Over the past six months I’ve spent $500 on business directory software, including plugins and a theme.
Amazingly, not one plugin could do the job properly for me and while I didn’t try all the directory themes, not one offered all the features I needed based on features list on the sales pages.
That left me in a quandary. No plugins and no themes. I didn’t want to custom code anything because that would be frightfully expensive. That left me one opition… cloud based solution.
If you’ve gone through my course, you know that when I build out niche sites, I like adding a variety of features to them as well as cater to both the consumer and B2B audiences if possible.
One user-friendly feature with excellent monetization possibilities that’s easily added to plenty of niche sites is a business directory. Obviously this doesn’t work for every niche, but in my experience you can make it work for a lot of niches. Most general info type of niches have a related local business industry.
Table of Contents
- Examples of niches and associated business directory ideas:
- What about a stand-alone directory website?
- Why bother with a business directory attached to a niche site?
- What is the best business directory option? Is it a plugin, theme or cloud software offering?
- Plugin vs. Theme vs. Cloud Software
- What do I mean by properly built for SEO?
- Should you use free business directory software?
- Main site vs. Subdomain
- What do I like about Brilliant Directories?
Examples of niches and associated business directory ideas:
- Fitness niches = personal trainer and/or gym directory.
- Health/beauty niches = salon/spa directory
- Finance niches = financial advisor / broker directory
- Vehicle niches = related vehicle dealer directory
You get the idea. Again, this doesn’t work for all niches, but a good number.
Fortunately for me, it works for two of my niche sites and so I’ve invested a lot of time and money figuring out the very best business directory option for my niche sites.
What about a stand-alone directory website?
I don’t publish a stand-alone directory. My directory is attached to a niche site. I’m not sure a stand-alone directory is worth it unless it’s very niche and you have a specific purpose for it. But to build a general local business directory on its own is not a business model that excites me. I don’t think there’s much money in it and ranking is not easy given Google My Business pages get preference big time.
Why bother with a business directory attached to a niche site?
Obviously, there must be a good reason to go through all the work. Here are my reasons for it.
User experience: I have traffic, so why not offer the traffic features they might like? For example, if you publish a personal finance blog, a directory of certified financial planners is helpful. Of course it’s not all altruistic… there’s money in them leads.
More revenue: You can monetize directories a number of ways including selling the leads, display ads and/or selling featured listing placements and premium listing features. In fact, a successful directory has excellent monetization options… and it’s recurring.
Easy to build: Business directory content is easy to create (seed it with outsourcers) and once it’s up and running, it builds itself with user-submitted content.
Build up B2B email list: You can market to the businesses that set up listings. Typically, small business owners are a very good audience. If you get a list of 3,000 small business owners within a specific industry, that’s a great email list.
What is the best business directory option? Is it a plugin, theme or cloud software offering?
I bought and tested 3 business directory plugins (actually built out directories with the plugins until scrapping them). I analyzed 15 business directory WordPress themes (and actually bought one of them). I also bought 2 cloud business directory subscriptions to test.
The business directory platform I chose and am using to build out my directories is Brilliant Directories.
Brilliant Directories is a cloud-based business directory software offering. Out of everything I tried, researched and bought, it’s the best solution for me.
The problem is it’s not cheap. However, I think there’s enormous potential for my directories, so I have no problem investing in the best software.
After all, I’m paying a VA $400 per month to seed it. It’ll likely cost me $2,000 to $4,000 to properly seed it before it takes off.
Moreover, I want the directory to look so good and function so smoothly that businesses will want to submit listings.
Plugin vs. Theme vs. Cloud Software
My first approach was using a plugin so I could add the directory to my main site such as www.my-site.com/directory. Going with a theme would mean having to put it on a separate WordPress installation which would mean putting it on a subdomain (i.e. directory.my-site.com). At first, I didn’t want to do this, but after a bit, I chose to move it to a subdomain of my niche site.
The problem with the plugins is no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t make the plugins perform the way I wanted. Moreover, the user interface just wasn’t all that great.
I’m not going to name the plugins because I don’t like doing that; all I’ll say is that I carefully looked at all the available plugins and actually bought 3 premium plugins. None of them did the job for me.
The problem with plugins is they’re just too simple. You might be thinking “well how complicated is a business directory?” I had that thought when I started.
Let me tell you now after having built out 2 directories (and scrapping them) that it’s complicated. It’s made much simpler with the right software.
There are many directory themes. Some look great and offer a wide variety of solid features. I actually did buy one of them and I think it would have been pretty good; however, the cloud-based software is just so much better.
If you’re considering building a business directory, it’s worth looking into this theme.
The main reason I went with cloud-based software, other than the fact the design looked much more professional, was that Brilliant Directories offers a photo album option so that businesses could create a variety of photo albums within their listing. This is a very important feature for me and a key selling point for Brilliant Directories.
1 theme I can comfortably recommend and I would have used had it not been for Brilliant Directories album capability is:
- Directory Engine (I actually bought this until I realized Brilliant Directories has album capability).
The main reason I liked Directory Engine is it’s properly built for SEO. Many themes aren’t. Watch out for that.
What do I mean by properly built for SEO?
A directory’s URL structure gets messy. You have 3 elements:
- Individual listings
Individually, it’s fine. It’s when you combine categories with locations that it gets messy because there are thousands or even hundreds of thousands of combinations (depending on how many categories you have). But the kicker is you want to rank for those long tail search phrases such as “certified financial planners in Bellingham, WA”.
Moreover, search tools, especially if there’s dynamic search built in, results in URLs that are not indexed in the search engines. This results in a huge chunk of your directory not being indexed in the search engines.
Directory Engine and Brilliant Directories are built so that locations, categories and listings will create search friendly URLs.
