Grow Your Directory Site’s Traffic with Curated Content

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Grow Your Directory Site’s Traffic with Curated Content

Content curation is one of the fastest was to achieve growth in web traffic for publishing, directory, business and media sites. With the rise of social media and growth of mobile devices, content can now be viewed and shared more quickly and easily than ever before.

Mainstream sites like Buzzfeed, HuffingtonPost, Distractify as well as more niche properties like Colossal (www.thisiscolossal.com – Art & Design blog) use curation at their core to drive visits to their site.

What is Content Curation?

Content curation is the process of sorting through the vast amounts of content on the web and presenting it in a meaningful and organized way around a specific theme. The work involves sifting, organizing, and displaying information. It is increasingly becoming an effective tool for companies to increase their online presence and it’s easy to see why.

Why is it so valuable?

Curated content puts you at the front, as the gatekeeper or tastemaker for which of this content is used on your site. You will have control over amassing it from a variety of sources and delivering it in an organized and unique fashion.

Sites using content curation also tend to be highly efficient in increasing their natural Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which in part increases traffic to their site. Sites with curated content are updated rather frequently, and search engines will reward these up-to-date sites by indexing them more often.

  • Grows Your Site’s Traffic

Content curation websites attract vast amounts of traffic. We live in an age of abundant content and these sites are drawing in huge amounts of visitors all across the web.

  • Quicker Way to Create Content

It can be pretty difficult to create great content on a regular basis. Compared to that curating can be easier, quicker and cheaper than producing all of your content on your own. It’s a leveraged value-add for your readers, and thus can potentially be more profitable for your site.

  • Builds an Identity

By curating content for a specific subject matter, you can start to build and cultivate an identity for you site. You can use this identity to give your site a personality for visitors to relate to within your topic’s niche.

  • Develops a Following

As you start curating content of a particular type, you will eventually start attracting an audience that favors content of that type. If you’re the person your readers come to when they need new information on a given topic, then you’re doing your job effectively.

Sounds great, so how do I do it?

Having topically relevant keywords and phrases throughout your site is very important to your site’s SEO. Yes, I said keywords AND phrases. A common mistake people make is focusing too much on individual keywords.

Most of these will be far too limiting and competitive to gain much ground in the search ranks. Instead, it’s much smarter and efficient to focus on a common idea or subject matter and find phrases and long tail keywords that fit into that set.

  • Pick your Subject Matter or Theme

Choose a specific and relevant area that fits your website. Keep your topics as specific and niche as possible.

  • Find a List of Sources

Comb the web for sources of content. Not all of the best sources can be found on search engines and can require a bit more digging. Try these areas and you’ll always have an amazing link to share:

    • Use Social sharing websites like Reddit, Imgur and Digg
    • Find a blog or website you like and follow the trail of links that you can find on their content, also be sure to set up an RSS reader
    • Try this Chrome extension called Pin Search, it “leverages the power of Google Search by Image to give you a wealth of information about any picture you find on Pinterest. Find similar pictures. Find all the websites where the picture appears…”
    • Publishing platforms such as Tumblr and WordPress
    • Social bookmarking tools like Delicious.com
    • Social Q&A websites such as Quora.com
    • Other websites and resources for finding useful content: Inbound.org Digest, Medium, Panda, BuzzSumo, and Swayy
  • Collect and Publish the Best, Most Relevant Content Possible

This is now where you sift through the content that you have been able to find and pick out the highest quality content and what you think will be most appealing to your visitors. Which are the most attractive? Which ones will draw people in? Which ones best fit the subject matter of my site? These and more are the questions you must be asking when looking for content to curate.

  • Provide Context

Use an annotation method to add your own comments and insight. This will provide some context for your audience on why the content is important and why you are sharing it with them. This puts a personal touch and some ownership on the content even though it is from another source.

  • Curate Consistently

Establish a publishing schedule and make sure to stick with it. No need to overwhelm yourself or make it too demanding, just decide on a cycle that is reasonable and can be met consistently.

  • Share and Promote

Make sure you always attribute the original sources of content you curate and link to them. Be sure to always give credit.

  • Track, Analyze, Optimize

Keep close tabs on the how your content is performing and use this knowledge to guide future curation. Constantly look for ways to optimize your content and make sure you are focusing on the topics your audience is most interested in.

So are there any negatives?

Good question, there are a few things to keep in mind when using curated content:

  • Copyright Issues

With the majority of the content coming from another source you must be careful in making sure you are citing and providing links to the original source when you show it on your own site to avoid any copyright infringements.

  • Quantity Over Quality

Focusing on getting the most content up instead of the best content can have an adverse affect on your site and its incoming traffic. Having high quality content is one of the best and easiest tools a site owner can use to grow and keep visitors. Take your time and be selective when choosing your content, it pays off in the long run.

  • Don’t Forget About Original Content

Relying too much on curated content can leave your site without its own voice and style. Google and other search engines will consider a site with only curated content to be “thin”. This can hurt your site’s SEO efforts. To combat this your goal should be to have a good blend of curated content and original content. Create content that fits your site’s identity and your target audience will be interested in.

Have any questions about eDirectory and how it can improve your directory site? Call or email us.

How Inbound Marketing Can Grow Your Niche Business or Online Directory

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How Inbound Marketing Can Grow Your Niche Business or Online Directory

Inbound marketing – for online directory and other businesses models – is defined as the marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than having to go out to get a prospect’s attention. Inbound marketing gets the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content. Best of all it’s usually free or comes at a very low price.

For smaller or “niche” businesses the larger-scale outbound marketing initiatives (newspaper ads, TV spots, billboards, etc.) would cost a larger sum of money and end up reaching an audience that is around 99% irrelevant to your business. However, inbound marketing lets you appeal to the most qualified prospects to your business or niche industry by using highly targeted subject matter.

Our goal here is to maximize your growth from inbound marketing while keeping your time and costs to a minimum. To do this we are going to focus on the “Big 3” for inbound  marketing to get the most out of your efforts: SEO, Content and Social Media.

SEO: Simple Tips for Big Results

SEO can be made simpler if you focus on just a few key factors for optimizing your site. To be most affective in being found by your customers in search engines its vital to optimize every page that is on your website with keywords and phrases that are most important to your business. For niche industries, the more specific the keywords and phrase the better.

Here are some simple ways to optimize:

  • Include keywords in the page properties: URL’s, meta descriptions
  • Include keywords within the content itself: headers, page text, captions
  • Include keywords when adding images: keywords in the name of the image, using an alt tag with the keyword in it
  • Link keywords in your content to other pages on your site: create internal links by attaching URL’s to a keyword on one page to other pages on your site such as blog posts and articles
  • Include links to your site on social media posts and newsletters

For a more in-depth look at SEO check out our white paper titled “SEO Toolkit for Directory Sites” by visiting our website or shooting us an email.

 Content: To Educate is the Best Way to Sell

If you run a business or website in your niche industry then you have a certain expertise that can be shared with your prospects. You can show you are knowledgeable and have a chance to build up trust in your ability as a potential product or service provider. In niche industries the availability of useful content is fairly minimal and it provides a great opportunity to become the first stop for any kind of information in your market.

Blogging

The simplest, yet most affective, way to leverage this expertise is through a business blog. It allows you to demonstrate your know-how and become your own micro media company, able to publish your knowledge for others to see. Educating your readers is key, as it is established thinking that in any industry it is easier to sell when people see you as an authority and a thought leader.

Blogging will help you to build up your inbound links and also help to raise your website’s rank for main keywords and phrases, which are crucial for SEO and growing your site’s inbound traffic.

High Quality Content

High quality content is meant to go a step deeper than blogging and really drill down into some topics for your visitors. The goal of this content is to convert a lead to a customer.

An example of this is that your blog may have brought in a visitors to your site and helped them to understand what your business is about, now you can introduce them to a case study that shows them direct benefits of your services and provides them with a clear incentive to join as a customer.

Besides case studies here are some other examples of high quality content that can be highly affective:

  • Webinars
  • White papers
  • eBooks
  • Tutorials
  • Slide decks
  • Demos
  • Videos
  • Infographics

Social Media: Reach Your Specific Audience

The social media tools available to you from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or an industry-specific social network allow you to directly connect with your target audience. The more narrow you focus, the easier it is to pinpoint the specific people and businesses interacting on these social networks about your niche industry. Utilize these platforms to engage with your prospects outside of your website and outside of an in-person or over-the-phone interaction.

