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What about a focus into a niche - perhaps that is the solution?
Some directories have tried the local geographic approach for a catch-all audience. Others have tried to become specialised, national directories. How many can you count that have been successful?
I'm not sure that "local" directories are the answer, unless it's a national resource specialising in specific market sectors. Of course, there is B2C and B2B as two further options.
Directories are always useful, if they provide a solutions, so, what are the likely questions?
An example of the B2C challenge:
Where do I find a plumber? I'm sure YP will do the stuff on that. No need to try to compete.
How do I find a restaurant for a business lunch in a town I've never been to previously? That's a bit tougher as EYP only provides the basics (if you pay a lot of money (relatively)) and I don't have an office big enough for a copy of YP for each town in the country.
There are some "local" directories that attempt to serve this aspect, however, they are too fragmented with all kinds of information. How do I find a restaurant for Bolton, or Birmingham? Not particularly easy if I don't live there.
Additionally, the "local" directory is up against the "big boys" and often, does not have the resources to market itself so well that it becomes a defacto standard to which everyone turns.
How can a directory market itself to the target audience of B2C or B2B?
Either way, it's got to be a comprehensive enough directory to be of value and provide choice.
There has to be a compromise by specialising and being better than the catch-all.
What is the future for the UK's directories?
I tend to use search as my first method of finding anything these days (Okay I may well be ahead of the majority of Joe public but still) the sites which come up well in searches for specific items tend to be directories for that service as they have a lot of links in and out.
These directories have to get themselves established and have a large number of listings (to be of any use) so they will have to get free submissions to start off with until they are big enough to provide a valuable service to their customer base.
Once they have achieved this they can use advertising revenue and onsite shopping as potential revenue streams. Additionally once they are established then they can go to pay for inclusion model.
E.G. if a restauraunts directory has entries for most major towns then it can charge for additional entries in that section. Or offer premium listings for top placements.
I have a number of directory listings which are generating traffic for my smaller customers, so they are being used. I generally look at the first page of Google or MSN or Fast/Lycos if a directory appears then it is probably worth submitting to.
Having just set up two UK engines, I can say from experience that the real problem is getting the data in the first place. I started by using the whole ODP UK category (around 100,000 sites) as the basis for the search engine database.
I can't really see any alternative to this, certainly for start-ups. It is simply not feasible to build a 100,000 entry directory from scratch without some serious financial backing...and who is going to finance a new UK directory?
Therefore, I can't see anyone being able to set up any more of these directories. I think that the field is pretty much saturated anyway, especially with UK Directory, Splut and UK Plus (sorry about the names).
Given the number of referrals that I see coming out of these directories, I just don't think that it is big business. In fact, I think that it is very much small time, which really does limit the prospects for new contenders. It must be a small percentage of the UK internet population who use these directories...and there aren't that many UK Internet users (3.7 million?)
Why did you go into the SE game? My guess is that you are on a hiding to nothing with a locally based UK engine. The Europeans can get away with it due to language difference but English is just too common. UK Engines are going to have real difficulty with filtered Google,Yahoo,MSN,Altavista etc
In fact this may just be the problem with any English language directory or SE - it is just too easy to make an adjunct to your main engine.
There doesn't appear to be a forum on the ANZAC or Canadian engines here (is ANZAC covered by Asia/Pacific) - I'm sure they suffer from the same sort of problems and some cross fertilisation of ideas would be useful.
All the best
Serious insomnia case tonight!
There are a couple of selling points for Limey Search:
- no adult sites (I removed as many as I could find, and will continue this process)
- Google is built in as a search option, so it is just as easy as going to Google's homepage.
- The search results are spam-free, with no more than one advert per SERP.
- The front page contains some really useful links and news.
It is not intended as a ground-breaking new engine, just a useful 'home page' for uk users who like Google. I use it as my start-up page, and find it genuinely useful.
I think that this is the approach that UK specific engines/directories need to take. As you say, they can't compete with the large internationals, so they need to become value added versions. Unless they can off the same and more, or something very different (as with Abrexa), I think that they will have a rocky future.
I went into the "search engine game" because I wanted to try out my SEO knowledge in a different way. I am very happy for them to develop quietly and slowly, since they are not the principle business at the moment. As long as they cover the running costs and a small amount to cover the review time, I will be content.
"We'll only ever have 3 plumbers/doctors/bakers from your town in our directory".
