The challenges of making money with Directory sites

Back in February of 2011 I wrote a blog post about how it’s hard for Domainers to make money with directory websites. The big mistakes I’ve seen many people make is to think that just putting a directory website on a domain name will suddenly inspire people to start paying for listings.


The reality is, when you launch a directory website, nobody wants to pay for a listing. If you have a healthy marketing budget and can built-up traffic then there’s some hope. However at a time where sites like Yelp have massive market dominance the stand-alone directory website is nothing more than a dream for most people.

My question is, how has this changed in 2016? Is there still hope for people who want to run directory websites or has that ship sailed?

{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Voice As Computing June 10, 2016, 1:40 am

    Having tried local directories before (and failing) I still couldn’t resist to start building “Voice As Computing” website.
    This time however, recognizing the fact that this is a very new development, I’m choosing to create an authority site rather than a directory.
    My earlier experiences plus the fact that right now there are very few players in the Voice As Computing interface technology, give me some advantage.

    Summing up: instead of a directory site, try building an authority site, preferably in a very new niche.

  • Michael June 10, 2016, 2:37 am

    I did a directory for dentists on a [State] domain half a decade ago. Then we sent personalized letters to thousands of dentists in the state with a code to claim their listing for free and make sure their information was correct. Only 20 ever even bothered to claim the listing, and not a single one ever upgraded.

    I don’t think the landscape for directories is any better now, I think it is just getting worse and worse. I believe the only way to make a directory work is as an add-on to an already popular site, or maybe if it is an absolute monster domain like the Castello’s

  • Juan Colome June 10, 2016, 7:13 am

    I believe that keeping it very local and a tight niche market can produce results.

  • Alfredo Ramirez June 10, 2016, 8:07 am

    I agree with Juan and Voice as Computing. Local niche directory doubling as an authority site is the way to go. Great, useful content all in one place for a very defined audience that has a well defined interest. In my experience you absolutely have to be willing to do direct sales by phone or email. You can also do what Michael did but then you have to do it at least once a month for a year then follow up over and over again. What I’ve learned from this business is that you HAVE TO SELL. It takes work.

  • R P June 10, 2016, 8:54 am

    I tried in 1999-2000 and failed. Switched biz model in 2002 to e-commerce affiliate links and sold network of sites for 7 figures about 3 years later. Stayed on as head of marketing for next 9 years and we ended up building a billion dollar unicorn. True story.

  • Jeff Libert June 10, 2016, 9:10 am

    Morgan, I think the “ship that has sailed” is the one from which people who “knew/know the answer(s)” to questions like “Can this (idea) make money?” once called out from . . with answers. Nowadays (and for the past dozen years), if anyone knows the answer to such questions they no longer share that answer publicly, for all that accomplishes is enabling a hurried competition – from all across the globe – to implement that answer/solution. All that has been delivered to the masses, for the past 5-10 years, is the promise to reveal the “secret system” (of making money online) . . for a fee . . which secret system of is to sell the same “secret system” for a fee to the next . . (insert pejorative word here).

    FWIW, to speak directly to your question, I’ve long viewed Google as nothing more than a directory that is assembled “on the fly” ~algorithmically. G’s strength has long been finding that single needle, in the haystack, the one needed “right now”. (Known business’s phone #, etc). Once you move into more general searches (landscaping company in (location)) G is little more than what I described: a directory, assembled by an algorithm, from a data set.

    There was a time when directories attempted to compete with Google (for ultimate, end user / consumer search queries) by striving to rank in Google’s SERPs for “(type of) directory”, a somewhat inane business strategy on its face. (If anyone feels the itch of needing an explanation of this comment, so they might gain some advantage in setting up to play in the directory space, they are beyond hope.)

    Most directly to your question: Do directories exist and work and make coin? Yes, however they may not look like what once passed for “a directory”. Yes, that includes Yelp, AngiesList, AVVO, etc. Even those that fit this description (“We’re really not a directory, we’re so much more!”) may offer, as an additional resource, a more formal (directory style) . . cough . . directory . . or, in recent years, an app . . which, often and again looks quite like . . a directory.

    • Morgan June 11, 2016, 2:53 pm

      Thanks for sharing your insights @Jeff and well said.

  • Juan Colome June 10, 2016, 6:02 pm

    Adding superb value can enhance your abilities to sell spaces. Selling is an intricate component of getting new listings. Phone cold calls, in person walk ins, letters and of course postcards.

    Google and Yelp cannot compete with a well setup tight niched directory. Videos, call to action optins, ect. Try getting a featured or premium listing with yellow pages and see how much that would run you ? We also feature every “featured” listing on a huge 9×12 size postcard that goes out to 10,000 homes and businesses in the local area. The card is branded with our directory.

  • MPS December 18, 2019, 4:56 am

    In fact, you can create specific directories that can compete with other sites. Plus, the development of any project is budgets, time and work. If you set a goal, then almost any project can be a success.


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