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Search Engine Optimization

Online Directory Listings – Are They Worth It?

A number of my clients have been pestered by various directory providers the last few months, each selling a variety of products to help them be found online. But are these services any good?

gopheryellowIt seems there’s dozens of them with Yellow, Finda, Gopher and Localist being the main ones. Some offer free listings, but the big four push ‘upgrades’ with the promise of more traffic, more leads, charging from $20-$500 or more per month. Here’s a typical ‘offer page’ from Gopher.  localistLike competitors Yellow, Finda and findaLocalist, part of their sale pitch is proudly claiming they have many thousands of people visiting them every day. Yeah, right….

Traffic figures – Fact or Fiction?

Most of these claims of traffic are inflated and meaningless, although in some sense likely technically correct – Like a politicians promises, not the whole truth. Traffic numbers stated likely come from their raw webserver stats, often stating hits and not just visitors, together with vague timeframes. Numbers can include non-human ‘bots’ sent out from search engines like Google and Bing.

That’s not to so say this isn’t useful or may help indirectly. But any directory site claiming you should advertise with them due to their traffic figures is a bit like local magazines claiming you should advertise with them just because their print run is 100,000 per month. Actual magazines sold and subsequently read, then acted upon by people is a more useful measure, which is typically a tiny fraction of this.

The Google Factor

GoogleSo, is it still worthwhile paying for advertising within these directories? Only indirectly. The benefit you may get could be more to do with the fact that just being in these directories can sometimes improve your placement within the Google local search result, (ironically due to those ‘bots’ visits).

ElectricianGoogleSearchAs most people use Google today and not Finda, Localist, Yellow or Gopher, it’s far more important what Google does with these directory website listings (as Google trawls all modern websites). Done right, they act as citations for the  Google maps/business listings, shown right. These are the ones which appear high up on page one of Google for a local search result! And to get this benefit you often don’t need the expensive Gopher/Finda/Yellow listings.

But anything you do to improve your online presence is good. I’ve concluded that a Google Maps/Places listing, together with a basic Finda and Gopher listing is a good combo. There’s also niche industry directories like www.mytradesman.co.nz or www.nocowboys.co.nz setup for tradespeople and their clients. The fact they have areas for customer reviews is critical not just for customers, but for Google who look for favourable client feedback on all directory sites, when determining your maps search page placement.

Pay us more and we list you higher!

The sales pitch to get you to pay more with these directories is they guarantee a top placement. This is, of course, only a top placement within their own directory that they control [and few people visit]. NOT on Google. When Google trawls these sites, it matters little if you’re at the top or bottom. Google just looks for a best match in terms of your service, category and location, not overly concerned about where you are in the site.  The pay more and you’ll get a higher listing only works if you’re the market leader, like Google. Their AdWords pay-per-click advertising works on this basis. However their organic (free) search that most people view is unbiased.

AnalyticsAlways Measure and Track Results

The trick though is to ensure you are getting a return on the money spent. You can easily see each month what proportion of your traffic to your own website is coming via these directories and/or via Google.

Actually see if your investment in these third party directories is helping your business. Google analytics we install with each site tells us who visits and where they came from. Examine the live example right, from an active client website (Nov 2011), showing that 72% of visitors came from Google, 2% from Yellow and 1% from Finda. Remember, these minor directories want to charge you hundreds per month for their services.

The other trick with advertising in these directories is NEVER be conned into going with any long term, national plans or cross-media plans, not matter how great the ‘offer’ is. A good ‘deal’ does not equate to more website traffic or business.

Unfortunately, some of these providers are taking a hard line, not offering short-term options! Yellow (left) and Localist will even try to sign you up to their print directory as well. Some reps have the cheek to suggest that if you signup with them, you don‘t need anyone else, as ‘their’ listing will somehow get you to page one of Google too! Yeah, right…. (If any dare suggest this, let me know. We’ll get the commerce commission onto them)

Let’s Not Forget AdWords

adwordsTell them that Google’s own online offering, AdWords, (Google CPC) has no long term commitments and looking at the above figures, provides around 50 times more leads!

