The Trusted Marketing Agency SK team have noticing recently that more and more companies are entering the Canadian (and North American) 'local' and not so local, online directory marketplace. Since the internet began there has aways been millions of low quality, free directories that companies get free listings on, but since Googles algorithms refined in 2011- you might have heard of Google Panda, followed by Penguin and most recently Google Pigeon, these low quality directory links have meant less and less value SEO wise. However GOOD quality local directory listings should be considered vital to local companies online marketing strategy going forward...so where do you start?
These days there are considerably more paid options than ever before, of varying qualities. These websites range from $10 to $500+ a month. This means alot of choice for the businesses, and interestingly many of these websites are now using the phrases 'Trust' & 'Trusted' on their sites when describing their sites and the companies they list. Many of these new or 'recently improved' online directories tell us they offer both consumer and advertisers more than your ' average online yellow pages listing', but do they really offer what they claim or is it just smoke and mirrors?
The Trusted team really wants to help. This is not a sales piece for Trusted. We are happy letting you make your own mind up about where we sit in the spectrum of online directory options, and please feel free to contact us with any questions.
Firstly, let's look at what they offer their prospective clients...local businesses that they want to enrol.
To help Canadian companies sort through these directories, and when considering the possibilities and the costs of adding them to their marketing mix, we have decided to freely share our insights, opinions and more importantly our knowledge. This in turn should help business owners understand the value of being listed on 'online' directories, ( local and national) and help guide them when making their decision.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT ONLINE DIRECTORY FOR YOUR BUSINESS
1. EXPOSURE ON THE DIRECTORY
Unless the website membership is free, then the first thing that you should consider is weighing the cost to be on the website in relation to the exposure YOUR business gets on the directory. If you are paying between $1-$50 / month in fees then you should not realistically expect much as far as exposure.
The lack of exposure can be for various reasons:
a. There is no element of exclusivity -There will be unlimited businesses in your category, which means all your competitors can buy a place next to you. Many directories now offer a ' premium membership' promising top 3 or top 5 visible listings...but DO expect to pay more.
b. The categories are fragmented - to get additional revenue from advertisers the site has 100's of categories and sub categories . Although many advertisers feel they are unique and want their ' own category', it's really confusing for the consumer.
The traditional paper Yellow Pages companies around the World started this trend years ago to increase revenues. They would use it to instil a 'fear of loss' in advertisers "If you are not where potential customers look for you, they will choose your competitor!". A great example is window coverings- most paper directories have multiple categories 1.Blinds 2.Window Coverings 3.Curtains 4. Draperies
At Trusted we know general categories are a much better and simpler option for the user to navigate.
c. Are they city or provincially specific directories on individual WEBSITES or do they just have a National or International directory website with city areas as a field in the search? Having a website for a city that is ONLY featuring and talking about businesses in that city will eventually ( if it is a quality site and done well) BEAT any ' generic' directory site when it comes to SEO, reputation and public preference. Besides having local accountability is important to consumers these days ...even if the business is web based.
Remember Location, location, location! LOCAL is best!
It costs the directory company WAY more to do one website per service area ...but it is the best way for your business to benefit- which is why it's the TRUSTED way!
When deciding which website to choose, think about the quality of the website and the quality of the business model
Here are a few things to consider:
1. Does the website look professional? It should have good quality images for starters. Check the site for spelling and grammar mistakes, do all links and pages work? Is it easy to use? Are the business listings correct/up to date ?
2. Is the site mobile friendly? This is important as Canadian are accessing the web via their smart phones/mobile devices more than their desktops in 2014. If the site is not mobile friendly it will be NOT be a site of choice for mobile users. If like Trusted they have an APP, even better!! ( the TRUSTED CANADA App is available on iPhone, tablet and android)
3. Ask the owners / sales people how often the sites content is updated and what are their plans for future improvements/ enhancements? The internet is always evolving and any online based company of quality will be budgeting to invest in evolving along with the changes!
4. How secure is the website and what safeguards do they have in place to stop the sites ' going down'? Do they have defined timeline guarantees when it comes to fixing issues?
5. How is the navigation on the directory? People get frustrated if they can't get to where they want to go when they are on websites. Does the site do a good job of getting the job done in as few 'clicks' as possible?
6. Can you display your logo(s) in their correct shapes ( some site only have 1 shape option), and do you have enough space on your listing area to properly ' sell ' your company? Can you put all your contact details on the listing?
7. Can anyone advertise on the directory or do you have to be verified to be ' TRUSTED' - do you have to meet clearly defined standards to be a part of the directory?
If there are standards advertised on the site or in their advertising this infers GOOD QUALITY to the public- who will hold you to it!
