Pretty much every business has received sales calls from web directories and review sites like YellowPages, Yelp, and many more. They’re usually pitching a package deal that will highlight your business on their website, with the assumption that the promotion will drive more traffic to you.

In the past, it was fairly easy to do a cost/benefit analysis of these directory and review sites. You could search some competitive keywords in your market and see if the site displayed prominently in search results. If it didn’t, then any investment wasn’t likely to attract eyeballs. If it did have good search presence, you could get a rough idea of monthly visits (some better directories will even share this) and run some scenarios of how many more folks you’d likely pull in with a prominent listing.

How the Game’s Changed

But search is certainly not the whole story these days. It’s harder and harder for directories to have a healthy presence in search, because in Google’s eyes they’re just providing a duplicative service. Google already sorts and ranks sites for a particular user query, and they’ve invested a lot in making sure their algorithm provides results their users like, so why should they send a visitor to a site where some other method of sorting sites is used?

Directories have had to adapt. Many of the smaller ones just can’t compete with Google and they’ve seen their influence drop substantially, or they’ve shut down altogether. But the big players are investing heavily in marketing of their own to create special features and communities that will make them the “go-to” spot in the minds of relevant consumers.

So now, even if a directory doesn’t rank very well on Google on its own, it may still bring a lot of value to the table by building a base of savvy users that your business can market to directly. It’s no longer just an extra layer in the search marketing game, it’s now a distinct (and growing) online channel.

A Couple Case Studies

  • RealSelf: We have a lot of clients in aesthetic medicine and they have all no doubt heard of this platform, which offers users the ability to ask doctors questions, provide updates on their cosmetic journey, rate their experience, and much more. It can be a huge driver of new business for clients who are active here, and many cosmetic shoppers will go to RealSelf and only RealSelf for their cosmetic information.
  • Angie’s List: This site is one of many that has done a very good job marketing to consumers on a variety of platforms, so that they become the “top of mind” choice for a lot of people looking for reviews of service businesses. They continue a full onslaught of advertising in many major metros, and they’ve expanded their service offerings to develop more offers, services and products for members.

Evaluating the Opportunities

If you’ve been approached about advertising on a directory, or if one gets your attention and you want to figure out if it’s a good fit for your business, here are some questions to ask the directory’s sales rep:

  • What types of advertising are you doing to grow your base in my market?
  • How many direct site visits are you getting in my market each month? (This is a signal of how effective their local marketing effort is.)
  • On average, how much better do advertisers on your site perform compared to standard listings?
  • Do you have an app? How many times has it been downloaded? What other usage statistics can you share? (This is a sign of how committed they are to investing in the space and providing an excellent app/mobile experience to users.)
  • What type of ongoing support do you offer to advertisers? (This is especially helpful on sites where you want to frequently update your profile or respond to/dispute reviews you receive.)

The Takeaway

Just like all types of media, the online space continues to fracture and diversify at an ever-quicker rate. Google still has enormous power to bring new business to your door, and social media (though it is increasingly pay-to-play) can be an excellent customer retention tool. Several newer online players are pushing hard to develop directories, review sites and apps that will strike a chord with niche audiences, and it pays to evaluate these new opportunities carefully so that your business keeps a healthy marketing mix.

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