Use these tips to get the most out of your social media efforts:

Research

  • Determine how much time and resources are needed to participate affectively in each social network and participate in the ones that make the most sense for your business. Some may be useful for you and others may be too time consuming and wasteful.
  • See who is using social media and determine why they look there and what they are looking for.
  • Identify if these users are potential customers or if they carry influence over those who may be your potential customers.
  • Find out what types of content these people are most interested in and are likely to link to and share.

Promote

  • Leverage your online profiles and make sure to provide information about your business and most importantly link back to your company’s site. Use this area or the “About” section to provide a short elevator pitch about who you are and why people should use your business.
  • Promote your original content and provide links back to your website. Create enticing headlines and tags to grab the attention of potential readers and bring in more visits.
  • Share links and content from others. This can be a useful practice to build relationships and goodwill between yourself and other influencers in your industry.

With built-in tools for SEO, content management and social media integration eDirectory can help you grow your business directory.

Learn more by visiting www.edirectory.com

Marketing an Online Directory

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Marketing an Online Directory

Whether you have an existing directory you’re working from, or you’re using eDirectory to get your business off the ground, there are many ways to better position your site for success. While we provide our customers with a robust platform to develop an information packed, highly interactive directory, there are many steps that need to be taken to help make your site a valuable advertising or promotional vehicle.

Think Niche

When they hear the word ‘niche’ many people often think it means restricted or constrained, but niche directories are almost always the most successful. Just because your focus or scope may be narrow, it doesn’t mean your audience, or pool of potential advertisers is at all limited. Let’s say I want to develop a business directory for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I want to include a list of a variety of types of business, shops, stores, business services, restaurants, happy hours, drink specials, events and more. Keep in mind this will likely include tens of thousands of listings and with something this broad, I’m bound to rub up against competitors with similar directories. With a broader focus and other competitors in a similar space, my value proposition loses quite a bit steam.

That is, I can’t offer a poignantly focused arena for advertisers to promote their business. As we’ll learn later, nearly all advertisers have a very specific type of visitor they’re hoping to attract and your value proposition should reflect that.

If we narrow this down to something in a little smaller scale, it becomes exponentially easier to compile information and I can profile my audience in a much simpler way. By changing the focus of my directory from the city of Pittsburgh to a sub section like North Huntingdon Township, I offer a more niche, personalized resource where I stand a less of a chance to go up against bigger sites like Yelp, City Search and About.com. At the same time, however, the site still offers thousands of companies in the region a highly targeted advertising vehicle for their business or services.

The same concept applies to product directories, or services guides as well. One could try and develop a physician directory, or a wholesale manufacturer directory, but a simple search in Google for similar sites shows we’re up against many existing platforms with the same business model.

If, however, we are able to hone the focus to something more specific, like Nephrologists Directory or Beer wholesale Manufacturers Directory, we have a more personalized product to offer our potential advertisers.

After all, Bob’s Wholesale Beer Distributor is much more apt to advertise on your website than something more broad, like the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. In the next document of this two-part series entitled “Selling a Directory,” we’ll cover how this becomes a very powerful selling point.

Listings, Listings, Listings

It’s difficult to sell ideas or concepts; people have more faith and confidence in tangible products or solutions. It’s not easy to sell web design services if you don’t have a portfolio of site’s you’ve done in the past.

Similarly, it’s difficult to sell advertisers on your product (directory) before it’s fully developed. Some of our clients, after purchasing a license, immediately pursue advertisers for an immediate ROI, before ever having developed any content on their site. While we understand our clients want to justify their spend, it’s always best to show them a fully functional, populated directory. It’s important that when you approach potential advertisers, you tell a story and physically show them how your site can help bring more visibility to their business. There’s no question that populating your listings takes work, but our industry partners such as datadepot.com provide data and listings to help fill your directory with information your visitors are looking for.

From barbershops in Santa Barbra to Nephrologists in Nebraska, Data Depot is a great resource to help get information your directory. Content, or listings are the heart of your site and without them you make it impossible to achieve organic (natural) growth on search engines. Without organic search rankings, your website traffic from these search engines is extremely limited. Without website traffic, your directory has no value to the advertisers. Your user will likely search in two different ways, but regardless of how they search, it’s vital that we have the content in place to make sure our organic search rankings rise for searches that match our site. Let’s go back to the example of having a directory of Nephrologists. Someone looking for such a physician will search one of two ways:

“Washington DC Nephrologists”

“Nephrologist Dr. Zimmerman”

In the first search scenario, the user isn’t certain of which doctor they want to go to, but rely on a directory that we’ve developed to help them fi nd that doctor. In the other instance, we know the name and location of the doctor that we’re looking for, but we’re not quite sure of his or her contact information.

If we have a list of Nephrologists in Washington DC or in the second case, Dr. Zimmerman in our directory, we’ll most definitely be a match on both of these searches. As we continue to be matched with these search terms, our search rankings will continue to increase. If we don’t have the directory properly populated with all of the data to support search terms like this, we can’t achieve the web traffic we need to gain the business of advertisers.

If you have any questions, or would like to further discuss how to improve the way you’re marketing or selling your directory, we would welcome a phone call or e-mail anytime.

Tips on running the sales team

Tips on running the sales team

By James Chubb, CEO

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Do you really need a sales force?

Online directories are a great business model. They are easy to get started, overhead costs are low, and they can generate the best type of revenue – recurring revenue. The business scales naturally with how much time and money you are willing to invest – a small investment can generate as great a return on investment (ROI) as a large investment if compared on a percentage basis.

You can absolutely run a directory without a sales force, and many people do it successfully. If you have a dominant online brand, great email marketing or PR, you may be able to get business in the door without making personal contacts. A number of eDirectory customers just put Google AdWords and some affiliate program links on the pages, do a little Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and watch the dollars deposited in their bank accounts with virtually no effort.

While it won’t generate enough money to get your face on the cover of Business Week, the investment is so low that the returns are excellent. In order to create a bigger directory business, a sales team is an essential element.

Doing sales yourself or running a sales force takes more effort, but it is a component of virtually all the success stories. If you are looking to create a lasting brand, and become well known in the directory subject matter, successful sales management is often the core to making it happen. This document will give a few tips on setting up, training and managing the team.

Differences in Local vs. National sales

Nearly all financial successful directories (and business startups in general) focus on some type of niche. The person that says “we’re going to be the next Yahoo” generally doesn’t have the resources to get it done, and they get spread too thin to do anything significant.

A focus area is critical. In the directory space, people often focus on either a local area (city, state, country, area, etc), or they focus on a vertical (“welding equipment suppliers”, “asbestos attorneys”, etc). Sometimes to further reduce the size of the playing field a local area + a vertical is a great idea – “weddings in Houston”. After finding success and proving the model, you can always expand the niche.

From a sales standpoint the differences are:

• Local areas generally are small enough where you can get people on the ground for face to face meetings.
• Verticals are often national or internal, and face to face meetings with potential customers infrequent and most sales rely on calls.

Commission Schedules and Base Salary

Traditionally the sales staff is compensated with a commission on each sale to incentivize them to close the deals. Some companies do “commission only” where sales people make nothing if they do not generate sales, and others offer a base salary, and give a commission on top of that.

Depending on the type of directory business you are running, this mix between base salary and commission will vary. More professional media companies often have a higher base salary and offer benefits. Startup local search companies often try a commission only plan (often with questionable success). Good people are expensive, so look at your competitors in the space and see what they are doing.

From our experience, it is good to offer some type of a base salary, even for outside reps that never come to your office. The reason is the sales team can help you build out content, and even if they are not making sales, they can get information to help you build out your database.

A good rule of thumb on how much base salary to give may be the value of 1 or 2 listing sales a week, which is easy enough that a mediocre sales rep can break even. Having this base will motivate them to keep making visits, and at least getting unpaid signups to build out your mailing list, and you can up sell them later.

For the commission schedule, we usually recommend a tiered approach; where after they make X sales a month, the commission percentage goes higher for additional sales that month.

Also it is important to set the commission such that there is an aspiration reward that would put them in an income bracket higher than their pears if they do well. An example of such a commission schedule is “First X sales per month get 30% commission, and after 10k is reached commission goes to 50% for any remaining sales”.

