The 6 rules to monetize a directory website

and start make a living online.

How to make money with a business directory website

When Blogs still didn’t existed, directories where already out there making money online.

Directory websites appeared online to try and organize the internet itself, before search engines came to be.

They evolved from collections of links like the DMOZ, to today’s business listings directories, with users reviews and specialized forums like Trip Advisor and Yelp, just to name the most popular two.

One of the biggest initial hurdle for Directory publishers, is finding a way to monetize their directory websites.

In this article we will try to explain how to :

1) Find the right niche.
2) Build the database.
3) Incentivize reviews.
4) Be visible.
5) Monetize your directory.
6) Improve your conversion rates.

7) We’ll also provide an Extra Tip on how to make money with a business directory website.

1 Find the right niche

find the niche

As for any other internet business model, the best way to make money online with a directory website, is to find a profitable niche and exploit it.

The 3 fundamental qualities of a profitable niche are:

1) Good traffic.
2) Low or moderate competition.
3) High suggested bid for ads.

There is a tool to find possible keywords, their estimated monthly search numbers, the level of competition and the suggested bid for ads too. It is called “Google Adwords Keyword Planner“, it is free and you must learn how to use it, if you want to make money online.

You can search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category and it will return suggestions for similar keywords.

Whenever you find a niche that has all 3 qualities, you are on the right track to start making money online.

First of all, you must be able to create value for that niche. It’s better to think big, start small and move fast.

A generic directory with many keywords (categories) or even with a high level of competition, should cover a very small geographic area of great interest.

Possibly an area that you know like no one else, for which you can even offer concierge services.

It can be global, but in that case it should cover an extremely specialized sector with a growing market and very few keywords.

Possibly forget about Hotels, Restaurants, Doctors, Real Estate and Lawyers (probably the 5 most competitive keywords). When these are the only options you can think of, try to be creative and pursue niches like :

– Luxury Hotels with breathtaking views.

– Restaurants that only serve raw food.

– Doctors who prescribe a specific drug or cure

– Medical marijuana friendly rentals (sounds crazy? It could be, but it may soon be a thing in some U.S. states)

– Lawyers that specialize in a very specific law practice like Gay Divorce (sounds discriminating? Well it is actually a thing…).

gay divorece lawyer

If instead you try to build a global directory, with thousands of locations, categories and custom fields, you will find yourself working on something bigger than can be possibly handled without a large team and most likely fail.

2 Build the database

quality over quantity

Should I build my own database or wait for users to do it? Is scraping an option? These are the most common questions asked by our customers.

Don’t wait for visitors to build your database with user generated content, your directory will never grow fast enough. Start by adding listings yourself and ask friends and colleagues to help you with this task.

Avoid scraping, the only data that can be scraped are details info such as business names, addresses, geo coordinates, telephone numbers, website addresses, email addresses and so on. Everything else is most likely used in other websites too, so it is useless.

You want Google to rank your listings? They must have better content compared to other pages that are currently ranking for the subject of your listings.

Better images, a thorough description of the business, services provided, ongoing offers and possibly lots of reviews. Every piece of content must be original.

3 Incentivize User’s Reviews

get user reviews

Lot of reviews, means having a lot of original content that both your visitors and Google will love.

Getting the first user generated reviews is the hardest part. You should honestly review every listing that you know of, in your directory.

You should also get people in your network involved, to help you review as many listings as possible.

Users are more prone to submit their reviews in directories where they feel part of a community.

A forum can help a lot, but you need to be present in your forum and build the community, or delegate the task to someone that can do it for you.

4 Be visible

be visible

This is probably the most important point.

When it comes to making money on the web, for me the recipe is always the same.

You need good SEO and Social media marketing. If your directory website isn’t ranking high on Google for your niche or you don’t have enough followers to appear attractive to your potential customers, they won’t be willing to invest in your directory website.

If you can’t bring them traffic and possibly sales, you are worthless to them. It is as simple as that.

You must become an SEO expert and dominate your niche.

Bring traffic to your website and you will have success.

The higher the traffic, the easier it will become to monetize your Business Directory Website, or any online business for that matter.

Learn everything about SEO, specifically content creation and white hat link building techniques. Backlinks and great content are still the two most important factors to dominate Google search results pages.

Installing a SEO plugin isn’t enough, it is just one step. There are plenty of excellent blogs where you can learn SEO techniques, with lots of concepts and real life examples.

My current favorite is: by Glen Allsopp

But there are many others out there. 

The Search Engine Journal,, and Backlinko are a few other examples.

There are niches that allows you to publish sharable content such as great pictures and videos. Take advantage of them to grow a community in social networks too.

5 Monetize your directory


There are three ways to monetize a directory website:

1) Sell listings.
2) Sell Ads space.
3) Sell extra services.

Listings can be anything: Business Listings, Events Listings, Jobs Listings, Classified Listings, Real Estate listings and anything else that comes to your mind. The only difference are few custom fields.

