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Online Directories and Your SEO: How Much is Enough?

Online Directories and Your SEO: How Much is Enough?

by Jessica Jones

There is a plethora of online directories out there, every one of them wanting you to create an account, and almost all of them hoping that you’ll end up paying for premium services once you’ve signed up. Having your business information appear in as many places as possible is a good thing, right? Right – but there are drawbacks. If your business moves, is the address going to be updated on all of those listings? The answer is probably not, unless you’re manually updating those listings, or paying someone to do so.

Nope, not this kind of directory.
Nope, not this kind of directory.

Listings in directories are beneficial to you in multiple ways. The most straightforward benefit is that people who use those directories to look for businesses may find your listing there. If that directory is well established enough to have strong SEO of its own, your listing with them may appear in Google search results, leading people to your business and your page indirectly. Making sure that your website is listed with high-ranking directories is a good way to build up some backlinks, which will give your own site an SEO boost.

But with so many directories out there, how do you know which matter? How do you know whether it’s worth paying for help managing them? Sadly, as with many online marketing topics, there are no easy answers. The right solution is different for every business. We can, however, present some information that might help you make a plan.

Not All Directories Are Created Equal

As a part of our one-time Search package we submit clients’ businesses to several online services/directories, or claim and edit/optimize listings that already exist. Certain directories are ideal for certain types of businesses – i.e. Kudzu is great for contractors, plumbers, etc., as it gears itself towards homeowners and home services. Foursquare is important for any business with a storefront. Some industries have directories that are very specifically geared towards what they do, and some directories, like Manta, are open to any business.

There are a lot of online directories out there. Some are well established and reputable, while others come and go, or are just plain sketchy. My list of directories that are worthwhile for submission is constantly evolving. I sometimes find new directories to add, and sometimes they turn out to be well run and worth using. Sometimes they barely function and I put a note on my list reminding me not to waste my time with them. Occasionally a directory that I’ve used in the past simply ceases to exist, as was the case with Yellowee, which seemed to be an up-and-coming directory with a slick design – until it vanished.

So how do you know which directories are worth your time? If you’ve decided to do some citation-building work manually, you’ll probably want to narrow your focus down to directories that you know matter. As this information can change regularly, it might require some research on your part. If you google “best business directories” you’ll find plenty of lists and resources to help you get started. You can also search for directories that focus on your specific industry. Depending on your field, there may be some good options for you, but be discerning: sometimes field-specific directories will charge a fee to include you in what amounts to a “who’s who” list that may be viewed by other professionals in your field, but may not actually be frequented by your target audience.

Even reputable directories that offer valuable free services will, for the most part, also offer premium services. Some may call you after you’ve set up a free account, trying to sell you on their paid services. It’s possible that some of them may have services that you might choose to make use of, but don’t be taken off guard by potentially high-pressure sales calls. Be aware that directory submissions might trigger them and don’t let yourself be pressured into purchasing services that you might not actually need.

Sweat Equity vs. Financial Equity: If You’d Rather Not DIY

Of course, rather than combing through directories manually, on your own time, you may be interested in paying to have the work completed for you. The most well-known service for this is Yext – if you’ve spent any time looking into directory listings you’ve probably come across them. I’ve been asked before whether their service is a worthwhile one. Not having any direct experience with using them, my answer is purely based on internet research, and based on that research I can give this confident, unequivocal answer: it depends.

If you research Yext you’re going to find extreme opinions on either side. Some swear by their methods and claim it’s the simplest, most reliable way to keep your information consistent on a large number of online directories. Some, however, take issue with the cost ($500 annually is the information I’ve found, though they don’t seem eager to make their pricing structure available on their website), their reportedly high pressure sales tactics and the fact that, rather than paying a fee to have them update your listings, you’re required to continue paying a subscription, and if you cancel it your listings may return to their previous state.

Yext’s service does seem to have value: being able to easily update your listings in so many directories at once, and to have those updates take place so quickly (manually submitted edits can take days or weeks to take effect with many directories; with Yext, most are instantaneous), is a great benefit. A Yext subscription will also allow you to have more robust listings with many directories, and to push out marketing promotions such as coupons, specials, etc. There are also some directories, such as local.com, that will only accept submissions through Yext.

Is this, however, the best use of your money? If you’ve got the budget for it, using Yext in addition to (rather than instead of) ongoing SEO work could be a benefit. If you don’t have the money for both, however, I would recommend hiring an SEO professional (hey, we’ve got those here at Slamdot!) before looking into a subscription service like Yext. Either way, an SEO professional could help you to maximize the benefit of your Yext account or help you to manage important directory listings without one.

As a middle ground between DIY and ongoing services, there is also the option of hiring someone for a one-time service of claiming/editing a handful of directories, as we do with our Search package. If it’s not bundled in with other services, citation building will generally be billed hourly, so the cost will of course vary depending on the number of directories you’d like to focus on. With a one-time service like this you would be responsible for returning to the listings individually to update them should your information change in the future, but you wouldn’t be required to pay an ongoing subscription in order to keep the changes active.

A Little Effort Can Go A Long Way

Some of you may be asking whether all of this is really necessary. Necessary is a strong word. Being aware of how your business appears in large directories is a good practice, and I will always recommend claiming and optimizing your listings in at least a handful of the more respected and higher ranking directories. This is a task that you could complete on your own in an afternoon, and once you’d established the listings you could more quickly go through and update them if your business’s information were to change. You could even make a goal to add directory listings gradually, one or two a week, over time, after you’d completed your initial round of hitting up the big dogs. Will it take some time? Yes, but it’s doable, and something you can do without spending money if your budget is tight.

Having accurate, thorough listings with well-written description text on high ranking directories is, without a doubt, good for your SEO. Spending a little time on your own editing those listings and keeping them updated when there are major changes would be a worthwhile venture. Whether you decide to take it further and invest money into directories is completely dependent upon your business needs and, of course, your budget.