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A Directory is a Utility far more than it is a Business Model

To borrow a line from Monte Python: " . . but I'm not dead yet . ."

     
12:29 pm on Apr 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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So, maybe just for the sheer . . nothing of it . . I'm kicking this [webmasterworld.com ] sleeping dog once again, to see if it bites.

Bite me! lol

I know you can hear crickets chirping back here and I don't wish to either a) draw attention to my own efforts; or, b) suggest that a corpse is springing back to life, but as time has continued to pass I've noticed no shortage of websites and enterprises that have baked into their operations and business model . . .

a frickin directory . .

From a UX and utility POV I'd say that the "directory functionality" accounts for somewhere between 10-30% of the site's utility and UX. I include in this not only the listings that appear but also the ratings and reviews that are embedded with and are a part of the site that is driven by the directory script.

What's apparent is that "the directory" isn't (quite) the core of their business model, but it certainly is no small part. Think HomeAdvisor.com or Yelp.com or others.

So, having pointed in that direction, I may choose to chirp a bit back here on some issues relating to that long dead yet still kicking . . thing . . directories.

Perhaps we might discuss operational issues.

Perhaps we might discuss the great fun . . cough . . gag . . of finding a script . . that works . . that gets the job done . . that's well supported . . that's flexible . . that's priced "right"?

Nah. Okay, maybe. Maybe I'm growing a bit more tolerant in my old age and maybe, in 2018, 99% of people can sort out the fanboys and BS so . . Moderate who?

Maybe we can do this since it's 2018 and the ill-conceived excitement around the model has died down. Now it's just business . . and it ain't easy . . so directory-wannabes won't be as populous as groundhogs.

OBTW, just in case any crickets crawl out from under a nearby rock . . .

Are you seeing what I'm seeing?

What's your impression?

Is a directory a convenience? A utility? An added value to a UX? So, it's not dead yet?

Worth an occasional chat? I mean, the real operational issues, not the BS about "SEO directory", etc.?

Alrighty, back to my rock . . where I will listen for any chirps. ;) <3
1:36 pm on Apr 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I think directories still have legs.

The model was never pushed as far as it can go IMO - search engines kinda replaced the need for them and link directories (*puke*) just give them a bad name.

But, I'd say that more than ever there's a need for reliable, curated information and there are some areas where it works well. I know of a (largely offline) directory of regional film / TV crew that's been going for years and invaluable to the industry. Not a "directory" in the digital sense that we're all thinking, but there's a web version of their offline offering.

I worked with a national directory back in the day and it was a lot of fun and became a 1m visits / month beast. It's still going, but sadly they've not kept up with the times in recent years and their organic seems to have diminished.

Yelp et all are still go to sources for their verticals, Yell for a lot of SME stuff and the travel industry is all but dominated by directory-esque booking engines. IndieDB / ModDB have a strong presence in the games industry. And IMDB for film / TV. There are quite a few engineering supplier directories that do good business.

I think perhaps the old school version of directory optimisation would struggle in modern SERPs. Being able to rank for a broad range of categories with relatively thin content isn't easy. But if value is created, then it's definitely a solid resource worthy of ranking.

The issue is that data alone probably doesn't have enough value. It needs to be data + more value (information / knowledge). Added functionality (booking engine, ecommerce), Added information (reviews), complete collection (more listings, etc than elsewhere), added relevance (to a niche). Many of those things create a daunting prospect to setup - more investment, more time and a more complex system to develop.

No small feat, even within a minor niche or locality. Doable though.
1:56 pm on Apr 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Broadline directories have had their day, imho, to never return. As suggested, search has taken that need away. Yes, link directories, yawn.

Search covers general and local, so that's two directory sectors where there will be struggles to compete.

However, search is becoming more of a challenge to find certain things, without mentioning specifics. This is where new services can come in, and where specialised directories can do well. They need more content to make them better and more comprehensive, of course.
2:09 pm on Apr 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Thoughtful and well presented, Marketing Guy.

Dang! Signs of intelligent life in the quiet recesses of WebmasterWorld!

