Are Business Directories still relevant in 2018-19?

A lot of business directories seem to renew on a calendar year basis, so it’ll be that time again when many of you get the sales reps on the phone. I know this, because every year many of our clients ask my opinion as to whether or not the subscription is worth it.

The answer isn’t easy. There are two possible benefits from being in a business directory (or indeed any third-party website). One is the exposure it gives you, and the other is the value of the link for SEO purposes.

Lets’s get the exposure out of the way. This will be illustrated quite clearly by the amount of clickthrough traffic you get, and that’s something you can see in Google Analytics. But a caveat: I’ve noticed that with several directories, much of the clickthrough traffic comes from the same town/city – presumably the people who run the directory, as they maintain the site and check the links. So, in Google Analytics, click on the Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium report, and set the date range to the last year. Find the entry for the directory concerned (use the search or set the “show rows” to 500 and scan for it). Click on the link, so you just see that entry. Click on “Secondary Dimension” > Users > City. Now you’ll see the visits from the website broken down by user location. Anything look a bit odd? I hope not, but it often does.

If you think the traffic is worth the money, go ahead and re-book. Bear in mind that as a benchmark, if you spent the money on search advertising, it would get you visits from the geographical area you target for, say, £1 to £5 a time. So if you’re paying £200 to be in the directory, and it’s got you 100 visits from people in relevant areas, it’s a decent investment.

Representatives of some directories still appear to be claiming that “Google Analytics doesn’t seem to be able to record our traffic properly”. Actually, if your site is still on http and the directory is now on https, they won’t appear at all. Otherwise, they’re either making false claims or their site is doing something so contrived with your referrals that I’d be inclined to give them a swerve anyway.

Then we have the SEO benefits of being in a business directory. These are questionable, with some SEO experts stating that they’re worthless, others claiming they can still have some value, if much less than 10 years ago. Google certainly doesn’t rate paid-for links, but does that mean entire directories are written off as worthless? One test you might like to try, if you’re featured in a directory, is to see where it ranks in the Google results for a search on what you do and where you’re located. So if your page in the directory states that you sell blue widgets and that you’re in Timbuktu, try a Google search for ‘blue widgets timbuktu’. If the directory doesn’t come up as one of the top results, it’s a fair indication that Google doesn’t think much of it.

Try investigating the directory at Majestic Site Explorer. If the directory’s ‘trust flow’ and ‘citation flow’ aren’t much more than your own, it’s not a great sign. Also consider things from Google’s point of view: if the directory is high quality (unbiased) and comprehensive, the search engine will have tried hard to identify that, and may rate it as a source. If it’s clear that entries are paid for, and (in particular) there are ‘premium listings’, why should Google consider the content to be an independent listing of good websites?

The main thing is not to be frightened of not being in a particular directory. ‘Fear Of Missing Out’ is what keeps these things alive (just as it does with trade shows). A directory listing could be a valuable asset. But if it can’t prove it, spend your money elsewhere.