Being a cynic I said what if I was the 4th one to try and I was told that I wouldn't get in.
The benefit of a directory is to have as much "relevant" stuff in it, to make people want to use that directory as opposed to others, sure it's not good for the advertisers to have more competition but aren't directories meant to be for the benefit of the public/viewer?
I've been involved in SEO in one way shape or form since 1996 and I am amazed that even now new directories "appear" yet you never hear of their launch. If professionals in the industry don't hear about them what chance the public.
Starting any new venture is a bit like rowing a boat, a lot of effort to start with poor results but great once it goes. Everyone wants to be the next Yahoo! when they bring out a directory, all things to all people.
The future for UK directories.... some will come, some will go, there will always be Yahoo! and ODP
In the case of at least one of the high-profile major directories, customers are renewing because:
1/. They don't understand what they are getting but are overwhelmed by the sales pitch.
2/. They don't track their own server stats and are ignorant of the amount of traffic that the directory actually delivers.
All my customers have traffic stats available on-line.
Those that inspect their stats don't renew with this directory.
Of course, not all directories are the same but most use high-pressure and misleading sales pitch via telecanvassers.
They have a high churn-rate because they do not deliver traffic and they fund themselves by increasing the drive for new sign-ups.
If they believed in themselves they would track traffic and use this as part of their pitch when seeking renewals
"we delivered 20,000 hits to your site last year, would you like this to continue"
I have a friend who worked for one of these multi-national TV advertised directories as a field sales guy, and by his own admission, he didn't know what 'traffic' and 'server logs' were, but he had been well trained in sales pitch.
I have a business directory and have received the OK to extract details from it for my database. In total there are 2000 local businesses in the area, populated by 103 000 people.
When I finally get all the details on to the database, it is a matter of getting permission to publish details to stay on the right side of the law. As opposed to gathering the information "as is" to publish, im doing it as a process of elimination- the least amount of hassle for companies - they say yes / no
back to topic - Them saying yes is doing me a favour, they are giving me free content. I.E 2000 phone/fax numbers, URL's addresses, towns, niches.....ultimately filling my pages with value.
This is my "pay" for filling up the directory. Im thinking of going along the lines of a CPA model where products are related to the SERP results of the business directory.
People in this area are still quite sceptical about the web, and providing a free listing will do them no harm, and my site no harm on the same note.
They provide my site with infrastructure, I provide them traffic. The end product will hopefully satisfy the end user. I want to add photo's of the companies and links in the database to relative maps of the area for each business, sorta adding a bit of depth to the results :)
My point is Ive got the info for the local businesses, and theyd be doing me a favour by saying yes. So it reverts back to the old persuasive tactics about an online presence......
It doesnt take the "big-boys" to make a good directory, though it takes time. One thing is for sure, any directory has to be comprehensive, nothing worse than having 1 SERP for a choice.
But the way I see it, if the site has value, the web will reward it accordingly
The real problem, as I see it, is the preponderance of "directories" that expend considerably more effort on trying to attract prospective advertisers than they do on trying to service users. I'm sure that we all get regular spam (and telephone calls) from such people.
National directories with regional breakdown can be very useful when they have a purpose (eg. a specific vertical market). There's only room for a very few popular national and global services.
Ian's question is key, though. To be maintained it really needs some kind of funding model. That's not an easy task.
Im agreeing with ciml about the spamming/over advertising on directories. They just seem to be promoting themselves more than they present the real service they were supposed to provide. If im looking for a business, i want plenty results of businesses im looking for with the least amount of rubbish cluttered around the page as possible
I also want to be geographically specific. In my experiences, though many people are worried about parting with cash on the net, one of the other factors includes issues about warranties, return to base, regional law etc.
I mean, sure the price for a PC in the US is great, but what if it goes faulty 3 months down the line? What if the company is based in some state that has strange laws that I dont know about? There was an article in a Scottish paper the other day about gambling .com's being situated in countries that have no laws protecting the end user. One thing is for sure, I dont want to be doing business with such a place.
In regards to the whole UK directory thing, Im not sure if it works. Why would I be looking for a plumber in London if I live in the North of Scotland? Sure, there may be a reason why you want a London plumber, but perhaps a London-specific directory could provide a more comprehensive search?