Perhaps there is hope for dialogue, sharing of insights, and acknowledging+building value - both here and in "the directory model". The topical dialogue just needs a bit of dusting off: dumping the old BS, re-defining and focusing on the actual, currently relevant value proposition.

Reminds me of a conversation I had with Justin Sanger, some years ago, where he was quite clear that the real value of "the model" would lie in using it - a directory - as a platform for adding value beyond the listings: ratings, reviews, possible integration with a "~bidding for services to fill a demand" script/app/function, etc.
2:24 pm on Apr 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Thanks!

Genuinely been a a directory geek since before I learned about SEO (landed my first SEO job after I showed them a 30 page local directory I built from scratch when temping after Uni!). I've been exploring the area again more recently having picked up a few domains that might lend themselves to a directory format. I generally end up with too broad a scope when thinking about approach, and procrastinate elsewhere instead.
6:00 pm on Apr 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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there's a need for reliable, curated information
I've been thinking recently about my own, highly specialized situation. Working with public-domain material means that a search engine--or any other kind of machine intelligence--looking at the site will see nothing but Duplicate Content. On any given page, 95% of the content is identical to content you can find in many other places, including--ahem! cough-cough!--G### properties. Only a human-curated directory can look at the other 5% and evaluate it.
6:32 pm on Apr 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I to have been involved with directories since my early web days and back then you could do very well with a general web directory. Search largely killed off the general directories leaving only a few high-quality ones (questionable) and some niche verticles. Eventually, they also met their demise due to the ever improving search technology.

There are now very few directories that will appear in any serps because search engines want to provide a link to a "result" not a link to a page that may or may not provide a good result. There are still thousands of directories out there, just abandoned and pretty much hidden from sight (search).

There may be a very small market for a directory that provides decent results and is designed with mobile first in mind. If a directory owner has such a site he/she may see some traffic return as mobile first is rolled out and other desktop design based sites disappear from the serps. Not sure such a site exists.

Business listings are quickly becoming the new link directories because there are simply so many of them. There are so many datasets that are made available and many sites wind up running the same data. Only sites that provide their own data should expect to receive search traffic. Back in the 90's, it was all about links, now it's about citations.

I think Google has a lot of involvement in the rise and demise of the directory. Adsense made it easy to generate revenue from a simple directory, this lead to an explosion in the number of directory based sites, then through time algo tweaks killed the directory industry.

Mack.
6:32 pm on Apr 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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There are directories, and there are directories.

On our main information site, we have clusters of "resources" pages that consist of annotated links. In other words, a section on Topic 1 might have pages of annotated links about Subtopic A, Subtopic B, Subtopic C, and so on. These legacy sections are basically mini-directories, and they aren't much different than they were back in the 1990s except for their visual presentation.

But we also have articles which, in some cases, include directory-style annotated links (often on a separate page). These lists of related links could be termed micro-directories, if you wanted to apply the "directory" moniker.

Our mini- and micro-directory pages don't get nearly the level of traffic that our text pages do, but that's okay. They continue to exist for the convenience of readers who find them useful. Every page doesn't need a big audience.
6:58 pm on Apr 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Yes, niche directories seem to be the only type left with any legs.

However the problem any type of directory faces is visibility. How do people find it? Where does the traffic come from?

FB Groups have surely put a big dent in topic specific niches.

And with Google answering most questions right at the top of their own SERP, sadly the user may never get to a directory.
10:43 pm on Apr 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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There are stand-alone directories which are, for the most part, junk. I'm speaking in terms of percentages, not "the model". There are stand-out / stand-alone exceptions. As others have observed, a well curated directory will always have value, whether "valued" (or not) by a search engine algorithm. That's old news.

However, that isn't what has caught my attention.

What has my attention is the plethora of quality directories embedded, as a value-added proposition, to larger content sites. Such sites often rank for their topical content . . and then deploy a directory for a variety of purposes and often as a source of revenue.

For example, is AVVO a directory (a lawyer directory) or is AVVO a content site? It seems to me that AVVO is a directory (~Find a Lawyer! Get found lawyers!) acting as if it's a content site . . which it is . . umm . . sure . . and yes, "the directory" includes ratings and reviews of the listed lawyers.

