know what a telephone directory is.

Although they aren’t as popular as they once were, some people still use them, which is why you can still find listings in a telephone book.