I see the bottom-up approach working best. As mentioned above, you can "acquire" a few hundred thousand links from somewhere on the web or you can pull our your wallet and pay for the information you need one way or another. One thing is for sure, cash needs to be generated, and exceed costs....duh ;)
But like I say I see the bottom up approach working...geographically specific. Like already said, the directory is for the end user, not purely just to sit there and promote itself like its going to be the next UK revolution
In my case, I will get details of companies and add them for free. That will be my content, that will be my site. 99% of companies are OK about publishing their details, so a 99% comprehensive directory of my region would HOPEFULLY be handy.
Cost? My 30 seconds to include each business (its a database) and the price of a stamp, phone call or email them to ask permission to publish details (data protection act).
Making money? Already mentioned, a CPA model. In the case of a business directory (a database)...its not hard to add on a products database/products pages working on a CPA model. It would sorta be like running affiliate programs on a content site, I do not see too much of a transition ;)
but the 99% acceptance would result in around 100 categorised pages of businesses, geographically specific, category specifc and keyword specific ;) From and SEO point of view thats not bad. From the end users point of view, thats pretty comprehensive. If all things go well, its also good for the businesses listed who may want to further your services...
Its a very interesting thread with much to discuss ;)
The second advantage is the feedback. If you use the right model, hit the right audience and promote in the right way then you'll expand naturally. That means that you get to fix problems and tweak the model before investing heavily.
Firstly - any local directory no matter how good must be found by Joe Searcher or Local Linda Searcher. To do this requires advertising, which needs to be sustained and which costs serious money.
Some may recall my long standing views on Essex Pages. Here was the classic Local Directory. It was paid listing but it was advertised on Radio, Buses and Hoardings despite that it produced little traffic and is now defunct. thisisessex is a spin off of the Regional newspaper with a third party B2B + Fish. The advertisers are all "Vauxhall Conference League" because the important ones wont waste their money. Over the past couple of years various people have posted the "I'm setting up a new......" Can't think of any who are still around. It is tough and requires a lot more than programming skills.
Having been in business for 18+ years I have seen all the paper directories come and go. The fact remains that only YELL (paper) has stood the test of time and is more than worth the money I spend being in there. (Thomson is still around but I dont know who uses it!!!!)
Online, specialist directories, the wedding industry as an example, do work, and have taken onboard the importance of regional selection but where are the good B2B directories.
I am aware that at least one of our clan runs a local directory (which appears to be excellent) but he has yet to comment.
As someone who knows nothing about anything, it makes me suitable qualified to say that a lot of you guys are tooooo focused on global traffic. For many small businesses (especially services) that is not what is required. Whilst I can duplicate 50 video tapes for a client in the Outer Hebrides and send them back via a carrier, I am unlikely to want to go all that way to pitch for a promo video. (Too Cold) I want those enquiries to come from a local radius, hence the importance of deciding what type of "advertising" will target the individual requirements of a business.
I bet if some of you guys were running YEL.com then we would have the ideal model- a national database with regional/local listings with good quality content at an affordable price delivering good quality traffic, with a high conversion rate. Is that too much to ask? errrrr YES!
Directory awareness, I think, really needs to rely upon the search engines & main directories, as advertising - unless prolonged and heavy - will not work as people unfortunately have very short memories, so aiming a site towards a particular product eg. Weddings, or geographically specific search terms can work. Another and much longer approach is asking for reciprocal links within the sites you display, this will hopefully generate more regional based traffic/enquires.
Funding, lets face it, is one of the reasons most fail and relying solely on a regional directory to supply someone with a reasonable level of income would be hard, unless you have a massive advertising budget to start off with. The expensive thing is the advertising of the site, which is required to get awareness/usage of the site to such a level that would encourage large local business to pay for banner ads on the site, thus providing you with an income from the site. Other than that you would be hard pushed to charge anything more than a small admin fee for inclusion within the site, but top this up with affiliate schemes & banner ads.
If a local directory is marketed correctly it can offer a real service for people, as one of the main issues people tend to moan about relating to search engines is the difficulty in finding either local services or products when using SEís.
More often than not this is down to the lack of understanding of how to search correctly, as most surfers when looking for products/services will expect to find a local supplier just by typing a generalised term and then canít understand why it brings up 300,000 results.
This where a regional directory can offer more relevant results without the required knowledge to use the larger directories and hopefully provided the information that the person was looking for. The trick is getting them to find you in the first instance, thatís where directory owners need to know how to market the directory themselves.