In a packed market full of copycat web directories all using the same basic web directory scripts with a slightly customized theme, how can a new entrant distinguish their web directory from the crowd?
Know Your Market. Let It Inform Your Decisions
What market will the web directory serve? It is far better to focus on a single niche, a collection of inter-related niches or a single city or town than it is to try to cover every industry or location in one sweep.
Do you have a unique understanding or experience of the industry or area of focus for the web directory? Can that be leveraged into providing unique insights to visitors? Or can you hire someone who does? What do the end customers care most about? What do the businesses value that are likely to list on the web directory? How can their voice be better represented, as compared to competing web directory sites? What can be improved upon?
How are popular industry or local sites designed and organized? Does that make sense and should this be mirrored in the structure and design of the web directory?
Know Your Customers. Let Them Tell You What They Want To See
Web directories have two customer bases, those who seek to have their sites listed in the directory and those who visit the directory and follow the outgoing directory links. It may not be obvious in the case of a web directory, since they essentially refer customers to listings, but the visitors to their web directory are their customers too. In many ways, they may be the most important customer.
The web directory can enjoy relationships on both the buy side and the sell side of the equation.
Design for Site Visitors First, Businesses Second
Design for site visitors, not the businesses listed in the web directory. The reason for this is that while revenue may or may not be derived from the business listings or private advertising, the site needs to focus on the visitors and their needs first. Provide a perspective on the industry with news, commentary and guides. Give your visitors a reason to return.
With the end customer taken care of, these visitors will feel supported and will respect the recommendation of businesses in their area or industry of interest. Those businesses, in return, are likely to benefit from increased traffic, greater interaction and email contact with the site visitors who will want to work with them.
Don’t Design On The Cheap. Show Visitors That You’re Serious
Avoid, at all costs, the temptation to buy a cheap or free web directory script with its standard look and choice of a handful of different templates. If the web directory is going to look like a thousand others, then people who visit web directories regularly will know the site is a look-a-like. They won’t respect it.
There is a good reason why successful, profitable blogs tend to side-step free or paid WordPress themes and either opt for a highly customized WordPress theme or order a bespoke site design. They know that in order to stand out from the crowd they need to make a statement. To be original and unique, they need to look original and unique. If their site looks like so many others, it sets the wrong tone from the start.
Also avoid registering an expired domain with an existing Google PageRank. The search company has recently taken action with an algorithm update to penalize sites that are using expired domains. This is because too many internet marketers were using the already expired domain and its high PageRank to rank their web directory faster and into a higher position.
Don’t cut corners because sooner or later Google will catch up with you and the web directory will suffer. Badly. Build for long-term success. In that way, the web directory will not fizzle out when the next Google algorithm update comes along.
Thoughts on Business Listings
The businesses that will want to list on the web directory need to see a real benefit in doing so. This is true whether or not there is a listing fee.
Each business will want to customize how they are presented in the listing; if the listing looks like all their competitors then they have no way to separate themselves from their peers.
Devise ways for individual businesses to present their offering in a way that can be unique. Consider offering a customer rating system or live Q&A between prospective customers or existing customers, and each business to create interaction between visitors and businesses.
Look at Amazon.com to see how their book product pages aren’t all the same despite the fact that they display similar readable products. Use flexible dynamic page design to allow true customization for each business listing instead of being completely rigid. Consider hiring a programmer to customize for you if need be.
Thoughts on Site Visitors
The site visitor is just as much your customer as the businesses that may list with the web directory. There will be opportunities to interact with them to better understand what they are looking for and how one can provide an improved visitor experience.
Serving the visitor well with useful content, inside knowledge and relevancy, as well as full business listings containing all the critical details, ensures that visitors stay longer and consider the site a destination in and of itself. This can provide a potential revenue stream separate to any business listing fees.
A business listing can be given an in-depth site and business review rather than simply publishing a boilerplate description provided by the marketing department of the each business. A thorough review covering the aspects that are most important to their end customers will deliver an honest option that will be respected.
Visitors could be offered a weekly newsletter with industry news and a recommended weekly listing. This type of newsletter would act as a way to bring one time visitors back again.
Set The Bar High Across The Board
Raise the game. Ensure the bar is raised high enough that a new web directory will get some attention once people start to see it and move around it. This is achieved by focusing on a narrower segment of the market, providing something original, useful with points of interest for both visitors and businesses who wish to list there. And don’t forget to include some TLC aka passion. In a crowded field, a web directory must stand out in order to get noticed. “Just another web directory” simply won’t cut it. Be original. Raise the game.