I’ve been a WordPress plugin and theme guy for years. However, lately I’ve been opting for cloud-based software for specific site functionality such as landing pages (Instapage), Quizzes (Opinionstage), Q&A (Answerbase) and now for my directory (Brilliant Directories).
Cloud software is built with very specific functionality in mind. It’s not software trying to conform and work within the WordPress database environment. Instead, cloud software is built with software that best executes the functionality.
I also find that the frontend design and UX is so much better with cloud software options. It’s fast, looks very professional, easy to use with separate dashboard and just plain works better.
Going forward, I will probably continue relying more and more on cloud solutions instead of plugins and themes.
Should you use free business directory software?
I avoid free unless it’s a pretty basic tool or plugin or I can tell the company or person behind it is making a fortune in the backend some how.
Why do I dislike free?
- Support is bad or nonexistent (who can blame them).
- You never know whether it will be updated properly.
- It usually lacks features and design quality that paid versions offer.
I caveat the above with “I’m not a developer”. I suspect there are some solid directory scripts that with the right coding know-how will work well. However, because I’m not a coder and I don’t feel like hiring a full time developer, I’d rather get a turnkey solution even if I have to pay for it.
IMPORTANT: With most directory software platforms, you can export the data in the event you switch to a different option. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Usually there will be a lot of CSV clean up involved and unless you have a huge database, it may not be worth monkeying around with. My point is don’t assume that because you can export and import that it’s a good idea to start with something free or less expensive with intention to switch to something better down the road.
The take-away is if you’re going to invest time and money in a business directory, do it right the first time. Take it from me; I built out two directories with plugins before switching to Brilliant Directories.
Main site vs. Subdomain
At first I wanted my directory within my main site. However, after being persuaded to set up my Q&A portal on a subdomain, I thought it’s also probably best to set up the directory on a subdomain too.
I’m not sure the subdomain is the best option, but that’s what I’m doing.
While I don’t enjoy the domain authority of having it as part of the main site, I don’t realistically expect to rank my directory all that quickly, if at all, in the search engines. Google My Business pages are unbeatable.
I’m funnelling existing traffic from my site to the directory. I’m also using the directory to build more industry connections as well and then ultimately to sell leads.
Interestingly enough, cloud-based directory software makes it possible to put the directory on a subdomain or within the site (subfolder), which is another compelling reason to go with the cloud option.
What do I like about Brilliant Directories?
This section gets to the heart of the matter.
What is it about Brilliant Directories that persuaded me to shell out a fairly large amount for the lifetime license plus pay a recurring fee for additional capability?
There are 3 key offerings that sold me. They are:
Photo albums: I already mentioned this, and obviously this is not a feature you may need, but for me it’s very important that businesses be able to create albums. In fact, I really liked another cloud based directory software, but they had image upload limits of 20 per listing and they didn’t offer album capability.
Stunning design: I just love the frontend design of the directories created by Brilliant Directories. I can customize it if I want, but I doubt I will other than put in my niche site’s colors. From the home page, to category pages to region-based pages to individual listings… the entire site looks amazing. It’s professional. It doesn’t have that “plugin” look.
Proper on-site SEO: You need to be very, very careful about SEO considerations when choosing a directory plugin or theme. Many do not have good SEO capabilities largely because the search URLs are not SEO-friendly.
When shopping for a directory solution, ensure that the theme or plugin specifically says it has proper SEO set up including schema.org.
If they say in the documentation that the product works with Yoast, that’s not enough. You want it specifically built to be properly search engine optimized.
And so, because Brilliant Directories creates directories with proper SEO at every level (i.e. city level, categories and individual listings), that was just one more compelling reason to opt for their platform.
Other than that, Brilliant Directories doesn’t offer any other features that most plugins and themes offer.
The usual batch of directory features that you’ll find with Brilliant Directories as well as many plugins and themes include:
Claimable listings: This is important if you plan on seeding your directory. You want to give businesses the option of finding their listing and claiming it and then customizing it further with their email etc.
Listing levels: You want to be able to offer premium (paid) listings which have enhanced features. One very nice feature Brilliant Directories has is that I can make some listings link with nofollow and other with dofollow to the business’ website.
Collecting leads for listings: You want control over whether you have leads going straight to the listings or not. You also want to be able to charge directly for these leads. Brilliant Directories makes it possible to set lead rates for each category as well as lower rates for premium listings.
What I mean by this feature is if someone is looking for a personal trainer and the end up contacting a trainer via their listing, you want to be able to track this and then charge the trainer for the lead.
Coupon codes: You want to be able to offer coupon codes for discounted listing rates for businesses.
Schema Markup: Given directories are localized and there are reviews, there’s plenty of potential for benefitting from schema markup. BD includes this which is important to me.
Google Maps Geocoding: Any directory worth its salt today should include Google maps geocoding. This requires incorporating an API, which isn’t all that difficult. This feature is where maps in your directory will automatically know where visitors are located and dramatically speed up local searches for visitors. It’s a tremendous user experience tool.
BD has other features, but the ones I list above are most important.
IMPORTANT: Themes and plugins offer some or even all of the above (except albums). And while that’s great, I just found the design of BD far superior to what any plugin or theme offered.
While I strongly recommend Brilliant Directories over any theme or plugin, I recognize that BD’s cost is quite high and so a theme is the only option.
The only theme I found to meet most of my needs (no photo albums which may not matter to you); most importantly has proper SEO set up is Directory Engine.
As for plugins, I can’t comfortably recommend any directory plugin.
Finally, the very best solution I found was Brilliant Directories. It’s expensive, but it lacks nothing and creates absolutely stunning directory websites.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes that’s “the best blogging email newsletter around.”
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.