In reality, if you’re going to pay someone a lot of money for monthly online advertising, AdWords gives you far greater return than all these directories combined! You can use AdWords for a day, week or month. It’s totally flexible, including the neat ability to ‘localise’ your advertising to within a city or region. Even hours of the day it is displayed. It’s also AdWords that promotes your business across Youtube, Gmail and thousands of related websites via AdSense.

horse-drawn-cartThe general tracking and management facilities Google includes as standard is light-years ahead of these minor directory offerings. It’s a bit like comparing a modern motor car, with the horse and cart days. Unfortunately most business people here in NZ simply aren’t aware of all this and what Google can offer them. Our use of Google AdWords and search marketing is one of the lowest in the developed world. Why? Google NZ doesn’t have the huge team of skilled telemarketers on the phones like Yellow, Gopher or Localist. Ignorance of what is available today is what keeps them in business.

The sad truth is most small businesses here give their promotional dollars to those who make the effort to show up or phone them each month. Their relative effectiveness or the sales gained isn’t a deciding factor – Mainly the fact there’s a sales rep nagging them.

So, are they worth it?

adspendTraditional directories are on their way out. Consumers don’t use them. In the US, directory spend (left) is plummeting and rightly so too.

But for now, online directories have their place and the free or near-free ($0-$50/mth) listings are worthwhile, if only to help validate your online presence for Google. But their more costly upgrades are not good value. They all tend to structure and bias listings results with the amount you give them. Although logical for the directory provider, this is extremely annoying for consumers. This is yet another reason people don’t use these sites much and go to Google instead.

These directories also rely upon high pressure sales strategies from the pre-internet era of magazine and newsprint advertising. Real success stories are rare. By all means give them a try, but always measuring daily results and avoiding any long term contracts.

p.s. Beware of con men selling new ‘add-on’ services

To show how desperate these directories are getting to preserve their market share and relevance, some, like Yellow pages, are getting into the website building business. Again. (They’ve tried this before using nasty Yodel tools, with little success).

Yellow Toolbox- Meet the Businesses[6] An early analysis of these Yellow built sites tells the same sad story common with many small biz website offerings by big flashy Corporates. Aside from some Youtube stuff (commendable), there’s minimal SEO effort gone in. www.jkbuildingrodney.co.nz - Website Grader ReportTypical Yellow website grading of 12/100 for one of their ‘showpiece’ sites. A grade of 75/100 or more is the goal and one we can usually get within 6 months. A low score means you effectively don’t existing as far as Google is concerned.

However I suspect most of these sites are built to lowest tender spec, perhaps out of India, to maintain Yellow flagging margins. But for just $60-100 per month and no upfront design or SEO fees, should we or small business owners expect more?

If small business owners what to be found online, generate traffic and sales via their website, it needs a far more comprehensive online marketing strategy than signing up to a cheap website. SEO is critical. Checkout the Archer Glass example on our services website.


11 Responses to “Online Directory Listings – Are They Worth It?”

  1. I get hounded several times a month from these sorts of providers. It’s easy to get sucked in by their slick sales pitch. Thanks for the tips.

    Posted by David | November 8, 2011, 3:18 pm
  2. Wonderful Kevin! This is an easy to find article (you know how to rank well obviously) with just the information I needed. Sure, I’ve been thinking this but it’s really good to get a clear, unambiguous look at what is really provided.

    As for pushy sales – I could tell a few stories about all three mentioned above.

    Posted by Ruth | December 9, 2011, 9:03 am
  3. Brilliant. Great blog. Had high pressure sales pitch from Go…er on Thursday. We ‘thought’ being on page one with them might help. Said I would make a decision on Tuesday, after some research. Tried searching all he key terms we’d expect people to use to find us – they didn’t come up anywhere in google.

    You’re article has helped us make a solid decision not to spend big bucks on this type of advertising. Thank you.

    Posted by Nigel | April 10, 2012, 10:56 am
  4. Well written review of a complex topic. The Gop-er sales team have been hounding us recently. I agreed to their basic listing $295 plus gst for a year. We have a great website but we aren’t getting much traffic. I know I need to spend time doing more of the free SEO stuff but its so much easier to say yes to $295 and hope, than to spend hours delving into stuff I don’t understand well.

