Are Online Directories Still Relevant to Your SEO Strategy?

About 20 years ago, as the Internet was really taking off, businesses flocked to the idea of having a website. And as more and more businesses got on board, the Internet got crowded – fast.  There became a desperate need for a way to catalog all of the information that was being published at breakneck speed. Search engines worked fine, but they weren’t great. They weren’t robust enough, and websites weren’t detailed enough. Things were still in their infancy. Enter the online business directory.

The Dawn of Online Directories

Online business directories exploded soon after the Internet exploded. Based on a print business model, online directories aimed to bring some sort of organization to all of the madness that was taking place online. There were directories for all sorts of industries and services, such as general goods and services (Yellow Pages), restaurants (Urban Spoon), films and television (IMDb), gardening (Garden Places), construction (Construction Canada), forestry (Forestry Industry Network), etc. You name it, there was an online directory created for it, and there was a great need for it.

Online Directories Examples

Print directories were where people used to look for things they wanted, and the digital versions were just the natural progression of things. A search engine pulled up the directory, and in you went, searching for a local business, or some actor’s name.

For a while, these sites were helpful, and the more crowded they got, the better it was for the end users, who were presented with more and more selection, and more and more information to sift through. Soon after these directories got going, businesses had the option of getting premium listings; they could pay to be put above the competition, to have their logo bigger, and have more ways to tell the world what they did. But it came at a cost.

Today’s Relevance

These sites still exist today, and, while one could argue they are no longer useful (hello, Google), online directories still serve a purpose – they do hold weight in today’s online marketing strategies. For example, they are handy for businesses that, for whatever reason, do not have a website. Instead of going the whole free social media route, small businesses can opt for premium business listings in an online business directory, and at the very least have their phone number and physical location documented somewhere on the Internet.

Free or Paid Listings?

Here’s where things get tricky. While online directories all offer a free listing option, most will try and sell you more – usually in the form of tiered packages available for a monthly fee. For example, $25 might get you a listing with a logo and a website link, whereas $50 might get you further up in their directory, and even more $$$ will guarantee you visibility in the top half of their search results page. This is where problems arise.

Directories make their profit by selling in bulk, so if they have multiple companies in the same industry all vying for the top spot, they end up profiting just by having two or more clients in competition with one another in a bidding war to the top.

Our professional recommendation here is to go with a free, basic listing when it comes to online business directories. Why? Paid listings don’t get you more than a free listing would for the very simple fact that, other than a few exceptions, the majority of people are no longer using directories as their primary source of information.

The Sales Speak

A good salesperson for an online directory service might try and sell you on the following ideas:

“Having a paid listing on our site will improve your rank on Google.”

Reality: Having your website link on a directory will not be helping you since it’s not a direct link to your website. It’s the name of the directory that will pop up first, and if your potential customers were to click on that, they will likely be led straight to your competitors. This website redirect from the directory is of low to no value.

“We get more traffic than Google!”

Reality: Google receives 6 billion visitors per day, outranking any online directory out there, or search engine for that matter.

“Your business will not be found if you do not have a paid listing on our directory.”

Reality: Not true. Many businesses are found via Google all the time who do not have paid or even free directory listings. How often do you jump on the computer to visit a directory? Your first stop is to ‘Google’ it. If you do not have a paid listing, are you really missing out here?

So, What Changed?

Google is always striving to make things easier and more convenient for its users. One thing we love is having the ability to just Google any business on our mobile device, and then tap the screen once and lo and behold we are talking with that business a second later. It’s easy! There’s no need to spend time going into a subsequent directory listing to find the phone number anymore.

That being said, as search engines got stronger, online directories became weaker as a result. Even though recent Google updates have shot a few directory sites to the top of its rankings for many searches, this doesn’t mean you should pay the online directory more. Just having your name, website URL and contact details posted is plenty.

Should You Cancel Your Listings?

Having your NAP (name, address and phone number) listed consistently across the Internet as a whole is important for SEO and ranking. You can achieve this with basic, free listings, though. Paid listings are becoming a thing of the past, and many people who offer them know it, and try and rope new clients in on a hefty contract that’s tough to break. If you’re already invested in paid directory listings, ask your sales rep some pertinent questions before renewing:

  • How much money am I spending and what exactly is it being spent on?
  • How many new customers of mine were the result of the directory’s online services I purchased?
  • What has my ROI been for the last 12 months? Six months? One month?
  • Do I have access to the AdWords or Analytics dashboard? Google My Business? Webmaster Tools?
  • Is Pay Per Click (PPC) included? If so, what is the cost per click I’m paying? What does the ad actually look like?
  • What is the landing page for my ads? What does the landing page look like for these ads? Are the keywords optimized on that page?
  • Is there anything in place to help convert my site visitors into customers?

If you can’t figure out your ROI from your paid listing spend when your contract is up for renewal, don’t renew. Again, we believe free listings are sufficient on these types of directory platforms.

When Free Listings Are Not Enough

Now that search engines are so powerful, business owners are changing their goals. They now want to be seen not first in an online directory, but first on the biggest search engine around: Google.

Getting there is a daunting task for many, but help is available everywhere you look, from large corporations who are still grasping at the old model and frantically teaching themselves new SEO tricks, to smaller, boutique companies who have been living and breathing SEO since it first became a thing.

Online Directories - Are they still relevant to your SEO strategyWarning Signs You’re Working With the WRONG Online Marketing Agency

  • Face-to-face meetings are often limited to contract renewals and sales pitches for upgrades.
  • You’ll most likely have to upload or email in your information to someone you’ve never met.
  • Your account will probably be assigned to either a new SEM/SEO rep or to a rep who’s also managing 50 other accounts.
  • Your Google AdWords campaigns will mainly be automated with regards to campaign structure, ad groups, bidding etc.
  • Very minimal work will go into your AdWords campaigns resulting in common mistakes such as directing all ads to your home page (instead of creating/optimizing custom landing pages directly on your own website).
  • You cannot keep your existing and built campaigns if you end your contract.
  • You do not own the assets they create on your behalf.
  • You do not have access to Google AdWords or Google Analytics.

Signs You’re Working with the RIGHT Online Marketing Agency

  • You will not experience any rushed sales pitches or frequent upselling.
  • You have the choice of meeting face to face, through collaborative online meetings, on the phone or via email
  • The people you meet and discuss your online marketing goals with are the same people who will be doing the actual work.
  • You will be frequently updated on your site’s rankings and AdWords campaign results which will be continually adjusted and optimized.
  • You’ll learn about the research, testing and conversion strategies that we implement such as optimized landing pages and CTAs (Calls to Action) on your site.
  • You will own all marketing collateral if you decide to end the contract.
  • You will have access to your Google AdWords and Google Analytics accounts.

Take-Away Message

Consumers today are much more intelligent and aware than ever before. This makes the conversion of a site visitor or lead into a paying customer a more delicate process. Consumers don’t want to waste money or time and as such they need an easy to follow and simple path to become your next lead or customer. If a path is too complicated, the consumer will go with your competitor instead.

Unless you don’t yet have a website, we say skip the paid listings on second-rate online directories and focus your marketing budget on bettering the content of your website, or building one from the ground up.

Where to Invest Time and Energy

When you’re ready to address your SEO strategy and decide where you should invest your marketing dollars, it’s important to sign on with a company big enough to offer all of the services your business needs but small enough to provide you with personalized service and support.  Ideally, you want to work with a company who gets to know you and your business and who genuinely want to see your business grow. Whoever you choose, make sure they provide quantifiable results!