Hitwise research director LeeAnn Prescott has released some data showing traffic to local directories employing user generated content (UGC) is growing faster than traditional ‘yellow pages’ (directory) sites.

Although focusing only on the US, the figures show increasing interest from users in sites such as Yahoo! Local, Yelp, Judy’s Book and Insider Pages in the twelve months to August 2006.

While they show growth in traffic to the top 5 yellow pages sites has been relatively flat, the major directories offering UGC have grown by 44%.

“While standard yellow pages sites are receiving significantly more traffic in terms of volume, these newer directory services, with maps, reviews, and community features are quickly catching up,” Prescott writes in her blog.

Prescott presented the data at the recent Search Engine Strategies Local event in Denver, predicting that UGC directories could end up like social networks in local areas – serving the purpose that barbers or hairdressers have in the past.

“In addition, I believe that [they] will make the quality of service improve in many locations, since negative reviews could have such a big impact on a business’ success,” she added.