Can Yell turn online around with self-serve marketing? and Yellow Pages operator Yell Group is acquiring UK point-and-click website builder Moonfruit, as it tries to salvage even digital classifieds that are in reverse.

Over five million sites, including 230,000 e-tail stores, have been created using Moonfruit since its 2000 launch, according to the buyer.

Yell is a tortured soul. Its classical print directory business, of course, goes on losing advertisers to the internet. But even Yell’s online directories like and Yellowbook lost 15.7 percent of their ad sales during Q4, compared with the prior year, Yell reported in February.

A turnaround plan Yell unveiled last summer charges it with building out “the first local emarketplace platform for consumers and small and medium enterprises to connect and transact locally”, including loyalty programmes, payment services and business operations.

It aims to flip its revenue make-up to be digital-led by 2015, with digital product development all funded from cash. And it sets out to simplify on a self-service ad sales model, and to cut £100 million in costs over 2012 and 2013.

To do it, UK-based Yell has gone global and looked outside for leaadership. MSN executive producer Scott Moore became Yell Group’s chief digital officer in October, with the group opening new offices in Seattle, a month after Yell announced a new partnership with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Advertising. In January, it hired as chief strategy officer the consultant who helped it pen that strategy at Booz & Co.

Yell now hopes customers will pay to make marketing and ecommerce web stores, if not for old-fashioned rudimentary business listings, which search sites have gobbled up.

It already built 337,000 customer websites last year. But it says buying Moonfruit’s self-service platform will give it “future cost efficiencies and enhanced capability in areas such as website construction, proofing and editing”.

Moonfruit had taken $2.25 million from investment bank Stephens to go international in 2010. Now Yell will help it further realise that ambition.