in times past, many niche directory publishers sought to create geo-vertical directories with business listings, get them ranked, and sell directory listings to businesses. there was an explosion of these directories in 2001-2004. the geo-vertical directories began to dominate geo + vertical searches in most all categories.
something began to change in the spring of 2003. authoritative serps begin to appear and the major iyp geo-vertical results pages began to show up (you now will even find pure Y local on G serps and we all know they promote their own local props on the valuable space at the top of the serp). in speaking last year with one of the pioneers, Mark Cannon from Switchboard, this was no accident. they actually sat in personal meetings with google to understand how their directory structures could be more easily crawled and indexed. then came superpages, citysearch, and others on the serps. and the ones who have not succeeded i know for sure are desperately tying. why? distribution value - thus advertiser and user value, acquisition, and retention.
where am i going with this? well, the question is about niche directories. many of us are in this game or have played this game, and many of us struggle with the long-term viability of such model. many of us have seen our directories dominate, fall off the face of the earth, come back, and then fall off according to the importance of category, and then show back up on the new Y - vicous and dependant cycle.
where does one go from here? well when i was at the kelsey conference on local search in november with all the traditional directory publishers and there was one common theme that we heard over and over and over again - flat business listings are not going to cut it any more. everyone, even the majors (maybe especially the majors and in speaking with infoUSA, even they) are seeking rich content for their local listings, and the iyps are following with additional meta data like services pages, business certifications, store hours, etc. etc. They all realize that it is difficult to make qualitative determinations of business value based upon phone and address. they also know that 50% of small businesses don't have websites, and they further know that it is important to keep their pages sticky, provide utility, and retain users.
great. so now what? well, take a look at local-i, this is an upstart group that has begun the vertical aggregation of rich data. they are an example of niche vertical directory groups (and there are many, take citysearch for example) that go beyond the business listing to provide insightful *decision data* for users. the majors don't have this yet, iyps and pure local search included. they need to get it. and in many cases will be buying the data. we already know that traditional data is being cleaned, augmented, and resold. now, the more vertical focused and rich the better.
so what does one do? well in my book, any long-term niche directory strategy must include some form of specialization and rich content aggregation. these specialists will be able to compete head to head with the larger *horizontal* players and will be able to carve out a viable niche while being an acquisition target. they will be referenced and cited and can generate authoritative status.
trust me, you can still rank flat geo-vertical directories on the tops of the serps, collect 30 dollars a month for listings and pop up some adsense. but when looking at the shape of the marketplace in the years ahead, rich data, beyond mere serp rank distribution is critical to viability - and dare i say brand awareness.
also note that it will come from unlikely places. there is a web site here in chicago recently bought by the tribune company (the chicago tribune). why? well metromix started the process of restuarant and entertainment reviews many many years ago. their following is wide and their content is trusted in vast.
when you rank number 1 on g serp for geo + vertical you are helping users get to the information they need. when evaluating your business position, however, ask yourself if you are giving the user what they need to make a decision. and finally, carve out a niche. take a look at gigmasters. this is a great example of a geo-vertical niche that may not be touched by much competition for years. it is a group of a few people doing what they love. there is something to be said about loving what you do, knowing the space very well, and extending that knowledge to users to provide utility.