How to Operate a Professional Web Directory

By Louis Crisci, Owner of Canny Link

With more than 100,000 Web directories online, very few operate at a profit.  Many directory owners struggle to get their site to rank for some keyword phrase, or try to gain PageRank thinking that this will lead to revenue.  Their efforts often are in vein because they are not focused on what is of vital importance- developing a customer base, and creating a directory that someone would want to submit a listing to.  The first task in any marketing effort to know who your target audience is, what they want, and were you can find them.

Knowing who our target audience is may sound obvious and elementary, but unless you think about specifically who they are, you are less likely to know what they want and how to find them.  Target audience consists of single site owners, Webmasters, SEO Firms, and Interactive Ad Agencies.   SEO Firms and Interactive Ad Agencies represent repeat business and repeat business is a vital factor with regards to directory profitability.
One way to find out where prospective customers go to find Web directories may be found in the DigitalPoint Forums.  You don’t need to post the question, it has been asked hundreds of times.  “Where can I find a list of quality web directories to submit to?” Just.  look at the replies.  Those lists and web sites are places where you want your directory advertised.  Don’t evaluate an ad opportunity based on PageRank, dofollow, etc..  Base it on the likelihood of attracting a prospective customer to your site.
Many great places to advertise your directory offer 125 x 125 banner ads.  Make sure that you have a 125 banner ready to promote your site.  If you don’t, one place to get one made is Fiverr.com.  Even if you have to try two or three vendors at Fiverr for $5 each in order to get a satisfactory banner, it is still cost effective.
If you were to evaluate a web directory from another directory owner to submit one of your sites, what would you look for?  Would having AdSense ads or sitewide footer link ads make you more or less likely to submit?  If the answer is less likely, then why include them on your own directory?  What your prospects want in a directory is an eye appealing, simple to navigate and submit to site.  Get rid of the clutter, affiliate programs, and anything else that will not be perceived as adding value by your customers and site visitors.
Test your site on a regular basis by adding a listing via the submit form.  Was the process seamless and hassle free or are there factors that can be improved and simplified?  Check the email template replies.  Make sure that your email templates are working properly and are reflect your business in an appropriate manner.  Take advantage of email templates as a way to reach out to your customers with your contact information and other directories available.
How you price a submission review will have a significant impact on the long term profitability of your directory.  Since every directory owner values their review time and listing differently, there are no hard and fast rules for pricing levels.  There are some principals to keep in mind when pricing your directory.
First of all, since we realize the importance of repeat customer business, it is advisable to keep prices constant long-term.  Once some repeat customers are established, a price increase, for what every reason, can alienate them.   It is safe to assume that repeat customers have a list of favorite directories including cost so they will know if price increases.
Next, keep pricing options limited.  Having four or five options including deep links,  permanent featured, yearly featured, etc. will cause confusion and lead to prospects bailing from the submit page.   Best strategy is simply to offer a standard listing and a featured listing option.
Last point on pricing is the relationship between price level and submission volume.   In general, the higher the price, the lower the submission volume.  One interesting human behavioral factors is that by pricing your ad space cheap, it may be perceived as have less value that if you priced it higher.
Create repeat business by offering customer service above and beyond what is expected.  Let me offer one example of the type of outstanding customer service that can develop a repeat customer.  Let’s say that you missed a paid submission, and an irate customer contacts you regarding their listing one week after payment.  Standard customer service response would be to admit your error, apologize, and take care of the listing.  Outstanding customer service might include offering a refund in addition to completing the listing.  Forgoing the review fee is a small price to pay for your error, and you would be surprised at how often acts like this result in additional orders.
You may have noticed that nowhere in this post is “SEO’ing” your directory to any particular rank discussed.  Sadly, that is exactly what many directory owners spend their time chasing.  Running a profitable web directory is all about basic marketing skills backed with a small advertising budget.  Once your directory makes the private list of repeat buyers, you will turn losses into profits.

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