Directories Can Be a PITA

I’ve chosen the directory model for a few of my developed websites, and since one has several hundred paying customers, I think I can give some feedback about building and managing directory websites based on my experience.

Building a directory site can be a bit difficult if you start from scratch or customize a theme you like, but once you’ve got a design and platform that works, replicating it can generally cost just a few hundred dollars and should take several hours to complete. This doesn’t include the time and maybe money spent researching, marketing, and advertising the site, but rather just the cost of getting it started. All in all, it’s not too  onerous, which makes this a very good model for me.

If you haven’t managed a directory website before where people pay for listings, I can tell you from experience that they can be a pain in the ass, especially when you are working with small businesses.

People can be demanding when you ask them to spend their hard earned money on a listing. Some might not understand why an Internet directory listing is worth the price, despite the fact that they continually spend thousands of dollars on phone book advertising and newspaper ads. Many want to talk on the phone or in person before committing. It’s not the end of the world, but I would prefer to not have an hour-long conversation (or more) with just the chance of earning $49 for the listing.

Many small business owners will want or expect special  accommodations to be made for them (the standard listing page won’t be decorative or colorful enough). Others will ask you to make changes to their listing frequently. You’ll have people who want a listing but can’t complete it themselves and will require you to create it for them and then make changes. Some of your clients will expect instantaneous results, and they will complain to you when they haven’t received a single lead after 24 hours.

You will have a considerable amount of people who will create a listing but won’t be able to pay. Some just won’t be able to pay using the payment methods you offer. People will forget about their listing and file complaints with Paypal when their listing automatically renews…. the list goes on and on, and it can be difficult to manage an active directory.

Directories are great because they are fairly easy to set up, and customer-created listings help drive increased traffic to the website. They offer a strong recurring revenue stream, especially when your site gets significant amounts of traffic. However, there are plenty of frustrating aspects to managing a directory, so you should know what you’re getting into before you get started.

Elliot Silver
Elliot Silver
About The Author: Elliot Silver is an Internet entrepreneur and publisher of Elliot is also the founder and President of Top Notch Domains, LLC, a company that has closed eight figures in deals. Please read the Terms of Use page for additional information about the publisher, website comment policy, disclosures, and conflicts of interest. Reach out to Elliot: Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn


  1. Hi Elliot,

    I’m sure you’ll shake your head after reading my comment, but do you have any recommended resources for getting started with creating a directory?

    I have a great domain and am about to begin my own in a niche where there are none currently. I don’t have any experience with directory sites yet though, so any advice (besides they are a major PITA lol) would be much appreciated!


  2. @ Perry

    I like Directory Press as a WP theme. Here are two examples: (still in beta)

    On Elance there are many providers who can build these out for about $500, then duplicate for a little less per url. I have a dozen in the works and have a good state-side group I can recommend. Ping me if interested though the contact at one of the sites above.

    I have found they are a giant PITA too and one faces many hurdles against the review and local lifestyle/city sites who have used business directory listings to fill pages with content and active sales forces.

  3. @MRX

    I did this with and have a couple restaurants paying low $xxx per month. I am looking at this too by using directory press for basic listings and then a “featured restaurant” for $xxx per month like a full page ad, as Bethesda is set up for. Then expanding to a featured restaurant by cuisine.

    Elliot could have a featured dog walker per market who gets a full page profile for 3x the standard listing. A content/sales play here is to include two interviews per year of the featured business, but it’s a PITA to do 🙂 I am working on a “8 Questions with Chef…” so the answers can be cut and pasted easily.

    Also using PPC to guarantee exposure. The average visitor hits over 2 pages, so everyone wins when gets PPC traffic, I can report page views to multiple advertisers by buying 1 click. It’s basically a co-op.

    Would love to hear any suggestions on directories.

  4. @Elliot

    Interesting. What do you think the result would be if you charged more than $49, say, $199 instead ? Do you think that would weed out the really cheap ones and perhaps get rid of a lot of the complainers?

