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Do enhanced web directory listings bring you more business?  A cautionary tale

By Nigel T Packer

There are hundreds of regional web directories on the internet, each one saying, “We can get you more business if you buy our enhanced listing package,” or words to that effect.  If you decide to invest your hard earned online marketing budget are you likely to get enough extra business to justify the cost?

Initially most online directories gave listings away for free.  This is to encourage businesses to submit their details in order to grow the directories’ databases.  The online directory needs a critical mass of listings - the principle that ‘size matters’ is a common one in the internet world – so that there will be a variety of results for most enquiries, users and researchers will find what they are looking for and therefore use the directory again as well as recommending it to others.

A growing number of online directories have started charging for your entry in their database.  Whilst some basic listings remain free, many now charge a single one-off payment of a maybe a few pounds or dollars and to encourage you to spend a little more they offer ‘enhanced’ listings.

Basic listings generally do not include a link to your web site; some do not even provide a contact number.  These are obviously of limited use to a business as in order to be found or contacted the user or researcher would need to use a search engine (or another directory) to find your company, this takes more time and of course they are only then likely to find you if you have an optimised website (but that is another story).

If you have registered on a local directory then sooner or later you will probably get a call from them, the soft and persuasive voice on the phone expressing the importance of having an enhanced listing.  Initially resolute, you weaken and before you know it you give your credit card details to them.  The telesales operative assures you of greater exposure for your business and many more enquiries from your enhanced listing at the top of the page!   You certainly don’t want to be buried in the mass of free basic listings do you? 

The initial warm fuzzy feeling and vision of lots of new enquiries may soon give way to doubts: Is this value for money?  Will you get the return that is implied?  Have I spent wisely?

Like anything in life, ‘you pay your money and take your chance’; and like any business investment – however small – it is prudent to carry out appropriate research before committing to any expenditure, considering potential ROI and how focused or targeted this opportunity is, ultimately: how will it serve your business?

Over the last few weeks I have looked in some detail into the issues surrounding directory registration and enhanced listings.  Having researched offerings from sixteen web directories in the UK, the results have been quite startling.  From the data collected and analysed I have put together a few tips to make the decision process a little more scientific. 

Check the listing status of the directory in Google, Yahoo and MSN.  Type the directory Web site address (URL) into the search field (info:www.directoryname.com) and see how many results are returned. The following checks can be found - number of web pages that contain the URL, the number of links into the site from other sites and the number of links from the site. The higher the number of links into the site the better the directory is doing from a search engine and online promotion perspective.

Contact companies who have already paid for an enhanced listing (you should be able to get their contact details from their enhanced listing!) and ask them if it has resulted in more business.  It is better to look at companies in your own sector to get a clearer understanding of what is happening.  People may use the directories for builders or financial advisers but not for engineering or consultancy.

Ask the directory owners for information on the number of visitors to the site each day, the number of searches done on the site each day and how many registered users they have?  What methods are they using to promote the site online and offline? This is called a press pack in the industry and is normal for any advertising media; you need to ask for it and study it carefully when it arrives.  There should be evidence that the statistics provided are carried out by an independent third party in order to demonstrate unbiased claims.  ABCE are the official body and are a subsidiary of the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) they set the standards! http://www.abce.org.uk  

As well as comparing visitor numbers and other figures, compare the prices charged for the enhanced listing with other directories.  Which one is likely to give the best bang for your buck?

Does the directory require users to login to access the database?  Many do this in order to collect email addresses which are then valuable for marketing purposes or can be a valuable asset if sold on to third parties.  Not only does this present a barrier to users, it also causes problems with search engines.  Robots that create the listings are not going to be able to access the data and only those who are registered will see your advertisement. 

These simple checks will allow you to make a far more informed judgment on where you should consider spending your advertising budget.  Do the checks and if you decide to pay for an enhanced listing then you know you are spending your budget wisely.

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