Business owner this is your reputation, and you must make sure if you are advertising on a website/ directory that makes CLAIMS that they are the 'real deal' and who says clearly that the members will not RIP YOU OFF, then they better back that up. You are only as strong as the company you keep, and if just anyone can join and they are not penalized ( removed or down rated) if they do wrong then beware. If there are 'standards' and ' clearly defined expectations' we suggest speaking to other businesses that are already on board, ask to look over the contract before committing and look to see what they expect from you ( beside paying them your membership fee) and what they promise you ( beyond the listing), and DO check out THEIR online reputation and read their reviews.
You can have the best website in the world, but if people don't know about it then it won't be visited, won't get used and won't do anyone advertising on it any good!!
If you are paying a fee of more than $50 a month ask them where does that fee go?
Of course there are running costs - including:
- office cost
- website costs and hosting fees
- legal and accountancy fees
- staff costs ( if they are more than a one person company).
- Travel costs ( if they cover more than 1 location - assuming you actually meet them in person)
However what you really need to know is what is their MARKETING PLAN?
How are they going to REACH your target marketplace and your potential customers? How are they going to make sure people know about the site ...and even more importantly know WHY the people should go there instead of simply searching for your type of business on GOOGLE!
If they don't have a clearly defined online and offline marketing strategy for their directory ( just having a Facebook page and a Twitter account doesn't count ) and if they don't have a LONG TERM consistent plan ( not just a launch campaign) that they are committed to investing in, you really need to consider cost vs VALUE of being part of their website.
For perspective purposes - Once the businesses pass the application process and become Trusted partners, they pay on average $4000* a year to be part of Trusted Directories ( www.trustedsaskatoon.com and www.trustedregina.com) , and in turn we invest up to $20,000 a month per city directory DRIVING local, quality traffic to the websites. We spend time educating people about what we are, who the partners are and why they should come to our websites FIRST when they want a business. We do this via many mediums - adwords, social media advertising radio, billboards, videos, flyers, trade shows, TV, magazines, newspaper, community involvement and sponsorships. Additionally Trusted has been recognized locally and provincially by Chambers of Commerce for our excellent marketing strategy - being finalists numerous times in the Marketing category for both the Saskatoon and Saskatchewan Chambers annual business awards ( the SABEX and ABEX Awards) , in 2014 Trusted was honoured to be the recipient of the SABEX Award for marketing.
The internet offers measurability for your marketing, and the company that owns the directory websites you are considering should be able to quickly answer, ( and be prepared to prove it in front of you via their analytic data) any and all questions about WHO visits their website(s).
Without this information how can you possibly make an informed decision?
Here a are few things to consider:
1. How many UNIQUE visitors does the site have per month on average?
This figure is much more important than visits- One person can visit a website 1000 a day from their phone, but they are still just 1 unique visitor. Each 'unique visitor' is not guaranteed to be a unique person - it refers to an IP address ( each device that accesses the internet has it's own unique IP address - like a fingerprint.) 1 person can have multiple devices with different IP addresses - their mobile device, laptop, desktop etc..but by the same token one device can have multiple people using it ( think of library computers, family computer or work place devices), so it is generally recognized as being the best indicator of actual ' visitors ' to websites.
Obviously you have to factor in a few other things too- for example:
- New sites are going to be starting off with lower visitor numbers but will probably have more page views/ visitor ( as people check out the site for the first time) and the number of visitors should be steadily growing - so you should consider this number along with their marketing strategy - ask them what they are aiming for in their first year?
- Also size of marketplace is a factor- a large number of visitors in Saskatoon would seem a tiny amount in New York City
2. Where are the website visitors coming from?
If you are a local contractor, service provider or a local retail destination, then it just makes sense that most of your potential / target customers will probably be local. If it's a local directory and most of the traffic is not local ( city , surrounding area or provincial - depending on the service area of the directory you are considering) then BEWARE as it may be ' false traffic ' paid for to unethically boost the visit and unique visitor numbers of the site. One indication is a lot of traffic from countries in eastern Europe, Turkey, Africa and the Far East ..
Here is an example of traffic from a (unnamed) Canadian ' National directory' that is based in Toronto, but has a 'search by city' feature for every city on Canada ...as you can see the 2nd largest city by traffic is in India ...this is bought visitors and it is done to inflate visitor, visits and page view numbers! Know what to look for, and ask to see proof before you invest a penny.
3. How long are they staying on the website?
We are all BUSY, and if visitors finds the directory website useful, relevant and/ or interesting they will stick around for a while. If they don't they will leave pretty quick ( 5-10 seconds). On average website visitors stay less than a minute visiting a page of a website, and even less time if they are using a mobile device.
Directory websites generally are at the low end of the time scale with the average visitor spending just 20-25 seconds - users tend to quickly
a. fill out the fields to ' search by category and location'
b. then choose a business from list offered( or not if they don't find what / who they are looking for ) then
c. leave (either by closing down the site and calling the business or following the link going to the business www. for more information.)