Actual commission amounts highly depend on the directory site. If you have a well known brand, and the site gets significant traffic and already generates solid revenue, you can pay the sales reps a small percentage of the dollar value of each sale. A new site with an unknown brand and relatively little traffic will probably require you to pay a very high commission percentage. We have seen some directory sites that pay their reps a nominal
base, and then 60 or 70% commission on each sale.

A big reason why directories can be such a great business model is attributed to “recurring revenue”, wherea customer just renews and you don’t need to do any additional work. We recommend you do not pay sales people commission the recurring, but instead just pay them a higher percentage of the initial sale. This makes the bookkeeping simpler, and keeps them motivated to bring in new business, instead of coasting off past sales.

Hiring

Hiring the right people is probably the most important part of any business. Your sales team is the public face of your company, and it is critical you get the right types of people. For small directory businesses, we recommend you hire multiple sales people so there is a sense of competition and you gain perspective on a good vs bad sales person. Avoid the temptation to start thinking about “advantages of economies of scale” hire a large team and let them run.

Before doing any hiring, put together the profile of the idea rep. This should have education and experience levels, salary, etc. This way you know what you are looking for.

Collect a lot of resumes! The more people you bring in the door, the more likely you are able to find the right candidate. When hiring, here are the traits to look for:

1. Positive, upbeat, attitude.

2. Relevant sales experience. If you are a national media company, you need a polished rep that can confidently close a substantial deal with an executive. A small local directory company may look for someone that has had success selling knives door to door. You can try to farm a large team of people that have never sold anything before, but your cost savings on the labor will likely be less than you lose from the high turnover.

3. Comfortable talking about money. Some people that are just not comfortable talking about money – they were often raised to be polite and not discuss such things openly. They will dodge around when you ask them about past salaries or earnings. The best sales reps are financially motivated, and have no problem discussing pricing, salaries or anything else with a dollar figure on it.

4. Competitive – Look for that type of person is that is aggressive about coming out on top.
There is an excellent book on sales hiring called “Great Salespeople Aren’t Born, They’re Hired: The Secrets To Hiring Top Sales Professionals” by Joseph Miller.

Training

Training is essential. Consider the following at a minimum:

1. Map out the sales process and train the reps on eDirectory, benefits of what they are buying etc.

2. Prepare a sample sales scripts to be used on the phone and door to door visits.

3. Prepare a comprehensive list of questions an advertiser may have and responses.

4. Practice sample pitches with the reps.

5. Follow up with the reps weekly and adjust the training to fill gaps.

Goals, Metrics and Day to Day Management

A set of goals is absolutely critical to move the business forward. We recommend you set either weekly or monthly goals for the reps, and longer term goals that management keeps internal.

Remember, each “customer relationship” has value, so even if you just signup free listings, there is some value there because you may convert them later. Use your sales team to help build content.

For local, we recommend a quota of with a minimum number of visits per week and for national, a quota of a set number of calls. Each visit should attempt to get some names and email addresses, and additional content for the listing even if the sale isn’t closed. A prospect list is also essential – you can use your listing database to pull listings by zip code, and give each rep a list dividing up the territory. When going door to door, send the reps out with a laptop and a digital camera to take photos of the business.

Sample goals for a local directory:

• 30 customer visits per week minimum.

• 85% of the visits should results in a name, email address, a 2 sentence description, and 2 photos.

• 6 listing sales per week.

It may take a couple visits to get a paid listing, so after one rep completes a territory, consider having a second rep double back and talk to them again.

For overall sales metrics, we suggest you keep it simple, and just record 3 or 4 at most. Consider tracking number of signups and number of sales each week.

Tip: To keep things interesting, do a special bonus for your sales team from time to time. Weekly or even daily meetings, and publicized statistics are essential to a well run team. If the team is geographically dispersed, you might have everyone dial in for a conference call. During the meeting try to get feedback on barriers the team is encountering and see what you can do to remove those obstacles.

Making the numbers public will create a sense of competition on the team. Expect turnover. Unfortunately the nature of sales, especially in this business is there will be significant turnover of the sales staff. By having an efficient hiring and training process you can mitigate this aspect.

Equipping the sales force

It is essential you send your sales people in with the right equipment to win.

We recommend the following:

1. Content on the website – don’t send the sales team out without making sure the directory is full of data and looking good. Create a couple premium listings in each category with nice photos and reviews – give free listings to the market leaders – if you are trying to sell to “mom & pop steak house”, you’ll have a lot more success if there is already a beautiful listing in the system for “Ruth Chris Steakhouse”.

2. Marketing collateral – a brochure on the benefits of joining the directory.

3. Sales script they have memorized.

4. Sample question and answer list you have tested them on.

5. Laptop with wireless internet for the demos – minis can be had for under $400. If wireless is spotty in your area, send them out with a recorded demo of some screenshots.

6. Territory walk list – list of businesses to visit, with boxes so they can fill in who they talked to. Be sure to leave a blank page at the end they can fill in with who else they may have came across on the way. This list should have exact time and date, and name of person they talked to so you can keep them honest.

7. If local, send them out with a Camera so they can take a few pictures and build some unique content.

Sales Team Setup Checklist:

1. Write profile of successful sales person.

2. Design salary and commission structure.

3. Post job ads for candidate.

4. Filter candidates by phone interviews.

5. Meet candidates in person and hire the best.

6. Train sales people on the system, benefits of the products, and the sales process.

7. Decide sales territories.

8. Write up sales script.

9. Write up list of questions and responses that may come up during the sale.

10. Do a training session where the reps can practice.

11. Design weekly goals.

12. Do weekly meetings to review goals, and adjust sales script and sample question list.

Selling Advertisers in Your Directory

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Selling Advertisers in Your Directory

In “Marketing a Directory” we talked about the value of maintaining a strong, narrow focus when it comes to the content of your site. Often times, this becomes one of the best selling points you can provide your potential clients. A narrow focus means a narrow audience and nearly all advertisers want nothing more than to know your visitors are their target audience. The better you are able to demonstrate that, the easier selling them on sponsorships will be.

Understand your audience

At this point, you probably have an idea who the visitors to your website are, or may be. After all, you probably wouldn’t be developing a directory if you didn’t feel there would be an audience that will be engaging with your site. For example, if I’m browsing Branson.com, I’m likely either living, visiting, or planning to visit Branson,

Missouri. Many businesses or establishments in Branson recognize that your audience is composed of these types of visitors, and will likely agree that you are reaching their target audience.

There are other times, however, that advertisers want more concrete information on who is visiting your site. Google Analytics, a free service that offers detailed reporting on your web traffic, will show where your visitors are located (geographically), what kind of network they are on, how they arrive at your site, words they’re searching for when they found your site, and much more.

This is extremely powerful and concrete data from a third party that will give your advertisers confi dence that they’re reaching the right audience through your solution.

The best way to compile the most accurate data on your audience demographics is through reader/visitor surveys. There are several survey tools that can be embedded through your website, or free survey applications like surveymonkey.com. Offer free advertising, or a drawing for a free gift certificate to incentivize your visitors to complete the questionnaire.

Know your competitors

It’s safe to say that in one way or another, there is another website, or publication that has a focus and/or audience, or section of an audience that is very similar to what you have, or may develop.

Whether it’s a local paper, the New York Times or a similar niche directory, your prospective advertisers have advertised, or may be looking to advertise in another media outlet. Being able to highlight how you are different from other sites or publications will be the key to winning business.

Many businesses have limited budgets and can only afford to advertise in one or two sites or publications, so having a game plan ready when you’re going up against a competitor will be crucial.

Here are a few guidelines to follow:

Never bash a competitor

It sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to get defensive when you know who you are going up against. If one of your prospects is talking about advertising in a competitor, ABC.com, start out with kind words by saying “It’s good that you’re doing your due diligence and seeing what publications would best serve your advertising need. I’m very familiar with ABC.com. It’s a great website/publication, I take a look at it every now and then. From what I’ve seen, here’s how were different.” Understand what they’re looking for that you might offer. “So, you said you’re thinking about ABC.com, and you mentioned you like XYZ about their site. As an advertiser, what do you wish they had that they currently do not”.

