Online Directory

Building an Online Directory? Best Practices for the Digital Age

An online directory can quickly generate real revenue — when it’s done right. These best practices will help you become a master.

When people talk about building an online directory these days, they are usually referring to the restaurant, real estate, and schools directories that many digital publishers are adding to their websites. These directories serve as a vehicle for search engine optimization, as well as a source of recurring revenue.

When old school publishers think about online directories, they might be remembering those vast websites with millions of business listings, like and Those listings websites were online directories, too, but they bear little resemblance to the online directories that today’s publishers are creating.

These days, digital magazines are bring in substantial revenue with online directories, including seasonal lists of the “Top Schools” or “Top Doctors” in their areas. Building an online directory can be a business opportunity to consider, especially for publishers who feel they could fill a void in their particular niche or community.

Just look at Seattle’s Child magazine. Seattle’s Child is the premiere publication for families in the greater Seattle area. It’s been around for an incredible 40 years. Seattle’s Child has built an impressive lineup of online directories, each focused on a particular topic or niche. For example, the publication has directories focusing on Pregnancy & Babies, Summer Classes & Camps, Child Care, Education, Food, Family Fun, and more. Each of these directories features listings for businesses or organizations that serve families in the Seattle area. Seattle’s Child also offers “Featured” listings to businesses that want to have their listings appear more prominently.

Seattle’s Child has been successful with its online directories, in part, because the publication has followed online directory best practices to attract attention, engagement, and generate advertising revenue.

Before we get too far into which best practices publishers should be considering when they are building an online directory, let’s start by defining what an online directory actually is. An online directory is a digital list of businesses within a particular niche. In many cases, the niche is an industry (like law or healthcare), but it can also be defined as a location or a category. Online directories help local businesses get found by people searching for information, and they can also help digital publishers increase profitability when they sell advertising or premium listings.

Online directories have grown in popularity as they have become easier to implement. Tools like Web Directory PRO make it much easier for publishers to start selling directory sponsorships and running display advertising alongside their own unique directories. Publishers can even give business owners and individuals a way to publish their own content and submit payments for enhanced directory listings through self-serve portals.

That self-serve aspect is very important for publishers today. The more self-serve opportunities publishers can provide to prospective advertisers and readers, the greater the return-on-investment (ROI).

Online Directory Best Practices

With online directories becoming nearly ubiquitous among digital magazine publishers, especially as they become less labor-intensive to manage thanks to newer software modules like Web Directory PRO, we’re seeing increased demand for these types of products. Here are some online directory best practices that are used by top magazine publishers and other digital publishing entrepreneurs.

#1: Pay attention to the setup.

One of the most costly mistakes digital publishers can make when building an online directory is to use outdated software or tools for the project. The only way to guarantee success with an online directory is to build it using advanced modules that include self-serve portals, so businesses can add, edit, and pay for listings on their own.

#2: Offer free listings.

We all know why publishers want to have online directories. They’re looking for an additional source of revenue. But free listings have to be a part of the directory business model, as well. We’ve found that publishers have much more success with their online directories when they offer basic listings for free and give businesses the option to pay for premium or featured status. This strategy works much better than requiring payment for all listings on the site.

#3: Add value for readers.

The best online directories provide real value for the publication’s audience. Schools directories and summer camp directories offer a great example of this. Readers want to visit the publisher’s website to find this information, since there is a good chance they won’t be able to find it elsewhere.

#4: Develop credibility in your niche.

If you’ve worked hard to develop credibility as a digital magazine publisher, now is the time to let that shine. Use the credibility you have established to your advantage in attracting both business advertisers and readers to your online directory.

If you would like more information about launching a business directory using Web Directory PRO, click here.