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How to Start Your Own Online Directory Website.

Updated on December 22, 2011

Why Start a Directory Website?

Online directories have been around since the early days of the internet, but people seem to have largely given up on creating new directories lately. Many people make the mistake of trying to focus on too large of a field or area when starting directories. If you try to be the next Yelp, Yellow Pages or CitySearch, you will probably fail. Your website does not need to be the hub of your entire country for music, restaurants, hotels, retailers and sporting evens. Focus on your local city, town or region (if it is small enough), or focus on a specific niche.

Look at it from the perspective of both your website visitors and potential advertisers. If you are trying to find a listing of concerts in your city, wouldn't you rather go on a website that is focused on music and concerts in your city, rather than a huge site that also features restaurants and every other business? And wouldn't you rather go on a local website that covers your city, instead of a large site where your city is a tiny blurb on the site?

Now, pretend you own a local Marketing Consulting business in the city of Boston. If you were going to advertise online, would you rather spend your ad dollars on a website covering your entire region, or even the entire country, or on a website that showcases high quality businesses in your city, where all its visitors actually live in the city? What if there was even a website dedicated specifically to people in need of Marketing Consultants in Boston? I bet you'd even be willing to spend more on advertising, knowing you are able to reach highly targeted traffic.

While online directories have been around for a long time, but you'd be surprised how few directories are out there that are targeted to specific niches or markets.

1. Research Specific Niches or Markets through Keywords

Now, you need to decide what type of directory website you want to build. This, like any business, should be built around the need for it. Just because you might like smooth jazz music doesn't mean there are enough people in your area that share your interest to justify having a website dedicated to smooth jazz concerts in your city. An easy way to research this is by looking for people are searching for online. There are a few great websites that make this easy.

1. WordTracker - This is a paid service that will tell you the amount of people searching for specific (and related) keywords, and will display up to 2,000 keywords per search. WordTracker offers a 7 day free trial.

2. Market Samurai - This is another paid service that combines SEO and marketing tools.

3. SEOBook - SEOBook offers a very useful and completely free Keyword Tracker tool that is based on data from WordTracker (they do require you to register and login to the site to use it). While the previous 2 are great tools for SEO, this option should suit our need in this case.

As the below graphic shows, it looks like an average of only 9 people are searching for Smooth Jazz in Boston each day, so that sounds like to narrow of a niche to warrant having its own city guide website. What is the amount of daily searches you should look for? That is tough to say, but I usually use 100 as a ballpark minimum amount of daily searches to consider.

However, just because people are searching for something doesn't mean it's a great idea for a website; which brings me to the next step...

SEOBook Keyword Research Tool


2. Research the Competition

You might have found a great niche that people are searching for, but are there other websites that already fill their needs? There might be a lot of people searching for 'Pizzerias in New York City', but if there are already 20 directories of NYC Pizzerias, that would be a tough niche to get started in.

Luckily, this step can be as easy as searching on Google, and browsing the competition. Other services, such as WordTracker, also provide details on search results and competition. In most cases, there will already be some competition, but spend some time browsing the other websites. Can you run a directory site that is much better than the rest of them? In most cases, if you are using the right software (discussed later in this hub) and can out-market and out-sell them, the answer can certainly be yes.

Decide on a Business and Domain Name

Deciding on the best name for your website can either be an easy process, or one that causes you to lose sleep for several nights. The best practices for deciding on a business name are beyond the scope of this hub, but keep things like branding, keywords and of course the availability of the domain name in mind. My main advice is to find a name that emphasizes your niche. If you're focus is on a specific city or location, use a name that refers to that to make sure people know they're browsing a local website. The same things applies to specific industries. Be creative, but again, keep keywords in mind as well.

Here's a trick I've always used for testing out ideas for business names. Pretend you're answering the phone, and say 'thanks for calling __________, how can I help you'. How well does it roll off your tongue? If it's too long, too tricky to say, or not memorable, it will be harder for people to recommend you to their friends. Don't get hung up with trying to jam as many keywords into your domain name as possible, as people won't take your business seriously.

