For years, business listings and “Best Of” lists have been an undervalued component of most city and regional publishing websites. However, with the right ad sales strategies and self-serve checkout tools in place, digital publishers are now finding that it is possible to generate revenue from online directories in a way that’s both passive and sustainable.
Hosting an online directory has significant upside for the savvy digital publisher. New plugins and platforms make the process of building a directory fairly straightforward, and a number of payment solutions enable advertisers to pay for enhanced listings in a self-service fashion.
From Yellow Pages-style business listings to jobs boards, “Best Of” lists, real estate showcases, and customer review portals, there are endless opportunities for digital publishers who want to generate revenue from online directories. This is particularly the case for digital publishers with niche audiences, since those audiences often look to professional publishers as a trusted source of information. Capitalizing on that goodwill makes it possible for city and regional magazine publishers, in particular, to bring together their loyal audiences with business sponsors.
Here are five popular ways for digital publishers to generate revenue from online directories.
1. Enhanced Listings
The most popular way for digital publishers to generate revenue from online directories is by selling enhanced listings. For example, a publisher with a local business directory might publish a listing for every business for free, but charge a fee for listings with bolded text, images, or additional information. Most publishers will sell enhanced listings through a self-serve portal, which means advertisers can manage their listings and sign up for recurring payments without requiring any handholding from the publisher’s sales staff.
2. Display Advertising
Online directories are popular with search engines, which means they can drive a significant amount of traffic to a digital publisher’s website. One of the ways that publishers can capitalize on that influx of search engine traffic is by running display advertising alongside their directories.
Publishers have the option to run Google Ads or sell advertising directly to the same local businesses featured in their directories. Imagine a city-specific business directory flanked by display ads paid for by a local restaurant or automotive dealership. Publisher should ideally be using online directory software that includes widgetized ad zones that support Google DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP) and other major ad serving platforms, including Broadstreet.
3. Subscription Access
Whether readers will pay a premium for access to an online directory depends on the value of the information behind the paywall. While readers won’t usually pay for basic information, like local business listings, niche publishers — particularly in the healthcare and legal fields — have found success charging for access to their “Best Of” lists.
Another option is to charge readers for premium content within a free directory. For example, homeowners looking at an online directory for contractors in their area might see the names of the top contractors for free, but they have to pay to see verified reviews and images of the contractor’s past work. This strategy should be combined with enhanced listings for publishers who are looking for more than one way to generate revenue from online directories.
4. Featured Listings
Featured listings go one step beyond enhanced listings, justifying a higher price tag for advertisers. Whereas an enhanced listing is one that’s bolded or includes an image, a featured listing usually sits in a place of prominence within the online directory. For example, featured listings can sit inside a large box towards the top of the webpage or they might be included under a “Related Resources” tab below the directory. Like enhanced listings, featured listings should include an image and a heading that’s somehow bolded or highlighted. Advertisers should also be able to pay for featured listings through a self-serve portal on the publisher’s website.
5. Sponsored Directories
Display advertising typically runs alongside or at the top of an online directory, but section sponsorships take business branding to another level. Wallpaper ads that are automatically inserted in the full background of every page within the online directory are impossible for readers to overlook. Publishers who want to generate revenue from online directories can charge a premium for these types of sponsorships. For example, a local Realtor might pay to have his or her logo splashed across the background of every page of an online directory of real estate listings.
The key to maximizing profits with an online directory is to combine revenue generation strategies. This allows publishers to make a profit from both small and large advertisers, as well as readers who are interested in accessing premium content. If you’re interested in learning more about how to combine these tactics to generate revenue from online directories, we’d love to chat.