Pitch ROI (Return on Investment)

In some cases, you may go up against a print directory or publication. With the development of social and online media, savvy advertisers are utilizing outlets that can show them an affective ROI. Unless someone mentions seeing their ad in XYZ magazine or ABC Newspaper, it’s difficult for advertisers to know how affective their message was. In print publications, it’s impossible to know how many people saw your ad (in online media, these are called impressions) or furthermore, how much business you gained because of the ad you placed (ROI).

Online tracking methods like those embedded in eDirectory and Google Analytics empower you, as a publisher, to let your users know how many impressions their ad received, how many people clicked on the ad, how much traffic you pushed to their website and in some cases, how much business they gained from their sponsorship.

All of these numbers can help show your clients how affective your site is to earning more business.This is something you should continuously go back to if you are competing for business against print publications.

Pitch Niche

In “Marketing your Directory” we talked about the value of establishing a niche, targeted publication. Not only does it make developing and marketing your website much easier, but it can also make selling sponsorship opportunities (ads) much easier too. Elicit the value of something with a focus that is much more in line with that of their business, and not something broad where their message can get lost, or perhaps, put in front of the wrong audience entirely.

If you are the owner of “FindaNephralogist.com” and you are trying to sell ad space to Dr. Zimmerman, he may indicate he’s already advertising on other sites such as doctordirectory.com. It’s important to let him know that your directory attracts his target audience to an exact match; people looking for a Nephralogist in his region. On DoctorDirectory, his ad gets lost in the shuffle of someone searching for hundreds of other types of doctors.

“It’s a Numbers Game”

Perhaps the most overused cliché in the sales world, but it holds true. I’m sure you’ve heard a sales person run through a glossary of terms like “Funnels,” “Pipelines,” “Prospecting,” and “Qualifying.” Many of these terms do have a great deal of value to the revenue you bring in at the end of the day. Chances are good on your first call or email, you won’t make a sale. Perhaps in the first ten or twenty, you may not either, but in sales, the key is casting a wide net, and making your follow-ups personalized.

In the first section, we talked about the importance of knowing your audience, and that includes knowing the size of your audience. If your audience is hundreds or even thousands of potential advertisers, calling them one by one or going door to door will be very tedious, and potentially a waste of time. Here are some tips to best play the numbers game:

Cast a wide net

If you are developing a local search guide, utilize resources that your local chamber of commerce has such as a database of local businesses and their contact information. Alternatively you can buy lists of the specific market segments you are targeting and send out narrow-casted, targeted messages to dozens or hundreds of contacts at a time using e-mail marketing software like Constant Contact or iContact.

Be sure to personalize this message and reference what you know about their business, or where they’ve advertised in the past. Hand out flyers or brochures to businesses in your area, or utilize local coupon/advertising services to let people know about your website and the opportunities in conjunction with it. Remember, the more people you contact, the more sales you will make. This seems incredibly intuitive but many site owners get frustrated easily and throw in the towel early.

Personalize your follow ups

When you have something powerful like a database with e-mail addresses or slick flyers, it’s easy to try to keep casting a wide net and hope you’ll bring in enough business to keep your site sustainable, or profi table. Be very careful in the way you use mass marketing approaches, they are best used only a 4-6 times a year and are best accompanied with special promotions or offers.

Once you execute a mass marketing campaign, you’ve just set yourself up with “luke warm” leads. From this effort, you’ll likely get a few phone calls or emails back from business that are interested in your product, but for the ones who aren’t, you have a reference point to contact them over the phone

“Hi James, this is Jared, the founder of mynorthhuntingdon.com. If you recall, I sent you an e-mail last week about mynorthhuntingdon.com and how it can help promote Arca Computers & Services, did you get that by chance”

Chances are good at this point, they did receive the email and know who you are, so the sales conversations to follow become much easier, and less awkward.

In each of these calls, write down as much feedback as you can, this will help better shape your directory and its content moving forward.

“Marketing Your Directory” and “Selling Your Directory” will give you the foundation to both honing the focus of your site, as well as preparing you for right approach in selling sponsorship opportunities. Always remember, keep your ears open when you speak to visitors of your site, or advertisers. Often times they provide the best feedback to help your site mature and improve.

If you have any questions, or would like to further discuss how to improve the way you’re marketing or selling your directory, we would welcome a phone call or e-mail anytime.

SEO Toolkit for Directory Sites

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SEO Toolkit for Directory Sites

Most people understand that they want to increase their SEO and that it can be important to growing their site and business, yet few actually know the steps and tools to go about doing it. Sound familiar? If so, don’t worry. We are here to help.

Our eDirectory software platform has many tools and design features that enhance SEO and make it friendly for search engines. And although we’ve made it easy for you to climb the search ranks without lifting a finger, there is always room for improvement. To help you out we put together some tips and ideas to fill your SEO toolkit with. Let’s dig in!

1. Know Where You Stand

Your first step in improving your SEO should be to look at what your website currently looks like to search engines. There are two main ways to get a view of your site and its contents from the perspective of a search engine. The first way is to view the source code of your site in the same manner that say a Googlebot would. The second way is to crawl you site with a spider tool in the same way a search engine would crawl your site.
Here are some tools to get these two done.

• Viewing the Source Code

Now you can do this by simply choosing to “view source” to look at the HTML code from any browser but we suggest downloading a couple of plugins for the Firefox browser that will make this easier and provide much greater detail for optimizing your SEO.

Here are the plugins:

Web Developer

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/web-developer/

User Agent Switcher

https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/user-agent-switcher/

After installing these plugins you will need to disable JavaScript and CSS with the Web Developer Plugin*.

*To disable JavaScript go to the “Disable” section on the Web Developer toolbar that was just added to the browser and click on the “Disable JavaScript” and “Disable All JavaScript” options. This will allow Google to crawl the menus, links and drop down for you site.

*To disable the CSS you will need to go to the “CSS” tab on the Web Developer Toolbar and click on the “Disable Styles” and “Disable All Styles” options. This will make sure that nothing obscures the order of your content.

After configuring these settings go ahead and pull up your website and take a look around. This is how Googlebot views your site, very different isn’t it?

Take note of your site’s contents and look to see if your menu items and links are there, if they are in plain text (as opposed to showing up as images which provides no anchor text for the Googlebot), if they are all clickable, and if there is any hidden text that you were previously unable to see.

This view will give you a better understanding of where your keywords are on your site and which information is showing up at the top of your pages. Remember, your most important links and content should be at the top of the HTML.

Listings are the fuel behind driving your directory into getting indexed and ranked. You should heavily, but honestly populate your directory, even before a set ‘launch’ date so you can gain traction on search engines.

Because each page has its’ own mini ‘website’ with a unique, SEO-optimized URL, it’s important to have listings in your directory, so these URLs can be crawled and indexed by Google. It’s important to populate your directory with as many relevant listings as possible, so as to gain better search traffic through long tail search terms.

• Crawl Your Site with a Web Spider

Now you’re ready to gain some insight by crawling your site with a web spider. The top spider tool is called Screaming Frog SEO Spider (found here: http://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/), and it’s free for you to crawl up to 500 pages at a time on your own. There are also other free SEO Spiders out there that will work just
as well.

Go ahead and crawl your site after you have installed a spider tool and make sure to save your results so you won’t have to re-run it every time. Now start looking through your results and take note of your page levels to make sure there aren’t any pages buried too deep within your site (note: anything at 4 levels or higher is considered too deep and won’t be found very easier). Take note of these pages and work on adding more back links to them throughout your site to increase their page levels and make them more easily accessible (for the Googlebot AND your visitors).

This crawl should also help you identify any long page titles and descriptions you may on your site. Title tags and meta descriptions have recommended lengths (70 characters or less for titles and 156 or less for descriptions) so make sure you find any that are too long and work to shorten them as soon as you can.

You will also be able to check for any crawling errors such as broken links and have the opportunity to fix or remove them from your site.

2. Finding the Right Keywords

Having topically relevant keywords and phrases throughout your site is very important to your site’s SEO. Yes, I said keywords AND phrases. A common mistake people make is focusing too much on individual keywords.

Most of these will be far too limiting and competitive to gain much ground in the search ranks. Instead, it’s much smarter and efficient to focus on a common idea or subject matter and find phrases and long tail keywords that fit into that set.

