How to find a person's phone number

A simple task that was once easy to do has become a challenge that almost everyone struggles to overcome. Finding someone’s phone number seems to become more elusive and arduous every year. The reasons for the frustration reflect the increase in preferences for cell instead of landline phones.

Understanding the Problem

As people learn that cell phones offer all of the services that landlines once performed, including a trackable address for emergency vehicles, they are disconnecting the old devices. The impact on telephone databases is significant, resulting in missing numbers and incomplete listings as the more versatile and convenient cell phones occupy the market.

Businesses contribute to the difficulty of maintaining a complete phone database by discontinuing landline service and switching to a more contemporary way to communicate. Apps like Grasshopper allow businesses to retain existing numbers, and the conveniences include toll-free access for clients. The apps offer multiple extensions, call forwarding, voicemail delivery to email addresses and text messaging without the need to buy any new hardware. Businesses can maintain a brand while enjoying all of the conveniences of an elaborate landline system, and many choose to do so.

Surveying the Facts

Technology offers many ways to search for a phone number, and some can do a good job of it. Most, however, are frustrating, annoying and a waste of time. To find a way to assess the effectiveness of the different search techniques accurately, we decided to poll our users. We have the perfect target market at our fingertips with a group of people who want to find someone’s phone number.

We developed a survey design to contact a sample of thousands of our users in a six-month period. Responses to our questionnaire identified the tools that respondents used for finding someone’s phone number. We requested our survey respondents to include an estimate of the accuracy of the information as well. We did not request them to identify the tool that they used most frequently.

Summarizing the Preferences

The choices that users made to locate a phone number fell into four categories that have unique characteristics.

• Specialized Online Directories

These databases focus on a particular type of information, specifically phone numbers. Specialized online directories support the needs of people who want to limit or target a search but do not choose to use the advanced functions of general search engines.

As a result, the survey tabulations show that users got the results that they were looking for in specialized directories more than in any other type of search. Specialized directories produced a phone number for 72 percent of the searches while traditional phone books provided the next highest rank at 39 percent.

Search Bug

65% Success

Cell Pages

72% Success

National Cell Directory

81% Success

• Traditional Phone Books

By mimicking the database that produces a printed document, traditional phone books provide the same information in an online format.

As the search that came in second in producing a person’s phone number, traditional phone books performed up to expectations. Their focus on maintaining a database of landline telephone numbers provides a higher rate of success than engines that conduct broader searches. Yellow Pages returned a phone number match at only 14 percent, but White Pages achieved a success rate of 41 percent.

White Pages

41% Success

Yellow Pages

14% Success

• Social Media

User accounts, profile pages and account features such as friends, groups and hashtags help social media develop a database of personal information.

At 7 percent, the success rate of finding a person’s phone number through social media was higher than queries to search engines. A potential justification for the ranking is the access that social media has to the personal content that users post online. Many people advertise on social media, and their outreach efforts contribute to the development of contact information that expands the social media database.

Within the category of social media, LinkedIn has the highest success rate. As the largest location for professional networking on the web, the site provides an exchange of contact information for users. It shows up first in search engine results quite often, providing a way to attract new members and to accumulate phone numbers. The data on the professional platform provided a basis for its success rate of 7 percent.

Facebook allows users to register and create personal profiles as well, but the database provided a basis for a success rate of 5 percent. Twitter offers a way for users to exchange short messages, but the survey results show that only 1 percent of queries received a successful search for a person’s phone number.


5% Success


7% Success


1% Success

• Search Engines

Anything on a web page is the target of search engines, and finding a person’s phone number there is unlikely. As a consequence, search engines had the lowest success rate in the quest for a phone number. A search engine may produce a find if the number that it searches for is on a website that it crawled and if it put in an index.

A search engine needs to find a phone number as well as the name of the person who owns it on the indexed web page. Technical restrictions such as this help account for the low success rate of search engines in locating a person’s phone number. Google produced the highest success rate at 96 percent while Bing and Yahoo each produced a match rate of 1 percent.


4% Success


1% Success


1% Success


The web offers four ways to find a person’s phone number, and our survey results give insights into their use and success rate. Specialized online directories focus on developing databases of phone numbers, and searches there are the most productive. Traditional phone book databases that include landline numbers only provide the next most successful search method. The success of finding a person’s phone number on social media relies on the completeness of personal content that users post online. Search engines look only at web pages and produce the lowest success rate in finding a person’s phone number online.

Success Rate of Finding a Person's Phone Number