    Posted by Peter Garlick | January 16, 2013, 2:16 pm
    • Yes, unfortunately this often happens. Like the nagging child in the car, you just want the intrusion to go away. Giving them money to them does this. (Hey we were sucked into buying a kirby cleaner 20 years back by high pressure, never give up salesperson). Still, keep an eye on your website analytics and it will tell you exactly how many leads they are providing each month. And track the phone inquiries. That way you’ll know for next year if the money was well spent.

      Posted by Kevin Trye | January 16, 2013, 2:44 pm
  5. I am stunned by the tactics of Yellow. Last year they gave me one day to renew nearly $3000 worth of advertising for book and online + finda, saying they had tried and failed to contact me (a lie). I think this is a tactic to panic you into rolling over for another year. I refused and paid for a small add in yellow book. I continued my allready contratced yellow online, which they then just let lapse without even letting me know! I hav been on the phone now and complained and spole to managers, I think they are aweful. Just deciding whther to go back and have gold listing or spend more on adwords…..
    What would you do?

    Posted by Ashley | February 21, 2013, 2:19 pm
    • A Hamilton client of mine had this exact same discussion this morning. He’s been trying to ‘unlock’ himself from yellow pages and gopher for 6 months…. Referral traffic to his website from these directories is virtually nil, yet they still want their outlandish fees paid and auto-renewed! I suggested there could be a good case to take them to the commerce commission. Certainly getting Campbell live on TV3 involved wouldn’t be that difficult. Almost every businessperson I know has a similar, nasty story to tell about the sales tactics of these directory companies. I still can’t see why they should even exist.

      Posted by Kevin Trye | February 21, 2013, 4:55 pm
  6. “Referral traffic to his website from these directories is virtually nil, yet they still want their outlandish fees paid”

    Ask yourself; If you hand out 2000 flyers and get no response, do you still pay the printing/design company?

    “take them to the commerce commission”

    Sadly these companies aren’t breaking any laws. Just ridiculously competent at selling and have big balls to close deals.

    “Campbell live on TV3 involved wouldn’t be that difficult”

    Shows like Campbell live, Fairgo, and Target are terribly one sided.

    “nasty story to tell about the sales tactics”

    You mean closing?

    For christs sake I can’t believe these people run businesses. Should be aware of marketing trends and where to successfully spend money. tsk tsk

    Posted by Courteney | March 20, 2013, 6:50 pm
  7. While most of the points in this article are correct based on my own analysis of our clients websites, I feel like there needs to be some things pointed out to everyone.

    A few people do actually make a good return on directories. Not everyone, sure, but about 10% of the people I have analysed have broken even or made a profit. Some even have had their business rank higher “organically” in SERPs because of their listing in yellow/finder/gopher – but mainly that’s because of the sorry state their existing website content/marketing/backlink profile was in.

    It’s also true that listing with directories will help you rank higher in SERP’s because of the addition of quality links to your backlink profile. The only issue is that while their domain authority is high (yellow ranks at 81/100, gopher 49/100 and finda 69/100)the fact still remains that you can find quality links elsewhere to improve your SEO at a fraction of the cost that these directories may charge.

    Also i’m pretty sure yellow pages does quite well in small towns where is it hard for digital agencies to meek out an existence and even harder for employers to find someone how knows how this “Interwebs thing” works.

    My biggest issue is when these directories start running their own adword campaigns for clients and forgetting to set negative keywords, effectively cannibalising sales from SEO or their own brand name that they would have got anyway. Way to go guys.

    Posted by Chris Andrew | July 10, 2013, 9:46 pm
  8. Well written article,

    Why on earth companies still think advertising their company name helps – people are searching for products not company names.

    I think niche-specific directories as opposed to general web directories, can be well worth the effort. Instead of listing companies, these directories specifically lists individual products available in a particular market.

    Advertising money must have a way of checking your return on investment. I remember spending $10k a year on advertising with no idea if it was working – I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

    Posted by Richard | May 5, 2014, 4:58 pm

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