    I’m currently deciding how to price a new small business/rentals directory knowing the problems you mention.

  5. I think it’s important to start small or to pick a niche. Last year I was developing a Business Directory for a small City near me and got nowhere because the project was just too big.

    Now I’m working on a niche directory for the same City but instead of 10 000 businesses I’ll have to deal with far, far less data.

    Yes, the potential income is less to begin with but it’s easier to get started and get to know the market.

  6. @Adi

    I have theory for directories and would love others’ thoughts. In any local market there are only so-many businesses that “get it.” That is, they have the desire, intelligence and budget to buy a online directory listing. For restaurants I cap this at about 40 for any decent market. So, if one can acquire a smaller market domain but still believe they can get 40 listings, their ROI will be better than acquiring a major city where they will not get much more than 40 listings anyway. I don’t mean small as in EBF I mean Cherry Hill, NJ vs NYC.

    I looked at buying from Frank Schilling. Instead I was able to buy Bethesda, Reston, Silver Spring, McLean and a few other major suburbs for 15-20% of the cost of My suburbs combined have 6,000 restaurants and I believe I will be able to get more advertisers across these markets than I would had I bought the major city, once a decent site is built out and gets traffic.

    I guess we will see…opinions welcome.

  7. @BFitz – I absolutely agree with you.

    I have a restaurant geo domain but don’t have the time right now to develop it.

    What is the best way to get in touch with you to send you the name? Maybe we can work on the project together or you might even be interested in purchasing the name.


  8. We developed a niche directory for automotive industry focusing on helping users find New Car Dealers. We sell the listings in our directory for an average per store price of 1500.00 semi annually. We also provide links to their website , social networks pages and inventory. We provide a dealer dashboard with analytic s.

    We buy several keywords to drive traffic to our site and we rank first page for “local new car dealer” and “local new car dealerships” along with hundreds of others.

    its been a long process but we launched 90 days ago and have signed over 200 dealers so far. We just got a pr3 ranking and have a US Alexa rank of around 11,500.

    Looking to launch soon.

    I love the directory model.

    Have a great day!

  9. G’day Phil,

    Really appreciate the hard work gone into your new venture . Could you please tell me if that is a template site or has alot and I mean alot of work gone into developing from the ground up.

    I run a directory called but it is getting on now and would love to change the look and feel but funds are quite tight.

    Mate, could you please reply if at all possible and let me know, i would appreciate it!

  10. @phil

    I really like the set-up of your directory! I especially like the interactive map & the layout of the specific state pages.

    You mention that you “developed [the] niche directory” — was it developed from scratch or was it based on any existing script?


  11. @Dave,

    Yes the WeHaveDoctors site has been in development for over a year. I started out wanting to build a dr directory that was easy to use but very intuitive based on the visitors insurance affiliation , location or type of practice.

    We spent several months developing the scope of the project and it kept getting bigger in terms of providing additional content.. In fact the last piece of this project is getting all of the the symptoms and conditions data written along with the 3d videos done.

    We looked at Webmd ,Findadoc,healthline and several others and tried to build ours with the dr search as the primary function rather than an ancillary aspect.

    Our revenue model will be selling the detailed individual profile pages to the doctors, hospitals and senior living facilities first and advertising revenue second.

    I understand very well how “funds can run tight” to be perfectly honest my doctor site has already cost well over $100,000 and that does not count any of my time or the content that we are having written.

    My suggestion is to get your rev stream up with the current site that is functioning. Grow your sales team and as you have the income stream to support a refreshed site , make noticeable improvements with input from your current clients. This will allow you to not only extend your footprint but allow your to raise your price by creating more value for your clients.

    Have a great day

  12. @ Phil … I will agree WeHaveDoctors looks great.

    Your photos and layout really works! You may of invested 100k+, but the return on investment might really surprise you.

  13. Elliot re your listing I can speak from experience as an advertiser.

    1. You need to send out a heads up yearly before paypal charges people, one forgets and then people may have a moment of surprise when they see a charge on their bill not remembering what it was for.