• Long-Tail: Get Specific

Instead of trying to outbid and outrank the most competitive keywords you need to shift your focus to a wide variety of 10’s to 100’s of keywords and phrases that are less broad and more specific. An example of this would be to stay away from a keyword like clothing” and instead trying ones like “men’s fitted black dress pants”.

• Keyword Tools

There are some great keyword tools online to help with this process as well. Wordpot (www.wordpot.com) and Übersuggest (http://ubersuggest.org/) are two of the top free keyword tools and make it very easy to run a simple query and export a full list of suggested keywords based on real Google searches.

Now pair this with Google Adwords Keyword Planner (https://adwords.google.com/home/tools/keyword-planner/?zd=1) and you can start to develop a list of specific and optimized keywords that fit your needs.

3. Quality Content

To improve the rankings and popularity of your site it all starts with having quality content. Search engines are becoming more and more adept everyday at analyzing the relevance of text on a webpage and it is increasingly important to stay on topic and provide something of value to your readers. The difference that separates quality content is that it creates value for your visitors.

The best way to accomplish this is to establish thought leadership in your niche and actively participate in the blogs, forums, and other social communities that are specific to your industry or segment. Your goal will be to provide a utility, emotional response or clear point of view that your visitors will find value in.

• Your Titles Are Important

Having a good title for your content is just as important as the quality of content that follows it. Titles are the gateways that bring people in to the content you’ve worked so hard on. This means you should be working just as hard on making sure your title is appealing and attention grabbing, it needs to provoke curiosity, excitement or emotion from your readers in order to bring them in.

• Long-Tail, It’s Not Just for Keywords

Similar to keywords the long-tail concept can be very important for you content. The more specific and in-depth you make the information you provide the more unique and valuable it becomes.

• How Google Evaluates Quality

One of the best tools you can use to see what counts as high quality to Google is to see what a set of questions they published themselves about the topic. You can see the questions here: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2011/05/more-guidance-on-building-high-quality.html

Some of these questions include:

  • Would you trust the information presented in this article?
  • Does this article have spelling, stylistic or factual errors?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Does this article provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?

These are just a few of the things to remember when creating your content but it provides a good peak into Google‘s mindset when it comes to determining quality.

4. Building Quality Links

Quality wins out over quantity when it comes to successful backlink building for SEO. In the old days, you could build a thousand random links back to your website and see it shoot up to the top of the search ranks, but that is no longer the case. Today having fewer and higher quality links has been determined as the better practice for achieving SEO results.

• Link Building Tools

So how do you get quality backlinks to your site? Well, there are several different ways to go about it. Here are a few examples:

• Create a blog – this will give you an easy way to create content on a consistent basis that not only builds links internally (by linking out form your posts), but also gives you the ability to naturally attract links to your content.

• Create an RSS feed – once you have one burn it at Feedburner.com so you can get statitics on your subscribers. For link building, there are sites out there that will scrape your content (stealing it without permission). When they do, make sure you get a link back by 1) including links to other pages on your site in your posts and 2) installing the RSS footer plugin for WordPress (adds a link to your blog after every post. Find the RSS footer plugin here: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/rss-footer/

• Interlinking – Internal links are huge for link building because you can use the pages and posts you already have on your website. Go through all of your content that’s been previously published, and if you’ve got more detailed content written on subjects that you briefly go over in your posts, then link in that context where it makes sense. For future/new content, as you’re writing it, try and steer your way into certain topics that you’ve already written on so you can link to it & so it makes sense from a user’s perspective.

Some additional examples are to guest blog/post to other popular sites that are in your relevant field, submit your site to other directories or listings online (sites like www.ezinearticles.com and www.squidoo.com) press release submissions (www.PRNewsWire.com), creating infographics to be shared online (www.coolinfographics.com), posting content and links to social media, offering free giveaways and much more. The gist of all of these is to get your links out in the open and in ways that they can catch fire and grow through exposure and sharing around the web.

5. Search and Social

Speaking of catching fire on the web, lets talk about social media. In today’s SEO landscape, search and social go hand in hand. Social identifiers such as Facebook likes and Twitter shares carry heavy influence on search rankings and can bring dramatic increases in a short period of time. Because of this, search results are becoming more personalized to each individual.

That is why it is important to keep social media in mind with any SEO efforts. Make sure to post and provide updates via your social media outlets when providing new content or making any new changes to your website.

It is also a good idea to post and comment on industry/niche specific trends and topics along with sharing links to other popular sites to develop a mutually beneficial relationship.

• Underrated Social Media Tools

Everyone knows about using facebook and Twitter, but there are some popular yet under utilized social media channels that I’m sure you are already familiar with.

  • LinkedIn – a LinkedIn profile, company page or group will land you on the first or second page of Google results pretty much automatically. It also positions you as a thought leader, and reposting your blog posts to your LinkedIn interest group can bring in a lot of quality click traffic.
  • Pinterest – Pinterest is a catalyst for ecommerce in the social media landscape. Users find products and services and “pin” them, and that visual content pulls much quicker conversions.
  • Google+ – With hangouts, local optimization and online communities, Google+ is poised to be a big player in the future of SEO.

6. The Importance of Schema

Schema guidelines are used to help search engines understand structured data that is on the web. Google, Yahoo and Bing have all worked together to develop Schema.org and make it easier to read a site’s data and index accordingly. That is why it is so important to follow the guidelines of Schema.org in your site’s coding and make sure everything is in a language that the search engines understand.

Having this structured form of data helps the search engines to quickly and easily understand the contents of pages whether it be articles, events or addresses. Check out the Schema.org website for tips and additional information.

7. Keeping it All in Perspective

Although important, it’s wise to keep in mind that SEO is not the only way to grow your business or increase your online traffic. Getting too caught up on improving SEO can be a painstaking process and take up a lot of your valuable time before seeing results. It’s important to remember to promote your business both online and offline and that implementing a well-rounded marketing plan that doesn’t focus too much on any one area will provide the most benefits in the long run.

8. How Can eDirectory Help My SEO?

We know how important SEO is for any business or directory website. That is why our latest version of eDirectory software has so many SEO friendly features and tools to give our customers an edge online.

• eDirectory SEO Tools

Many of these features are built right into the software and don’t require any action from you to enhance the SEO. For starters, eDirectory automatically produces SEO-friendly URL’s for all of your site’s pages. Plus, our software is developed with a responsive
design. With the greatest SEO gatekeeper of them all, Google, highly favoring this
mobile-optimized method of site design you can see how it can be a big advantage on the search results battlefield. Google not only recommends responsive design, but also prefers sites that have it when presenting search results (SEO gold!).

And what about Schema? Our eDirectory software has this highly SEO friendly structure already built into the platform. Every site we power implements structured data markups, which allow Google and other search engines to display ratings, price ranges or dates for listings or events which means higher results for you.

Every eDirectory site will also have an SEO Center in the Site Manager view that is accessible for any administrators. The SEO Center helps you edit and manage your search engine verification (meta tags), sitemap information, as well as content and page optimization.

Have any questions about eDirectory and how it can improve your directory site?
Call or email us!

The shift of media and the advertising dollars with it

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The shift of media and the advertising dollars with it

While print ads have been staple to advertisers for hundreds of years, there’s been an inherent problem with its’ effectiveness. Regardless of the publication, marketers who use print to promote their products have battled the same 900 pound elephant in the room; measuring ROI. In the past several years, online media has offered an alternative platform for marketers to promote their products and services, and with it, a promise of highly targeted, closely measurable campaigns. While many savvy marketers have shifted most, if not all of their ad budgets online, the majority of advertising dollars still reside in print publications. As media continues to move online, the advertising dollars with it are still very slow to follow, which is setting the stage for an interesting paradigm shift over the course of the next few years. Nearly all of the campaigns we run to promote eDirectory are done online.

As a marketer, web banners, email newsletter sponsorships and email blasts provide keen insight into the success of our messages, our offers and how responsive a given audience is to that message and offer. How many people saw the ad? How many people clicked on it? Of those people, how many people came to my website?

Which pages did they click on when they were there and at what point did they abandon the site? How many people opened my email, how many people that opened that email came to my site, downloaded a whitepaper or furthermore, how many people bought our software because of that ad? The ways to break down and dissect the numbers into cost per lead, cost per conversion, cost per click—they’re all limitless. In print, however, the only concrete number is circulation.