Sell premium listings allowing extra features compared to free listings. The premium listings could have more pictures, a website link, telephone number, social media links, inclusion in more categories, a longer description , more custom fields and so on.

Sell higher visibility for the most expensive premium listings, featuring them at the top of category archives, search pages and in extra sidebar areas. Premium listings can also be ads free as an additional value.

Sell listings for a one time fee for limited time publishing or for a recurring fee that expire only if the publisher stops it (basically start a subscriptions business online which sells listings).

Premium listings can also include extra services beyond the directory. Use the directory as a lead generator to increase your marketing, web design and development revenues.

A lot of the business that will be listed in the directory, could require help for easy tasks like creating and maintaining a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account.

They could be looking for design, photography or marketing services. They could even need a full website.

By including these services in your listings packages, you could find a new stream of revenues.

Selling ads can be another great source of revenues. Use popular ads network like Google Adsense (PPC), (impressions based) or sell ads space directly.

It goes without saying that a directory should have a blog too. In a lot of cases the blog comes first and the directory follows.

It will make it much easier to attract traffic, blog posts allow to sell extra ads space and also affiliate products for extra revenues.

6 Improve your conversion rates


Learn how to convert free into paid listings. When you don’t have featured listings yet on your directory, the hardest part is selling the first few. Don’t be greedy at first and consider to set reasonable prices.

The technique with the highest conversion rate, according to our statistics, is still telemarketing.

Create a script of the telephone pitch, try to speak with the owner or the highest manager on duty only. Introduce the directory and inform him that his business has already been listed for free.

Very important, if the business has been already reviewed, don’t forget to mention it.

Explain what the premium listing can bring to his business (extra visibility, a backlink, more traffic to his website and ultimately real clients) and close the sale asking if they are interested in purchasing a premium listing.

You will be lucky to get a yes out of ten, especially at the beginning, take this into account, be persistent and don’t get discouraged.

Giving away few free featured listings to market leaders can also be a good idea. Some of their competitors will believe it’s worth to pay to be listed on your website.

In our experience you get two questions repeatedly from potential customers when starting out:

1) Who are you?

if you don’t find someway to relate to the customer then a lot of the time they will either hang up or say they are too busy to talk. The reason could be anything from “Do you know XYZ, he’s my uncle” or “My cousin XYZ bought a ABC from you last year and he thought you guys were great” Don’t go making things up but even the slightest relation to the potential customer really helps get a sale.

2) Who else has signed up?

This is one of the times it’s good to give the market leaders a free premium listing for few months so you can then answer “All the big XYZ[hotels] are listed already”.

Extra Tip on how to make money with a business directory website

NAP citation for local SEO

If you don’t have a network that can help you influence business owners into buying your premium listings or you can’t think of any niche where you can offer value, consider selling NAP Citations submissions for local SEO.

NAP stands for Name Address and Phone and these citations are important for local SEO, like links are for Organic SEO.

NAP citations are exactly what business directory websites provide. A listing on Yelp, Trip Advisor or a Facebook page, count each as 1 NAP citation.

The most important thing is that the address and phone number are formatted exactly as they are formatted on Google My Business page.

When you have a similar number of reviews and a Google My Business page of similar quality (description, pictures, videos, offers, and so on), the number and quality of NAP Citations are what make the difference to appear on the Google Map Pack.

Appearing or not on the Google Map Pack today, can make or break any local business, so NAP citations are very valuable.

How to sell NAP citations

First, you’ll need to create a few local directories. I’d say at least 20. They must be of very good quality and possibly not all hosted on the same server.

Make sure your directory websites have enough backlinks and content to all have a decent DA (Domain Authority). Let’s say DA 20 and up and they load fast enough.

You can check DA of a website on One other metric people look at is Domain Rating.

Once you are ready with your network of directories, make a list of the 10/15 most valuable Directories for the area that you want to target. (Yelp, Trip Advisor, Yellow Pages, Hot Frog to name a few both big and medium)

Create a page where you offer to submit business listings into your list of Directories and provide up to 40 NAP citations. You can easily do that with our invoicing plugin.

You can easily charge between 50 and $99/year for something like that and with 1 sale per day, you could be making 18k and 35k USD per year with 10 minutes of work per day.

If you need an example:


Making a living with an online directory website requires research, dedication, and patience. It can be a bit hard at first, especially if you are building a brand new website, but it can become extremely rewarding too.

We hope you found this article interesting, if you did, don’t forget to share it.

If you have any questions about the subject or suggestions to improve this post, don’t hesitate to let me know by leaving a comment down below!

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Published by Paolo

Paolo Tajani is the co-founder and growth hacker of AyeCode LTD. With his business partner Stiofan, they are the makers of the GeoDirectory, UsersWP and Invoicing plugins for WordPress. Paolo developed his first WordPress website in 2008. In 2011 he met Stiofan O'Connor and together they started building and marketing successful themes and plugins for WordPress. Today their products are used by +100.000 active websites.