    2. You should sell a “featured advertiser” that gets the top spot, as you list alphabetical there are 50 or so listings in my categories. With the letter p I am towards the end so people have to pass a majority of my competitors to see me, not much value there. But I would be willing to pay more to be listed at the top like companies used to do in the yellow pages by putting an A in front of their company names.

    3. Pet people are not always business people, so you may have to hold their hand a little more. Just goes with the territory.

    4. I agree raise the price a little to weed out the real time wasters. $59 is peanuts and as a small business owner your time is valuable.

    5. You need to make sure you show value all the time, i.e roi, google analytics info, brand positioning, traffic stats.

    6. Get some testimonials from people, nothing sells like testimonials and make sure they are detailed and benefit oriented.

  14. @ Jordan

    Thanks for the comment and insight.

    1) The issue is that it will cause a significant # of cancels so a far greater downside and little upside. Most of those who have questioned the charge have continued with the listing when they remember what it is they bought. It’s also much more work to manually remind people and remember to send those emails.

    2) For many of the smaller cities where there are just a couple listings, it wouldn’t make sense to do that. Most of the cities are smaller. I strongly advise people to make their descriptions thorough and include all zips and neighborhoods for max coverage.

    3) Agree… most people are great though and super nice.

    4) For the larger city dog walkers, this is accurate. For many of the smaller cities/towns, it would be a hardship. I may increase the cost though since traffic is way up (over 13,000 visits a month).

    5) I am very happy to share stats when asked. #1 for “dog walker,” “dog walkers,” and “dog walking” searches on Google right now. Also, many top results for longer tail searches.


    BTW, one of your subscriptions lapsed but I never heard back about renewing. Your other one is still active 🙂

  15. 1. Why would giving someone a heads that you are avout to charge them and a reminder what it is for cause one to cancel? If anything it
    Would help stop any cancellations or fraud reports to paypal. And can these reminders be automated saving you any addtl work?

    2. That may be true for a topeka,kansas but nyc,boston, dc, la, philly etc it is a hyper competitive and this cod be an addtl revenue stream as you may attract advertisers who may not have bought a listing otherwise. Having more than option is always good as some people like small options others big.

    3. I would raise prices in largest populated areas.

    4. Re stats you should include geo stats, the term dog walker can mean anything and can come from any geographic area vs miami dog walker is from someone either living or moving to miami looking for a service.

    Yes I decided not to renew for our main site petaholics as I just did’nt see the value, the 200 clicks we got over 12 months would only equal 3-4 calls and maybe 1 client. We continued with brooklyn dog walker as that’s a new site and we are looking to still build its traffic.

  16. @ Jordan

    In the NYC area, 200 clicks via Adwords would be anywhere from $150 – $350 depending on the bid/keyword, so for $49, it’s a pretty good deal.

    IMO, if I had 3 people willing to pay $50/year more to be top 3 in the big markets, I would lose clients and the cost of lost biz would be more than the added biz.

    With the platform I use, it wouldn’t be possible/feasible to charge more in more populated markets.

    I am happy to provide anyone with long tail geo stats if/when they ask. The one issue is that I have many neighborhood and zip searches, which would make it tough… so I might have 200 people a month searching for Brooklyn but another 300 using Brooklyn zips or neighborhood searches, and the time to analyze wouldn’t pay off in the end.

  17. @ Elliot

    Once I have more advertisers I plan on putting in a script where they rotate with every unique visitor. This way it is not alphabetical or first come first getting the top spots everytime. I have been told this can be easily done by the techies.

  18. Hey all, one problem I have found with my directory is trying to get businesses to renew. Most say that the got no phone calls or leads.

    I’m trying to improve the site so I can improve conversions. If I can get it right I believe the site can dominate it’s niche.

    Any advice greatly appreciated. Have any of you’s experienced low conversion and managed to put it right?

  19. Hey Adi,

    I’d love to but I’m a bit reluctant to. I still have dreams of creating a strong brand with it.

    I know its difficult to give an opinion without seeing the site.


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