Ok, so here I am in my third week of starting this new business, and I’ve already made my first big mistake (of probably many more to come)!

My Research

One of the services I’ve decided to offer is doing online directory listings for small businesses.  As I stated in previous blogs, I have a strong background in this area and I’m pretty familiar with the quality of what’s out there in the way of online directories.  I had heard for some time about how some companies were making a business out of just posting free listings for their clients on these sites.  I’ve always planned to incorporate this into my offerings because I believe it’s a valuable service for small business owners who don’t have the time or desire to do it for themselves.

However, I’ve been out of the game for a while and still needed to do some research to get up to speed.  I found that most small businesses I review only show up sporadically on the various online directories.  Often they appear on some of the top sites but not others or their information is inconsistent or incorrect on the sites where they do appear.  This has strengthened my conviction that there is a definite need for my service.

The Revelation

While poking around, I came across some of those sites who offer a “one-stop” solution to getting listed “everywhere” on the internet.  One of the bigger ones (I won’t mention names) lets you enter your business name and phone number and then prints out a big colorful display of several dozen of the directories where you do and don’t appear, and points out where your information is missing or incorrect.  So I thought “brilliant – I’ll use this feature to do the work for me and won’t have to check each site individually myself!”  So I used it to do some research on several of the small businesses in my area that I had planned to approach.

Little did I know that as soon as I entered my potential clients’ business name and phone number, they captured it and that business immediately became their potential client and a hot lead for one of their salespeople.  I found this out because I got a sales call from them a couple of days after running my own business name and phone number through their nice system.  Well, duh…..

The Problem

I’ve always instinctively felt that it’s better to manually enter your business information into each directory where you want it to appear rather than rely on an automated or “blanket coverage” approach.  Upon closer scrutinizing of the above-unnamed business, I found that most of the directories they covered were very obscure and rarely appeared in any Google search results.  Some of the more popular directories weren’t even included in their list.

Also, several of these directories have apparently “partnered” with this company and now force you to go through their paid service to place a listing rather than allowing you to directly enter a free listing like you could before.  This has become a big pet peeve of mine.  I think companies who force you to pay for a listing on their site are doing themselves a huge disservice.  Most small businesses can’t afford to pay for multiple listings on obscure sites (and believe me, at $5 to $10 per month they really add up fast) so they won’t do it.  Free listings are an excellent hot lead source for any directory and they’re missing out on a lot of potential customers.  When I worked at YellowPages.com we would get dozens of free listings per week as potential leads and the conversion rate to premium listings was quite high.

The other issue is that of quality.  I found through my own experience that every directory is different and there is no “cookie cutter” approach.  Most of them require a manual verification step in order to “claim” or “activate” the business listing.  Some will allow additional information such as pictures, hours of service and custom descriptions or text.  Virtually all of them allow a link to your website, which will come in very handy when it comes to optimizing your site for higher organic search results (a subject for another day).

The Solution

My solution is to forego the automated approach, instead manually entering the custom information for the client into each directory site, including as much information about the business as they will allow.  This is a much more time-consuming process but in the long run provides a better quality experience for the user.  It also follows along with Google’s philosophy of providing relevant, up to date and appropriate content in their search results.

Using this method, I can focus my time and effort on the directories that get the most traffic and appear highest in search engine results.  I can personally tailor my clients’ information for the particular directories being used, providing more appropriate results for their specific audience.  I can also ferret out which local or regional directories are most popular in their area and make sure those are covered, too.  I’m a big fan of the 80/20 rule and it definitely applies here.  The top 20 directories will easily get 80% of the search traffic and the rest (of which there are hundreds) will barely get any by comparison.

The bottom line:  it’s all about quality instead of quantity!