Paid-for web directories: are they worth it?

Yesterday’s article raised the same follow-up question a number of times! To recap, I said that if you investigate the external links to your competitors’ sites, “you’ll see a few guides or directories there which you don’t appear in, but which your competitor clearly does. Get those links!”

The thought which probably went through many readers’ heads was: “does this mean I should be paying to appear in all those listings websites who are constantly trying to sell me their services?” And the answer is …it depends. Here’s how to assess the worth of a directory site.

There are two things an external site can give you: traffic and “link juice”. Let’s look at the traffic first.

If you’ve been featured on the site previously, it’s easy to look at the value of the traffic. Just go into your analytics application, look at “Traffic Sources” over the last year and see how much traffic the directory sent you, and the trend. Bear in mind you can buy excellent traffic from pay-per-click advertising for (say) £1-£2 a click, so if the directory sent you 1,000 visitors, and cost £100 to be in, then at 10p per visitor it would appear to be great value. If you’re looking at “engaged visitors”, even better. If however the directory sent you 50 visitors all year, and cost you £500 to be in, at £10 per visitor you might reconsider your involvement.

That’s the first thing a directory can give you. As I mentioned before though, it can also provide you with “link juice”. I’ll discuss this more next week, but external links are the currency of Google. Your site’s performance in the search engine results is largely determined by the number of links from other sites, and the content of those links. So being in a directory will help you get a higher ranking in Google. Sounds great, right?

Well, sort of. An external link primarily helps you perform better in the search engines for whatever’s in the text of that link. So if the link says “Business Marketing Online“, that’ll help my site do better when people search for “Business Marketing Online”. If it says “BMON offers Google AdWords management services”, that’s much more helpful, because the link now helps my site do better when people search for “Google AdWords management”.

Unfortunately, most directories aren’t geared up that way, and they’ll just link to you with your company name, or (worse) a logo or button. That has a very small overall effect. It’ll help you rank just that little bit higher for searches on your own company’s name, but you’re already number one for that and consolidating your position, aren’t you?

The vast majority of paid-for directory websites are way overpriced, and offer you nothing that the many free listings websites out there don’t also offer. But measure their performance for yourself. If you’re an Insider Programme member, and would like me to do it for you, just ask, there’s no charge. I recently did the exercise for one of our members who’d been subscribing to four directories and wondered if he should continue. We found that one was almost certainly worth it for the traffic alone, two others almost certainly weren’t, and the fourth didn’t appear to have sent a single visitor or provided a productive link either!

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