How to Choose the Best Directory for Your Small Business

Not all directories are created equal, so how do you determine which is the right choice for your business?

Written by
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7 Minutes
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February 2, 2024
Curated by
7 Minutes
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February 2, 2024

From their humble beginnings as printed reference books, directories have evolved into a convenient way for small businesses to gain visibility.

Contracted by the city of Chicago, Reuben H. Donnelley first launched the first physical copy of the Yellow Pages in 1886. This directory was the first of its kind, listing all businesses in an easy to reference format.  Due to its widespread circulation, the Yellow Pages quickly became the most effective way to advertise your business.

Over the years, technology has evolved and directories have gone beyond printed publications to online spaces, transforming the way we achieve local visibility. Directories remain an integral tool to promoting your business, and we recommend that you sign up for multiple to maximize your visibility. 

Not all directories are created equal, and it’s important to make the right choices. Let's narrow down your options!

What are the Different Types of Directories? 

As you set out to find the best directories to list your business, it helps to understand the options that are available to you. Directories come in various shapes and sizes, and your search should begin with directories that are within your industry, industry-adjacent, or local:

Industry Directories help you find people in your specific industry. Don't be intimidated by your competitors being on the same website as you. The positive of being on a website with your industry is if someone is browsing for an industry specific need they may choose you because of your message and identity. Example of industry directories are:

  • Realtor Directory
  • Artist Directory

Industry-Adjacent Directories complement your industry. Rather than focusing specifically on what you offer they bring together various suppliers, partners, and other services that synergize well with yours.

  • General Contractor Directory
  • Business to Business (B2B) Director

Identity-Specific Directories showcase businesses that are owned by specific groups of people.

  • Directories highlighting specific genders or ethnicities, such as Black-owned. 
  • Chamber and Association Directories focusing on promoting their members.

Hyperlocal Directories are typically focused on very specific geographical regions.

  • City Directories focus on a specific city. 
  • State Directories focus more broadly on your state as a whole.
  • Community Directories focus on the specific neighborhoods of your city.

Who is your Target Demographic?

Before you join a directory, you need to know and understand your customers or clients. This can help you save time and money by avoiding places that don’t align with your business. 

Ask yourself these questions: Who are they? What do they need? Why is your business the right one to solve their problem? Once you’ve honed in on your demographic, you’ll be able to position your business in the places where your customers are looking to find you.

Who is the Directory Reaching?

More than understanding your audience, you need to understand who the directory attracts. For example, a Chamber of Commerce directory caters mostly to business to business (B2B) companies, so if you own a business to customer (B2C) company, this may not be a great fit for you. 

Before joining a directory, ask yourself: what people and communities are they trying to reach?

Why does Brand Presence Matter on directories?

Another important aspect of your choice is how a directory handles branding and visual layout. Its own branding should be balanced with the businesses being showcased—appealing enough to draw in visitors while never overshadowing yours.

A good directory will have profile features that allow your brand to shine, such as a prominent place for your logo, an image gallery, or space for a short bio. After all, this will likely be someone’s initial encounter with your business. First impressions matter!

What is Performance and Why does it Matter for Directories?

Take a moment and think about your own preferences when browsing a website and let that be a guiding force for the performance you would like to see from online resources. What makes a website easy to navigate and what turns you away?

A directory's performance can significantly affect your exposure and credibility. A well-performing directory typically attracts more traffic and engagement, leading to increased visibility for your business. It's not just about being listed; it's about being listed in the right place that potential customers trust and frequently visit. 

Here are some good questions to keep in mind when analyzing performance:

  • How much effort are they putting into their content?
  • Are the listings up to date with current info? 
  • Are the current members satisfied? Look for reviews and testimonials
  • How is the website user experience? Is the site easy to navigate?
  • Are accessibility features in place for those who may need them?
  • Is the website relatively free of distracting ads?

What is the Difference Between Free and Paid Directories?

Your final choice comes down to this last thing: cost. This matters because though “free” directories don’t charge you to list your business, you often get what you pay for.

Free directories are often labors of love, run by volunteers who deeply care about the communities they are highlighting, but this can also mean they are poorly maintained and lack features, marketing, and other important aspects.

By contrast, a directory that is run as a business—and thus charges for membership—is typically managed and maintained by a dedicated team of professionals who will reinvest those funds back into the platform. In these cases, your membership cost helps pay for marketing, events, development, and so many other things that will help elevate your business. 

Before subscribing, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is included in my membership?
  • Can I update my profile?
  • What is this directory doing? Do their marketing efforts match the cost?
  • Do I value the work they are putting into their business?

Make Your Choice

Joining the right directory is an important decision. Without considering the factors above, you can easily waste time and money on a directory that doesn’t align with your business and won’t serve your needs. Weigh your options carefully, select the best fit, and get ready to find the right customers and grow within your industry!

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