With our simple common-sense test
If you run your own company, it’s normal to want to increase the amount of business coming in. If you don’t understand online marketing, listing your business in an online directory might seem like a good idea – especially when these directories seem to guarantee a certain amount of traffic or enquiries.
If you are getting those promises from a salesman, the alarm bells should be going off at this point. Anyone who knows anything about the way the internet works will tell you that no one can guarantee you traffic (unless they’re clicking through to your site themselves), far less a guaranteed number of enquiries (even assuming you are getting any traffic) for the simple reason that a host of other factors about your business and your web presence combine to influence whether or not someone will actually contact you to buy.
The harsh reality is that you’re hungry for more business and the online business directories are hungry to sell you their services. This (in the light of the preceding paragraph) is an almost sure-fire recipe for inflated promises and, ultimately, unhappy customers.
The following is a simple, common-sense way to test what any online directory promises or implies in its sales pitches. Of course, only you can know what the salesman is actually promising, but do this test with those promises in mind – BEFORE you agree to anything!
I’m using TouchLocal for this common-sense test but you can do it for any one of those category-based directories.
First of all: Go to the TouchLocal home page. Choose one of their named categories. I chose ‘Sign Makers’
Step 1) In ‘Sign Makers’, select one of the paid listings (in this case a ‘sponsored business’) – I’ve chosen ‘Southern Neon Signs Ltd’ of Southampton
Step 2) Click on the company name and explore their TouchLocal listing. Click through to the company’s own website and make a note of their URL (so you can see if it comes up in Google searches later).
Step 3) Imagine you’re Southern Neon Signs Ltd. You’ve paid your money for TouchLocal to help people looking for a sign maker in Southampton to find you. Now you want to test how well they’re doing this. It’s time to put yourself in your prospect’s shoes.
Go to Google and do the obvious: a search on ‘sign makers southampton’. Look at the results. Do you see Southern Neon Signs there? No. Ok. Do you see any TouchLocal results there. Two. Ok. Do any mention your company? No.
Step 4) Explore the TouchLocal results. Click on the first one.
Step 5) This takes you to a TouchLocal listing page. Look careful at what’s happening on this page. First note that there are Google ads for your competitors in that all-important top part of the page. Next, note that there’s a listing for a direct competitor of yours directly above you! Then, note that you appear at the bottom of the page. Ask yourself what are you actually getting for your money here?
Step 6) Go back and explore the other TouchLocal result in the Google results page. Click the link to see what it leads to…
Step 7) Uh oh. This is worse. This leads you to a page with a single company listing on it – and it’s another direct competitor of yours! Plus another pile of Google Ads for your competitors.
So Southern Neon Signs Ltd paid money to a business directory in the hope of getting more business but their business name seems to be invisible on P1 of Google and where it DOES appear, it’s buried among their direct competitors and has no competitive advantage whatsoever.
At this point, you should be asking yourself ‘What did that business get for its money?’
They paid their money and got a listing in the directory. But remember, an entry in a directory is useless because nobody goes to a directory to search for products and services. They, like you, use Google when they want to find a sign maker in Southampton.
The point of online marketing is that you’re trying to put your details (whether on your website or someone else’s – such as TouchLocal) in front of a potential customer. This customer is using Google to try to find someone to help with his problem. The words he’s typing into the Google search bar are what are referred to as ‘keywords’. You want your site to have those keywords in it, and you want Google to return YOUR site (not those of your competitors) at the top of its pile when someone searches for those keywords.
Google has to decide whose site is most relevant to the searcher. It does that by assessing the relevance (a complex and ever-changing formula) of your site to the searcher’s needs. An important part of that is your keywords.
If your site is well-made and has a liberal, and appropriate sprinkling of your business’s keywords (plus a host of other qualities that Google judges as contributing to its relevance) then it will be returned high in the search results when someone types – for example – ‘sign makers southampton’.
When an online directory offers to make your business more visible in Google and get you more enquiries or business, it will try to do this by competing for those keywords and presenting your business details as high up in Google as it can. The problem for any directory (and for you as a business with your own website) is that where there’s money to be made (for example, in sign writing in Southampton) there will be a lot of people competing with you to appear at the top of Google for those keywords.
Neither you, TouchLocal or anyone else can cheat your way to the top of Google (although many try). To get there – to be considered more relevant than all the other pages on the web that might reference ‘sign makers southampton’ (including all your competitors and all the other online directories competing with you and each other to get those top 10 slots) – you have to work really hard or pay a lot and take the short cut – using Google’s sponsored advertising ‘Adwords’ system.
So when an online directory offers you lots of exposure and implies that this will lead to lots of business, you need to remember that they’re going to be playing the game I’ve just described – along with literally dozens of other online directories doing the same thing for other sign makers in Southampton and everywhere else, for that matter.
The reality that nobody ever points out to you is this: there are only 10 worthwhile places on P1 of Google (plus the sponsored links). If you’re not in those, then (by and large) the business will go to those who are. And you can rest assured that those who are will be those who have paid or done the hard work to get their names on the first page. Not the name of TouchLocal or UpMyStreet or Yell or any of those directories.
Go to Google, type in ‘sign makers southampton’ again.
Look at the yellow shaded ads at the top and the ads down the right hand side of the page. These are Google Ads – paid for by the company wanting to appear at the top of Google. The more money there is to be made in their business, the more it will cost them to appear there. The normal law of advertising applies.
Look at the ‘organic’ search results – the rest of the results on that page. Note there are numerous entries at the top for TouchSouthampton and Yell. But put yourself in the buyers position. Those listings tell you NOTHING about any companies. To find a company to satisfy your needs, you’re going to have to click through to TouchLocal to find out more. The browsing prospect is going to go with a named company on the first page, not a ‘one-click-removed’ TouchLocal listing.
The bottom line is that a prospect is far more likely to click on any one of the paid ads or the Google business listings before they’ll go anywhere near the TouchSouthampton or Yell listings on that P1 of results.
The good news is that YOU can run this test yourself before you agree to sign up to any online directory.