Directory listings are a great resource for bringing targeted traffic (visitors most likely to convert) to your Web site. As small business owners, we sometimes find it difficult to decide what the criteria should be for evaluating directories and determining if they're worth investing in. The difficulty lies in finding, and recognizing, the quality directories.
This article will give you the basic framework for finding and evaluating online directory opportunities on your own. Think of a directory as portal that should funnel traffic into your Web site. Not only do they provide information and links, they broaden the reach of your Web site to a larger segment of traffic. Generally speaking, the best directories focus on a niche or segment of information and funnel that down to sub-categories within that niche.
Finding Credible Directories
Finding directories that are guaranteed to bring traffic can be a daunting task – where do you start and how do you know a directory is a "good" neighborhood to be in? There are a few simple steps that can start you down the path to a great online directory presence.
- Search for your best keyword phrases in Google, Yahoo, or MSN. If you have the time, do all three of these. Make note of the directories that come up on the first two pages. Chances are, these sites are valuable resources where you should submit your Web site for a listing.
- Search for your product plus the word "directories." For example, if you sell red widgets search for "red widget directories."
- Use Yahoo Site Explorer to see where your online competition is listed. Simply enter your competitor's Web site URL, and click on the "inlinks” link. This will tell you what directories and other resources your competition uses to drive traffic.
Evaluating Directory Listings
Now that you’ve made a list of possibilities – it's time to pare that list down to directories that will drive traffic and give you the best value for your dollar. You likely don’t have a lot of time to spend emailing back and forth asking questions and trying to negotiate the best listing for the money. Evaluate what each opportunity has to offer. Here are some tips that will help take the mystery out of online directory evaluation.
- I'll start with "Neighborhood" because I think it's one of the most important evaluation tools to use when deciding whether to buy or place a listing. Is there credible and useful content on the site that relates to the product you are selling? If you sell red widgets and the directory has no category or section dedicated to even widget sales –you should pass on this directory and move down your list. If the next directory has a whole section on widgets, their use and application, as well as sub-categories for red, blue and green widgets – this is a better neighborhood and can drive more targeted traffic to your site.
- What is the directory offering for the investment? If a site wants you to pay a substantial amount of money for a two-sentence paragraph about your business with a plain link (http://www.yoursite.com) instead of a text link – it may not be worth the money. If the next directory you come across offers a half or full page ad that includes space for you to describe why someone should buy a red widget from you versus your competition – along with a hyper-text link and contact information, that directory is worth a fair bit of money if they can drive traffic.
It's OK to ask a potential directory to provide you with visitor numbers for your category and similar directory pages. It is possible to inflate or adjust any type of analytics, but this documentation is something to which you can hold the directory owner accountable. If they say that page gets 2 million visits a year and you only get 3 clicks during the whole year, you clearly have grounds for negotiating a reduced renewal rate – or a possible refund – if the misrepresentation was grossly obvious from the get-go.
- Where on the page are you listed? Keep in mind the Internet shopper is fickle and impatient. Having a listing at the bottom of a page with 15 other red widget sales sites above you is of little to no value. If a site has a good number of visitors and a nice user-friendly structure, it might be worth the money to pay a bit extra for a top-of-the-page listing.
As Usual – There is a Caveat
Keep in mind, there are good and bad sites out there – if you look at a Web site and get a bad vibe from it, your instincts are probably right and you should proceed with caution. Use the following tests to see how "legitimate" a Web directory is.
- On a few select pages of the site (including the homepage) push "Control + 'a." Look to see if the directory's webmaster is hiding text or links on the site. This is a big problem and that site will eventually be penalized for having "hidden text" within their Web pages.
- If a directory has no page rank you should evaluate the pros and cons of a listing carefully. New directories can be great resources – if they're structured and nurtured correctly. Be very critical of what is already on the site and where your Web site fits into their "business model".
Overall, using these simple steps as a framework for directory research and evaluation can help alleviate some of the “gamble" when buying online directory listings. Remember to stay within your business model – always keep your end goal in mind, and refer to your online marketing goals when evaluating directories.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!