Contact Potential Advertisers

Assuming you intend for your business directory or city guide to be profitable, there are 2 main ways you can monetize your website (and most directory websites will be a combination of these options).

1. Charge businesses (or bands, or whoever) a fee to be listed on your website. You can charge for either listings, for individual events, or offer a variety of other listing options (charge extra for the business to be listed in a 'Featured' section, or charge extra for music venues to be included in a calendar display).

2. Charge for display advertisements. If you're website gets enough traffic, businesses will want to pay to have full banner ads listing things like sales and special events.

Before spending time and money getting your website set up, it is usually best to call around to several businesses, tell them your vision of your website, and ask if that would be something they would consider advertising on.

Tip: Starting a directory can be a 'chicken or egg' type of thing at first. Not only do businesses want you to have traffic before paying to be listed, they want to know that other businesses (ie.their competitors) have agreed to be listed. Trying calling some well known businesses in your city or area and offer to list them for free. Then contact other businesses and tell them that their competition has already signed up to be listed. Another option is to include both free and paid listing options (where paid listings would receive a more prominent location on your site), or allow businesses to sign up for free for the first 6 months (or whatever period of time).

Decide What Website Software to Use

Options for directory website software can range from nearly free to well over $1,000.

Directory software such as eDirectory has a ton of great features, but those features come at a price that can be tough for new businesses to swallow. eDirectory is currently $99/month plus a $199 initial setup fee for their hosted software, and specific options such as a mobile version, different portal packages cost extra (even removing their company's name from your site is an additional $25 per month!). eDirectory also offers a fully-owned software license starting at $1,799.

eSyndicat is another directory software option which is free and completely unbranded. While the software has a lot of great features, but the consumer facing part of their software seems outdated to me. PHPDirectory is another well-designed option that starts at around $100, and can be integrated with other software such as Drupal, Joomla and Ning. A Google search will bring up many other options as well, but there is a great option that doesn't usually show up on the top of Google searches for directory software.

My hands-down personal favorite software for running a directory website is (compared to the hosted software) is free open-sourced CMS software that can be hosted at the hosting provider of your choice. While WordPress software was originally designed as blogging software, it has evolved to become a great option for business websites. Web developers are able to build themes (otherwise known as templates) that integrate with WordPress. There are several WordPress Directory Themes available that are, in my opinion, much better than the other Directory software options I've seen. While there are some free WordPress themes, but best directory themes I've seen are premium WordPress themes that generally run around $39-$199 as a one-time fee.

Templatic GeoPlaces WordPress City Guide Theme

Final Steps

Once you decide on your software, in many cases you will need to decide on a company to host your website. There are a ton of articles out there comparing hosting companies.

Once you get your website live and configured to your liking, be proactive and contact businesses and sell them on being listed on your site. Focus on the benefits to them (which in most cases, is more customers and money in their pockets). Overcome price resistance by pointing out that if they get only 2 (or whatever amount) new customers over the entire year because of your site, the listing cost will pay for itself.

One you get some businesses listed in your directory, it is up to you to market your new business and drive traffic for your website (don't forget - the more traffic your site gets, the more money you will make from advertisers).

Lastly, if you want to be successful, treat your directory site as a real business. This is not a get rich quick scheme, and it will take work, but directory websites can be very profitable businesses.

Good luck, and remember that building any type of business takes time, so don't give up.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Great Article, I would suggest giving us a try! we provide an exclusive members area, marketing content and help, ALL software upgrades are free, live help desk webinar for 3 hours on Tuesdays, Sales and Marketing webinar twice a month. In business since 2003. Network with other members (share/collect tips and ideas) Pre loaded businesses for free. This is all we do! We do not have other jobs, City America has employees that are vested in your success.

    • profile image

      Abhishek Gupta 

      4 years ago

      hie i want to know if i want to place the listings of business by myself in my website and ask them to just claim it would it be a good option ? if so then from where i can get these datas?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I just bought Business Directory Income 2.0 and launched my site in a little over 7 days. I have 10 clients already each paying $50 a month! So excited!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This site certainly has all of the info I wanted concerning this subject.


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