Directory sites ( IF they are just quality business focused sites) have the advantage of the consumers going to them for a need, so as long as the time spent is reasonable and the HOME PAGE BOUNCE RATE is not over 55% then that is a positive indicator.
Bounce rate is when a visitor enters and leaves a site from the same page ( without going anywhere else) - so a high bounce rate on a websites home page is always bad ( this shows the page and therefore the website is not of interest to the visitors) in fact a high bounce rate with a few seconds time spent is bad on any page.
*It must be noted that on a directory website category page a high bounce rate is to be expected ( someone looking for a VET is looking for a VET not window shopping for a new salon, then a plumber, then an auto body shop. BUT to be quality it MUST be combined with reasonable time spent on the category page- (at least 30+seconds)*
Trusted individual category pages are generally viewed for at least a minute and the home pages have average bounce rates of between 25- 35% well below the 50% average for all websites.
4. How did they get to the Website- source traffic?
This is important because it showcases 2 important factors you must consider as a potential advertiser - their SEO and their Marketing.
Marketing: If they are doing a good job of driving people to the site via their marketing plan this should be obvious. Analytic data shows how the visitors came to the site - did they come from Adwords, Facebook, Twitter and other referring website...or did it come DIRECT?
Traffic that comes to a website direct means people typed in the web address into the search engine ( where this article address is right now at the top of the page), or they may have the site as a favourite site or you come up as a ' predicted option' in the Google search bar. Lots of consistent DIRECT traffic generally means the site is well known and popular.
SEO: Lets just ignore the rest of the search engines and concentrate on the head librarian of the Internet GOOGLE- if they have traffic coming from Google as the primary source to the website it means they are well indexed on Google when people are searching for the services offered . Good google rankings don't happen over night, they take time and effort to achieve. So hold that in mind when judging younger websites- ask the owners what their SEO plan is for the directory but also YOUR category.
Simply put SOCIAL = Long term SURVIVAL in business today both ON and OFF line .
Social media and more importantly social engagement is an important consideration for any business wanting to be around long term, and definitely for one reaching out to the public with a service as important and well used as a local directory should aim to be - Online directories are here to replace the traditional print books that anyone over 25 can probably testify to using weekly 'back in the day' before the internet became so accessible to all . With 83% of Canadians online - only the very old, the very young and the very poor ( and perhaps the very stubborn) are NOT online and most of them spend more time being ' social ' than anything else.
The quality LOCAL online directory you are considering should know this, they should have local social points of contact and ideally have local content on their social sites! If you are paying upwards to $200+ a month for your listing then this should be an absolute DEFINITE - and they should be constantly growing their fan base. They should be communicating why their directory is a good choice, using it to promote their members ( advertisers / partners) and their social sites should be top referring sources to the directory.
NUMBER OF FANS and FOLLOWERS is NOT the major factor...KNOW what to look for- engagement, interaction and where their fans are from ..check out the real examples below.
Here is a Trusted Facebook page - Trustedregina.com 5800 fans most of them from Regina and you can see ( anyone can do this) when you click on their page likes ( left side of their page) that most of the interaction is from local REGINA people
Lets compare this with another new local Canadian online directory below ( that shall not be named by me). This companies website is not live yet, and as far as I am aware they are not advertising yet, but they did start a Facebook page and Twitter account in July 2014.
Apparently it's taken them just 2 months to accrue 4300 Facebook fans ( for reference it has taken Trusted Regina over 2 years and Trusted Saskatoon over 3 years to accrue over 5800 fans per city Facebook page - and even the popular MySask411 Facebook Page ( owned by the huge multi $million corp Sasktel) has just 3800 fans after 4 years of consistent, ongoing, quality posts on their page, combined with contests and lots of other marketing) .
NOTE the significant differences- that absolutely indicate that this pages fans were all bought and paid for, apparently from young Turkish people.....this is a common but unethical practice as social fans can be used as ' value added' . Be sure to check out pages you partners with regularly and ask to see their Facebook Page - Page like data too ( if they won't show you that is a red flag)
Take your time to check out these directories online- see how they interact socially with the public, with the businesses and how much they engage with their fans.
A good QUALITY online directory can help you with growing your fan base, so this is a real added value- and being on a good quality site will help your SEO ...but VALUE across the board is where the Trusted directories really set ourselves apart from all others in the marketplace!
For more information on what sets Trusted Directories apart from the 'rest' read this article
Here is a YouTube video from Google webmasters that clearly explains how QUALITY is everything when it comes to how Google views the value of online directory listings for businesses
*$4000+ GST is for 1 listing on 1 directory for 1 year 2014 rate - in comparision this is $333/ month- equivalent to between 5-7x 30sec local radio ads / month or one of the SMALLEST display ads in Paper Yellow pages ( based on a Sasktel rate card 2014)