Saturday, February 14, 2009

Online Directories - Necessary Evil or Just Evil?

We've had another doctor join the practice this month. As a result I've been scrambling to update all the web copy and in particular online directories in which OGCG is listed. Here is my critique of the online directory business in general (or perhaps more of a rant):
  1. Directories that don't provide you with a method of updating  - what's with that? You can submit your details for free through a web form but if they change it involves lengthy correspondence or worse - forces you to pay. There are some very well known culprits here. Those who use your directory are just going to have to live with inaccurate details and your credibility will suffer. I did try.

  2. Free directories that require a reciprocal link - sounds innocuous but they often get more out of the deal than you do. Why do they ask for a link from your website back to theirs? So their PageRank goes up so they can say their directory is more value and charge people for premium listings (see point 4 below)! Hey, sometimes your entry on their directory will list higher than your website. Now that is irritating - you've just pushed your website further down the search results!

  3. Claiming large number of visitors/users that don't ever end up visiting your site. I wonder how many of those hits are really the website owners themselves checking their own listing is still there. If your listed on an online directory but nobody sees it are you really there? If you haven't heard of the online directory before chances are no one else has either. Are potential visitors really using that directory as their speed dial to the Internet?

  4. Charging for premium listing - most online directories bring negligible traffic. Yes, you heard it correctly! Looking over the logs for the last eight months I can say that the best performing directory, the veritable YellowPages, brought in one visitor every 2 days to the website.  There is a list of shame that brought in less than one visitor a month. It consists of most directories (only 3 escaped). How can a business keep charging for listings and expect people to pay: good sales pitches, naivety of buyers and very few people are willing to talk about how they were hoodwinked. Perhaps people just don't check. However, with an online directory you can check and really should.

  5. Listing increases your PageRank so don't worry about the lack of traffic - this is an argument I often see advanced by people in the marketing industry. But hang on, even if the directory has a high PageRank (eg one of 5), the page on which your Johny-come-lately site is listed is likely to be way back in the pack, indeed I'm willing to bet it is on a page with a PageRank of 0. So it will pass you a big fat PageRank of 0.

  6. Low barriers to entry - like many markets with low barriers to entry you have a proliferation of options. I suspect somewhere out there there is software you can buy for about $1,000 (or perhaps a pirate or shareware program) that allows you to instantly set up a directory business online and if it is automated then all you do is set it up and let it run. Soon all the bunnies will be sending you cheques to be included. Be very wary before paying someone to list you in directories or buying a piece of software that does it for you. 

So before you go and spend a whole lot of time listing on directories or pay someone to list your site on 100, 650 or 1,700 High Ranking directories think about whether you really want to lend credence to a scam. The return on investment from most directories is non existent. Search engines won the battle for the hearts and minds of Internet users and directories lost. The traffic figures prove it.

It may be my hard-nosed attitude to benefits outweighing the costs is holding me back from directory success. If you have had a good experience with a directory feel free to point it out below. 

PS. Welcome to the practice Dr Natalia Khomko and apologies about the slovenly update of your details. Sometimes the web does not live up to its promise of instant gratification but no one is really using them anyway so don't worry.

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  1. Here's an interesting comparison of some major online directories catering to Australian businesses as well as a relative new comer to the online directory game - ClickFind.

    Clickfind doesn't have free listings and only have about 4,000 businesses signed up so I'm not about to waste money on them. Mind you 4,000 * $20/m per business is nearly $1m. A nice littler earner for someone!

  2. Hi Ben,

    I disagree with your comments about online directories.

    There are thousands of tiny little companies out there who do not stand a chance of being returned in Google.

    Online directories allow these small businesses to gain a slice of the Google pie and thus a presence in the webisphere.

    My uncle has a small business. I am fortunate enough to understand seo and indeed his website goes very well in organic search results.

    We gave adwords a go and it pulls in some traffic, however the bounce rate is pretty high for the investment, I reluctantly continue with a small budget for adwords each month.

    We fire out the business on Facebook and Twitter, we have some followers and this is also another online strategy that is slowly growing for us.

    Now our best investment other than the seo I have applied to the website is:
    I list his site in some niche online directories and pay for the pleasure, we receive very good leads; the investment has paid off and I will double our spend this financial year.

    Of course these business directories are not going to beat Google for traffic to a site with good seo, however for qualified leads they are doing really really well.

    I feel that directories do have a place. Niche directories - defo and the larger A-Z's - again if you are a small business, they allow non web savvy business people to get found, plus being able to add free content like Hotfrog does - you can post articles and hey presto Google picks them up.

    For some Google searches for keywords relevant to my uncles' business. His own site sometimes has 2 results in Google as does his content on the online directories, thus he dominates Google's search results, receives better branding and online visibility.

    I thought I would share this with you. fyi


  3. Glen, you are right it is all about return on investment.

    All, do you get a good return on investment out of niche directories? No doubt for some you do and others you do not. Like us - we have 2 or 3 good directories and the rest are indifferent or non deliverers. Sadly, for us Hotfrog has not delivered visitors - 2 visitors in a period of over a year.

    The sad thing about directories in general is that you don't know what your ROI will be before you spend your money. Once you have you are often disappointed - but a bit wiser (and poorer)!

    Everyone, feel free to share which directories work for you and which haven't. Some real numbers would be useful guys.

    If you don't have a website then perhaps you want to use a directory as your primary web presence but I think that is a very short sighted strategy if you are serious about engaging online. Any content you post on your website should be indexed by Google quickly if you have a decent website.

    If you like to crowd out the entries in Google results with all your entries in other directories feel free to try. Unfortunately sometimes these entries will rate above your primary website URL which just introduces another step between you and your end customer.