While Magazine X may say their circulation is 100,000, I have no way of knowing howmany people picked up and read that magazine, or for that matter, even saw my ad, let alone came to my website or called me because of it. The best I can do is ask each lead where they heard of us, either by phone or in an email form, and studies show that this information is 25% accurate at best. It isn’t that newspaper and magazine advertising isn’t feasible—it just became significantly less feasible when online advertising became more prominent. It now pales in comparison. So, online media is becoming more favorable than print, nothing too profound in that.

What is profound is the way in which it’s making its’ migration. While people prefer to view their content online, the companies who are putting money into advertising dollars don’t seem quite as eager to migrate…yet. Print circulation for nearly every major publication like the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, USA Today and the New York times continues to decline quarter by quarter.

In 2008, the Washington Post reported that it’s newspaper publishing revenue stood at $232.6 million dollars, while Washingtonpost.com accounted for $33.7 million of its’ revenue. Between 2007 to 2009, their print circulation dropped ~7%. In Q3 of 2009, their newspaper revenue dropped 20% and their print ad revenue declined 28%, respectively.

One steady increase to their bottom line has been their online advertising revenue, increasing 13% in Q3. An article published by Scott Karp in 2007 tracked similar, but even more drastic trends with the New York Times, which reported that while 90% of its’ readership is online, the ad revenue from the New York Times only contributes to 10% of their bottom line — perfectly inverse economics.

So what does all this mean? Well, as you can see, print circulation is down, but the advertising dollars associated with those print publications are still very much to follow. The medium to which the vast majority of readers are using to access content is online, but many advertisers are still throwing money into print. While it may be a gradual, more ad dollars will soon be shifting online, in what some reports have estimated to be $65 billion on the next few years.

In short, people are about to get a great deal smarter with the way they market their products and with the progression of web 2.0 technologies, aggregators and other prominent internet platforms, a great deal of that ad revenue is up for grabs.

The horizon looks bright. A Tsunami of ad dollars are going to roll up on the shores of site owners in the years to come, but monetizing that site to capture a piece of the money that will shift from print to online is the biggest hurdle publishers, site owners, entrepreneurs and businesses face right now. There are few things to consider when structuring or restructuring a site to attract advertising dollars.

Internet users are inherently lazy

No shocker here. Why do people like RSS feeds? Because it means they don’t have to find the information, it’s sent directly to them. Why do people like social networks? It allows them to interact with millions of people under one roof, as opposed to interact with them separately in segmented arenas. Why do people like Priceline and Orbitz? Because it sure beats going to 37 different websites searching for airlines, hotels and car rentals.

Why do people like Kayak even more? Because it sure beats going to Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline, Expedia and Hotwire.

Profitable sites provide one of two things to a lazy internet browser: Informational Resource or Entertainment. Think of nearly any successful website in the world and it provides one, if not both of those components. Why do people read PerezHilton.com? Because for some, it’s entertaining.

Why is there so much buzz around local search directories? Because they provide an all-encompassing informational resource that has everything under one roof including restaurant menus, reviews, business listings, classifieds, events and more.

Think Niche

If online media promises marketers a highly targeted, stringently profiled advertising platform, the more targeted and profiled, the more confidence marketers should have in their ability to reach their target audience.

Because of this, you’re seeing several niche, focused sites developing for every one broad, general print publication. Many print publications subject matter is spread wide, but thin, so their depth is extremely limited.

They often scratch the surface at a wide array of subject matter, providing marketers with a more generalized, ambiguous vehicle to advertise on. When the ad dollars come flowing to online platforms, and with Forbes.com anticipating $65 billion in the next few years, the most successful sites will provide unparalleled depth. Let’s take an example of a hypothetical hockey magazine. This magazine may keep up on trades, feature player profiles, new equipment lines, scouting reports, trade rumors and more. In the online world, site owners are cashing in on developing high depth, narrow focus site content on each of these topics.

hockey magazine

The online publications cover the same content as their print competitor, but provide a great deal more depth of information. By doing this, they provide a more molded visitor profile to advertisers. So when CCM, one of hockey’s biggest equipment manufacturers, are evaluating their media buys, they know that their advertisements on hockey gear online.com are targeting men between the ages of 14-45, 64% of whom are looking to buy new hockey equipment in the next six months.

This is something print publications simply can’t offer. Well designed sites will offer this level of micro-targeted advertising, and marketers will come to expect this from their advertisers. In the end most super niche, narrow focused sites will be the ones cashing in on the advertising dollar shift.

Let’s put it in an example of local search. Let’s say I’m a restaurant owner the DC metro area, specifically in Alexandria VA. I’m looking to increase my business visibility by running a few ads in various print and online publications. I have a few options to consider:

wash post

Notice how all of these publications are broken into three tiers. In the first tier, we see DC metro-wide publications like the Washington Post. One level below that is a list of publications that cover the entire Northern Virginia region of DC. The final tier shows those publications dedicated solely to the Alexandria VA region, where my restaurant is located. While circulation/site traffic and costs of running ads have to be considered in all this, as a marketer, my ad dollars are best spent on the bottom tier.

All of these publications are those either printed and distributed in the Alexandria VA region, or even better, are sites people come to who are actively searching for restaurants, shops, events and business in Old Town Alexandria. This is as close to target audience as I can get and I can’t ask for more relevance in those I’m marketing to. This is why local search sites are becoming so successful, because they offer local small businesses highly targeted, affordable advertising platforms.

While the Washington Post may boast a circulation 50x that of some of the more niche publications in Alexandria VA, I don’t know how many people are picking up the Washington Post in Northern Virginia area, or how many people in Alexandria for that matter.

Furthermore, the Washington Post can’t tell me how many people are picking up their paper in the Alexandria area looking for local restaurants. This is the future of advertising. Successful site owners will create sites that offer the most finely targeted audience coupled with the most highly concentrated content as possible.

Whether you’re looking to start a local search directory in a town of only 20,000 people, a product directory or buyers’ guide, it’s important to develop a product that is informational or entertaining and moreover, one that easily distinguishes its’ benefits from its’ print competitors. Think niche and aggressively push your product onto your space and you’re bound to create an enviable advertising vehicle for businesses.

Interested in developing a profitable directory? Want to discuss ideas about how to better monetize your existing site? Call or send us an email, we would love to hear it from you.

Starting an Online Business – How to position yourself for success

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Starting an Online Business - How to position yourself for success

People always ask me. “What kind of revenue are your clients making?” or “How many clients are successful?” “How do I know your software will help me succeed?” The honest answer is, “I don’t know.” We do have successful clients, most of whom have the white labeled version of our software which serves as a confidentiality agreement, so we can’t share their site info.

We do have successful clients, but they don’t disclose their revenue to us. Does Microsoft call up everyone that buys Office and ask “How many deals did you close using PowerPoint for your sales presentations? “The truth of the matter is that we don’t provide software that will make you money.

We provide software to create sites that we KNOW can be profitable, and that software makes it significantly easier for people to develop said sites, and make money accordingly. We’re not the answer to everyone’s prayers, but I assure you, we’re working on that, too.

We’re right in the middle of a really exciting time to start on online business. It’s quite possible that someone has said that nearly every day since the dawn of the internet, but it seems as though the best is still very much ahead of us. Whether you’re thinking about starting a blog, a directory, an e-commerce site, or a media outlet, there are lots of  pportunities to be successful. Why? A few critical things are happening that are opening up huge opportunities to get started online:

Media is moving from print to online as the preferred medium for media, but the advertising
dollars are still slow to follow.

When moving from print to online, many publications are morphing into several, more focused, niche sites, some of which haven’t even been developed yet.

Marketers don’t yet realize how spoiled they’re about to become. The mediums for which we are viewing content now—social networking sites, blogs, news aggregators, directories are offering such a hyper-targeted profiled platform for advertisers to market to that wasn’t remotely available in print.

Web 2.0 and social networking is allowing people to connect to others in ways that are not otherwise possible.

Accessing these social networking sites and developing blogs is easier than ever. Technology is no longer a barrier to entry.

These are all components that make developing an online business easier. You have the platform, you have the ears and eyes, and best of all, you have the megaphone to connect your product to the people who would be most interested in seeing it. Fifteen years ago, platforms that would allow you to connect to tens of thousands of people who are passionate about Door Knockers as you are didn’t exist.

