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Are business directories still worthwhile?

It’s generally accepted that online business directories don’t give us much (if any) boost in the search engine rankings. Why would they? Our appearance there just proves that we’ve bothered to submit our details to them and possibly paid for the privilege. Why would a search engine take that as some sort of endorsement? It’s not 2002 any more, when search engines were desperate for indications of a business’s authenticity.

So are they worth being included in?

Well, there are a couple of things they can offer. The minor one is that they do get indexed by the search engines, and if somebody searches for a company by name, they will often fill up the results page after the company’s own website (which is, we’d hope, at the top). That may be useful if it pushes off less desirable results.

The main reason for getting included, however, is the obvious one: traffic. And this is something that can only be discovered by trying them out. My experience is that few (if any) ever generate enough traffic to be worthwhile paying for, with the exception of some local businesses. Few people go straight to a directory to find an industrial blue widget manufacturer; most go to Google and just search for ‘[blue widgets]’. The best thing about general directory listings pages is that they do rank highly in Google if someone goes to the bother of searching for ‘[blue widget] manufacturers‘, and therefore their listings can get traffic, but usually only via Google.

So if inclusion in a directory is free, and the directory is reputable, there’s little reason not to be included. It might get some traffic. If it requires payment for inclusion, and we have no idea if it’s any good or not, we should insist on a three-month free trial and analyse the heck out of the first eight weeks’ traffic: how much was there, and what did it do on your site? Remember also to investigate where the visitors came from. One of our clients discovered that 99% of the visits from one directory came from the same place, which was suspiciously close to the directory publisher’s office.