. . and payment for enhanced positioning.

Then look at HomeAdvisor (heavy "on air" presence lately) and a variety of other content sites . . with directories . . or organized / categorized listings of service providers . . playing a not insignificant role in the site's utility, revenue production, etc.
11:25 pm on Apr 4, 2018 (gmt 0)

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"Curated by Humans, not Machines", should be the driving force of any directories, though being nerds we will do all we can to automate the process.

There's a reason most libraries still have librarians. Work from that angle and directories have every bit of resource they used to have. All you have to figure out is how to market it, make it visible, and "if you make it, they will come". Then figure out how to make a buck off it.
2:08 am on Apr 5, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Then figure out ...


... how to deal with the curse of link rot.
3:44 am on Apr 5, 2018 (gmt 0)

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the curse of link rot
Maintenance is everything. You can't just compile a directory and leave it for the ages, or even keep adding new content but disregard the old stuff.* When I find a bad link on {my directory of choice} and report it, I know it will be acted on within 24 hours. Human users of the directory may not formally know that reporting bad links is a thing--they may well think the whole thing was created invisibly by the Directory Fairies--but they know that if they find something listed, it probably exists.


* Hm. Come to think of it, that applies to most websites, doesn't it. Not just directories.
4:03 am on Apr 5, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Even on non-directory pages, a "report broken links" utility is a good idea. I use it everywhere.
1:20 pm on Apr 5, 2018 (gmt 0)

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link rot.

Ahha! another project to look forward to!
5:16 pm on Apr 5, 2018 (gmt 0)

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So hunting for a little link rot I noticed that many had switched to https.

I'm updating all those, but wonder if G will see that as a new url/link?

And if so will that make a difference?
8:34 am on Apr 7, 2018 (gmt 0)

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When I was involved with directories I wrote a spider to hit every page on Monday and save the server response in DB. If they returned a 404 it was hidden. I would give it a week to return before deleting the link. I think many "off the shelf" scripts had similar features.

Mack.
6:15 pm on Apr 7, 2018 (gmt 0)

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If they returned a 404 it was hidden. I would give it a week to return before deleting the link.
Sure, it would be nice if every page 301-redirected to the current version of the content. And sure, it would be nice if everyone listed on a directory took the trouble to keep the directory informed of changes. But hunting down bad links and updating them manually is also part of the directory maintainer's job. At least if you think of the directory as a service for human users, not a service for websites.

:: belatedly wandering off to one particularly ancient page* with a flurry of external links that I really do need to check more often ::


* Back when I used the <address> element, it said “created in 1998”.
11:03 pm on Apr 11, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Linkedin - People and Business Directory
Facebook - People and Business Directory
Google Local Results - Business Directory
Google + - People and Business Directory

....the directory has evolved its far from dead
10:28 pm on Apr 20, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Simple, key points:
Webwork said:
What has my attention is the plethora of quality directories embedded, as a value-added proposition, to larger content sites. Such sites often rank for their topical content... and then deploy a directory for a variety of purposes and often as a source of revenue.

lucy24 said:
You can't just compile a directory and leave it for the ages, or even keep adding new content but disregard the old stuff. (Hm. Come to think of it, that applies to most websites, doesn't it. Not just directories.)


Directories are a pain in the tail, but the can add value on content sites. But, that value often comes in from what you do NOT include. Drawing lines, or curating the content, for a defined set of users can be very popular if you have a website with a defined purpose. Geography is an obvious example. All the service providers that serve a county or city. This is a way, if you work at it, to be better than Google for a set of users.

And to address the issue of link rot and info spoiling... Keeping it simple can help. (You are going to roll your eyes, you could create a curated list of plumbers in Smallville and have the link go to Google. Or, not have a link at all--just the name and phone number. People do not change their phone numbers any longer. And they know how to Google.) Compiling a simple list in a tight, well-defined category might be enough to create "a value-added proposition to larger content sites." If you have competition, that might be all you need to give yourself an edge.