We are changing the way we access and view information. With this, there are a few things I always tell our clients are a must when it comes to being successful with their online directories.

Be passionate about what you’re pursuing

Some of the most successful clients we have took something they were passionate about and ran with it. When you’re passionate about something, it’s not seen as work, and when it’s not work, you can spend all day doing it. (Some of this is pulled from Web 2.0 Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, “Crush It.” In addition to this brief whitepaper, I highly recommend you pick this book up if you’re looking to start an online business. The guy has a proven track record at making his sites takeoff.) The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is the small, quirky things that you may be extremely knowledgeable or passionate about is shared by thousands, or potentially millions of other people.

Twenty years ago, you had no way of knowing exactly how many people were out there reading up on the same things you were, or collecting the same type of novelties that you were. Now, I can guarantee you that when someone is looking for the best selection and reviews of Lion Head door knockers, they’re going to your site over Elle Décor magazine any day of the week.

Why? Because you’re focused, you’re niche and you’re the most passionate and knowledgeable person on the web and that focus is the mentality of the web over the next few years. These are the opportunities that are out there in starting an online business, and while it may not be the precident now, over the next few years, marketers will rely on niche focused, detailed profile sites to spend their marketing dollars.

Real world example — eDirectory clients will express concern to me when they’re developing a local search site. They fear that Yelp will overshadow their site and that with sites such as Yelp out there, local search directories are obsolete. This is far from the truth, and there are a few reasons why.

While Yelp has been at the fore front of driving local search, there are a few things well designed local search sites offer that Yelp doesn’t and it’s rooted in the passion of that local search site owner.

Local search and city site owners are passionate about their community, excited about what it offers and even more excited to share that information with others. Sadly, to Yelp, your city is just another datapoint in a database full of millions of businesses, and your city
is just another source of revenue for the behemoth site. Here’s what I mean: Go to Yelp and search for businesses in your local area. You’ll find that while Yelp covers most of the businesses in any given area, there are a good chunk of them that go under the radar and aren’t included. After all, Yelp can’t keep up when one businesses closes its’ doors and another one opens.

A good local search directory is the pulse of that community. It keeps up to date on what businesses are doing, promotions they’re running, restaurant specials, happy hours, drink specials, all things that Yelp doesn’t cover. What about events or breaking news happening in your community, festivals, and events?

These are all elements people look for in a true local search site that aren’t offered on portals like Yelp. If you pursue your passion with your site, the opportunities are endless.

Know your space

A lot of people develop a site without scoping out their competitors well enough. This seems like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people develop a product that’s a few years late on the market, over priced and lacks half the features as the blockbuster. While there is room in almost every market for similar businesses, it’s important to leverage what your competition doesn’t do well into your value proposition (This is detailed a little more in “Selling a Directory”).

This goes hand in hand with the section above. If you’re not familiar with what you’re getting into, and you’re not passionate about the subject matter, it’s difficult to have the knowledge and energy to drive your business forward.

Know what you’re getting into, and make a name for yourself in that space. Much of developing an online business is learning, but it’s vitally important to go in with a strategy, continually test that strategy, and refine it based on what you find.

You’d be surprised how many people buy software, load listings, or get a blog started, make posts, and wait for the money to roll in, and wonder why they aren’t successful. It’s a constant hustle. Taking any business off the ground, especially one whose success depends on a strong online presence is extremely difficult. If you’re getting into a market where your competitors have already established a presence, you probably see an opportunity to make a business that is stronger than those around you, which should be built into your value proposition.

Why are you doing it better than the next person? What makes your site better than the next? These seem like empty questions, but there will come a day when you’ve built your site up to a point where you’re negotiating with an advertiser, or they’re evaluating multiple products and they’re going to ask you, “What makes your site more valuable than XYZ.com?

Why shouldn’t we buy his product, or advertise on her site?” When that time comes, its importable to be able to distinguish the differences eloquently and smoothly. Those differences are what drove you to start your online business, they drove you to continue when you wanted to throw in the towel, and when all is said and done, will make you as successful as the next guy.

The best recommendation I give eDirectory users when they’re developing their site is to conduct extensive amounts of competitive intelligence. Know who your primary competitors are in the space, and additionally, those whose focus may overlap with yours, even if it’s only a little bit. Make a chart with each of your competitors in a column at the top, and a feature on each row. What do your competitors offer that you don’t? What do you plan to offer that they don’t? At the end of the day, you’ll have a chart with a series of X’s and O’s and it will paint the picture of what you need to do more effectively, and what can potentially put you ahead of the person next to you.

Competitive Intelligence is an ongoing practice. Just as it’s important to develop fresh new content, it’s equally as important to keep track of what others are doing to get ahead. That foresight, the ability to read the battle field and move around the way the market is shifting is extremely critical to achieving growth. Look at the AT&T / Verizon battle. Verizon knew that while it didn’t have progressive technology like the iPhone with elaborate apps, its approach was “What good is fancy phone when you can’t use it” and went after AT&T on their spotty cell phone coverage.

Verizon forced AT&T’s hand and accordingly, Verizon was able to turn the tables, and to an extent, and control what issues were at the forefront for consumers. Nearly all AT&T and Verizon commercials are all about “Coverage” and “There’s a map for that,” which was a battle in which Verizon instigated, and seemingly is winning.

Never stop working

Field of Dreams left out a few good pieces of advice in, “If you build it, they will come.” It’s more like “If you build it, and work really hard to refine it, and hustle every day to find people who would benefit from accessing it, and develop content that isn’t available elsewhere, then they will come.”

The biggest hardship we experience as a company is handling clients who think once they buy our software, traffic will flood in and money will start growing on trees. Not going to happen. It takes aninordinate amount of work to be successful in the world of online media, but luckily, social media has made the “hustle” significantly easier. Fifteen years ago, there weren’t social networking or media sites that allowed you to connect with millions of people around the world.

Social networking and web 2.0 technologies have given you the opportunity to easily connect to people who share similar interests that you do. Let’s go back to the example of Door Knockers, because if I can get away with using this example, it’s hard not to think that these principles can’t be applied to nearly anything across the board?

Twitter, Tumbler, Facebook, Myspace —- these are tools right at your fingertips to connect to the millions of people that share your passions. In a simple Google Search, I found a Flickr group with 746 members who have posted 6,504 pictures of door knockers, a facebook group, a facebook ap, twitter chatter and more. Your audience is there for the taking. Not only can you find your audience through a simple search, making connections through people who share the same passion as you is simple. On facebook, you can advertise within a 10 mile radius of your targeted demographic, or prompt advertisements based on keywords, activities or hobbies in peoples profile.

These are people who will compose your active readership, help drive your content and help shape your business. With such easy access to your audience, you should set quantitative goals each and every day.

An example:

• 20 new facebook fans everyday
• 10 new twitter followers
• 5 new back links a week

If these goals become too easy, push yourself and increase them to a point where they become difficult to achieve. Goals like these help grow your audience, increase search traffic, and it’s your obligation to keep them engaged. An audience, whether it be an e-newsletter circulation, web traffic or twitter followers, is hands down the most vital component of an online business.

Without an audience, your business is worthless to advertisers. It’s hard to develop an audience, but if you work hard to pursue the audience, and provide them with top notch content, it will come along the way. There’s no cruise control in most online businesses, and once you have developed an audience, it’s equally as important that you continuously deliver fresh information.

If you’re not constantly enhancing your content, aggressively pursuing potential audience members or out there on the ground level shaking hands and meeting people, you’re not working hard enough.Success in this space requires hard work, not investors, expensive equipment or money out of your own pocket.

 Develop a valuable resource

Think of your top 5 favorite sites. Think of the several ones you go to in the morning and check out when you get your day going, or as the day goes on. What about these sites brings you crawling back to them every day? What about them makes you tick? What is their focus? Who do they appeal to and why?

Some of the most successful and upcoming sites are so niche focused, but push content that is so unique, it’s easy to see how open the game is to everyone out there.

When you get the opportunity, take a look at some of the following sites and take a moment to think why they’re as successful as they are.

They’re focus is so thin, but their content is so rich, it’s no wonder why they’ve grown into a 1,000,000 + page views a month sites.

