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?
It 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. Like competitors Yellow, Finda and Localist, 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
So, 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).
As 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.
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
Tell 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.
The 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?
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).
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. Typical 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.