• Peopleofwalmart.com
• AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com
• ThereIfixedit.com
• PassiveAggressiveNotes.com

Your online business should be put through the same fire. Aside from comedic value in some cases, what content will you offer that I can’t find elsewhere? How are you going to consistently connect that content with your audience? Across what mediums?

Learning from others who took the plunge

While I wasn’t there to frivolously follow each of the sites I’m about to highlight, all of them have one thing in common. Much of their successes have one thing in common; they followed most, if not all of the sections above and crushed it. They’ve taken their passions to the web, leveraged web 2.0 applications, developed a quality resource for others, and found success in doing so. Many people get into what they do purely for passion, and success often comes years later. Derek Rocco and Adam Caldwell started ThePensBlog.com several years ago, recapping and previewing each and every
Pittsburgh Penguins game over the course of the year.

At the start, they didn’t have many readers, and that didn’t matter to them because they were covering a subject they lived and breathed –Penguins hockey. As their writing skills developed, and the Penguins saw increased success with the draft of Sidney Crosby among others, and their blog slowly became the go-to source for Penguins coverage.

While they aren’t reputable journalist, their appeal is mostly rooted in their unique content, otherwise not available in city papers. With a touch of vulgarity, off topic Photoshop exposés, embedded media clips and a slew of mid 80s wrestling references, the site has developed a cult like following that is unparalleled in other sports blogs in the city. They are averaging 640,000 page views a month, and roughly 20,000 unique visitors to the site.

They’ve recently crowned ThePensblog into a Limited Liability Corporation ,and only years after spending each and every day pursuing a lifelong passion, they’re about to cash in on the site traffic they’ve cultivated recently. Derek and Adam are crushing it doing something they love and money became only a secondary appeal to them.

The last story was covered in Vaynerchuk’s book, “Crushing It.” Midtownlunch.com is owned by Zach Brooks. Zach is passionate about street food and turned his passion into a lucrative website. He covers six blocks of street food in Manhattan. A directory of vendor food, Zach avidly covers what is going on in the world of street food in midtown. He’s constantly visiting vendors, reviewing new food, documenting changes, highlighting new options, and he’s crushing it. Vaynerchuk claims Brooks is bringing in $70,000 + in this site. 6 Blocks, $70,000…. I don’t think any one story can document the success to be had in an online business than midtownlunch.com.

The fact of the matter is, these are a few steps and a few stories to the development of a successful online business.

As I mentioned in the beginning, no one has the single key to developing a successful site, but in a world carried by social media, there have come to surface a series of distinct, formulaic approaches to getting your site off the ground. If you’re not willing to put the work in it takes to grow your business, it’s going to flop.

Take a look at some of the cases and sites mentioned throughout this whitepaper and continue to reflect on the sites that get you through your day. Pick them apart, peel back their covers and think like an online guru. What makes them tick? What is their appeal? What about these sites keep bringing you back for more? There is nothing standing between you and the ability to funnel your passion into a successful online business.

Interested in talking about your business ideas? Have an idea and want to talk strategy? Walking away with questions? Don’t hesitate to contact us.

Online Directories: The next big media vehicle for advertising agencies?

iphone-in-handOnline Directories: The next big media vehicle for advertising agencies?

As many publishers are scrambling to transition their publication to an online format, or at the very least offer a digital version of their publication, something should be said for the changes that we’re undergoing in the way we search, find and gather information. Saying that the world is moving more and more online is nothing prolific, it’s been in the works for the last fifteen years. But to think the print industry, dominated by paper-back books, grocery store gossip magazines and blockbuster papers like the Times, are re-inventing the wheel makes one wonder what bigger impact this might be having on all of us.

These publications set the standard on where and how people got their information. Need to find a business, open the yellow pages; want news, pick up the Times or Post. The yellow pages, perhaps one of the most staple print publications in circulation today is now planting its’ feet in the sand as a primarily an online information source. News aggregators like Digg and Reddit have revolutionized the way we read our daily news.

Where we used to browse several news sources to get different stories, aggregators pull together the best content from hundreds of news providers. This isn’t just the industry moving from print to online. The online world is embracing new mediums for publishing information, one of those being online directories and portals.

Let’s face it, we’re changing the way we search for and gather information and more importantly, we as consumers, buyers or readers are becoming considerably more demanding when it comes to the way we access that information. We’ve come to expect our data to be compiled, aggregated and presented in the most user friendly and time efficient manner possible and for many companies out there, there’s lots of catching up to do.

The pace of these changes will have several major implications for Web Designers, Developers, or even Advertising Agencies that offer those services. To date, over 25% of eDirectory’s business comes from Advertising Agencies or Web Design/Development shops. More and more companies are relying on ad agencies and interactive designers to develop blogs, networking sites and directories that provide easily accessible and centralized data.

Online Yellow pages, city guides, local search, business directories, product directories – all becoming more popular mediums for businesses to develop and publish content. Simply put, the ability to develop and design online directories is becoming yet another tool in the belt of agencies that stay on top of new media and technology. Twelve years ago there weren’t many companies developing sites in Flash. Today, you’d question their credibility if they didn’t have a designer inhouse with that capability.

At that same time banners were 728×90 leaderboards, sky scrapers or boxes, today there’s prestitials, interstitials and peel backs. The most successful advertising agencies are those that can keep up with the direction of online media. Given the current rave around SEO and SEM, and an online directory’s ability to account for great success in both of these arenas, electronic directories may very well be a primary advertising vehicle for most businesses in the near future.

There is, however, another opportunity for Ad Agencies and Web Designers to develop directories themselves and put into place an additional, and substantial revenue stream.

When it comes to the client base of agencies we’ve worked with in the past, we’ve found they can be categorized in one of three groups. In one scenario, the agency’s customers consist mostly of local, small companies as the agency themselves are small as well. If the agency or design company is located in Kearney Nebraska, most of their clients are stores, shops or businesses within Kearney. The second type of organization we’ve worked with has a strong industry focus.

For instance, some agencies only work with Pharma or Biotech companies, or another client of ours, for example only works with hospitality companies while the remaining group has no limitations, geographically or otherwise, on their client base.

For companies whose scope is more limited, directories often times offer your clients an excellent arena for marketing. If an agency caters more to local businesses, a city guide, or local search directory provides an enticing and powerful advertising vehicle to your client. For example, if you’re doing a website for Joe’s Computer shop in Kearney Nebraska, it would be a lucrative opportunity to also offer Joe advertising space in
GoKearney.com.

This provides a more holistic service to your client to help establish their presence on the web and helps their business gain visibility to prospective customers. The more local clients that you serve locally, the more powerful an offering a local search directory becomes.You don’t have to serve local businesses to effectively leverage a directory for your customers. As you learn more about marketing an online directory, you’ll learn that
a narrow, niche focus accounts for sites that are the most successful. Agencies that only concentrate, for example, in life sciences or software solutions have a highly targeted client base. Developing a directory of different CRO (contract research organization) services for biotech companies makes for a great addition to any campaign the agency is working on the client with. Alternatively, a product directory, where an organization can
list and promote their customers’ products provide unparalleled visibility for their software and services.

A site like Capterra is regarded as the Kelly Blue Book for businesses shopping for software. If, as an interactive agency, your business has a niche focus and limits its’ services to a select group of companies, leverage the narrow focus and industry knowledge to develop product directories or service directories. This provides not
only a valuable resource to your advertiser, but it also opens up another stream of recurring revenue for your organization.

If you have any questions, or would like to further discuss how to improve the way you’re marketing or selling your directory, we would welcome a phone call or e-mail anytime.

eDirectory 10.4 Released with New Site Manager

Welcome_to_the_Site_Manager_-_Demo_Directory

We are proud to announce the launch of eDirectory v10.4.  In addition to a number of SEO Improvements, this version features a fully redesigned Admin (Site Manager) area.  We overhauled every pixel, from the navigation on down, for usability and simplicity.

Take a look at some of the new features and improvements:

Image upload has been simplified with seamless drag and drop functionality allowing you to quickly upload multiple photos in a single action:

photos

Integrated promotional features to help you get the word out, including quick access to marketing resources, a retooled SEO Center, new badges and more:

badges

New custom page builder for your mobile apps with tools to add images, headings, text areas, quotes, lists and even video:

custom app page

And much more…. visit our demo at www.DemoDirectory.com and change the Website Role to Site Manager or download the full 10.4 changelog here to see all the updates.