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.

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!

Do you want to learn how to change the WordPress profile picture without a plugin? Check out this tutorial!

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.

59 thoughts on “The 6 rules to monetize a directory website

  1. I’ve been looking for the right directory software, but hadn’t really learned much about the HOWs of running a directory. Good article!

    1. Thanks Dryler, I’m sure that if you give GeoDirectory a try, you won’t be disappointed. 🙂

  2. Hello,

    So, because my directory is fairly new and it doesn’t have enough traffic to warrant it, I’m not yet charging for any listings. However, I was wondering if it’s an okay practice to use affiliate links as website links for my online store listings? Because then I’d only be “charging” them if I was generating traffic to their site. If this is an okay practice, how would I disclose it? Because everything I’ve read says that affiliate disclosures must come before the link but that would make the site visually unappealing.

    *I know you mentioned affiliate links in this post but that seems just in regard to blog posts.

    Thank you and I look forward to your reply,


    1. Hi Courteney,

      there are several ways to add an affiliate disclosure without making your site visually unappealing. Some examples here:


  3. I have been using GeoDirectory for about 9 months or so now and could not be happier with how it works! If your looking for a plugin that will run your directory this one is the only one I can highly recommend!

  4. I guess I am late to the party. I have yet to see a successful hyperlocal directory. I am convinced there has to be another route to building a directory. Do you think building a blog, in the beginning, would gain more trust in Google’s eyes?

    Tell me if I am wrong but no one wants to go to a boring directory. I don’t care what kind of content you have on your directory, no one wants to visit a boring, bland, or dry website. In this day and age, people are looking for some type of entertainment, not all, but the majority that’s visiting a website.

    For instance, let’s say I wanted to throw a birthday party for my daughter and I was looking for a place in town to accommodate my needs.

    Website A: Static website that is nice. No video. No reviews. Just an informational website explains some stuff but not very informative.

    Website B: Video of different venues around town. Video of birthday kids having a good time. Video of someone explaining their services. Lots of engagement with the viewer and even a 5 dollar off coupon if that viewer signs up for email.

    Somehow or another directories need to engage the viewer and make their first experience the best experience. Paolo, I agree with everything you said and for some reason, I still struggle trying to build a directory. What do you think? Do you think building an informational blog in the beginning and then transforming that blog into a directory is a good idea? I don’t have a clue because I have seen nothing out there to compare.

    1. Hi Mark,

      did you read the article?

      Point 5:

      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.

      Of course, you need a blog and engaging content, that said, you can write engaging content for listings too. If you are struggling with your directory, also make sure the niche you chose has traffic and generates $.


  5. It is a great article to read as I created a Local Business Listing and the best thing is you will become an SEO Expert while working on your own site. The second I think “Creating A Forum” its awesome idea with a business directory

  6. It was really awesome to read it. I am also creating a Web Directory and it helped me a lot.

  7. hey great article do you have any tips to convince sponsors ( building materials ,manufacturers and vendors) for ads or events for an architects and designers directory plus magazine style website

    1. Hi, numbers for sure. You must create value for them. For someone selling something, the only question will be: how many potential buyers will see my products. If you have many active architects listed and consistent traffic, it shouldn’t be hard to convince them.

  8. I’m in the research stage for my directory and I’m pleased to have found some answers as well as more questions to ask of myself and find more information about. I’ll be referring to this list as I continue to build out my project. You’ve given me an edge for what more to build on. Thank you.

  9. Hi, great article! I’m wanting to start a directory for athletes and their families who live away from home and are in unfamiliar surroundings. So many service providers see nice houses and rip these people off and then there is also the risk of letting people into their home who are unprofessional or who may steal items. I want to create a directory for athletes and their families with services recommended by athletes and their families. I want them to be able to register as an exclusive member, to be able to connect with one another. So that they can create a network of their own and reduce the feeling of being isolated. But I’m unsure how I can monetise this. Since there won’t be a lot of traffic through the website / app as it is a very specific / niche market… is it too small a market? Do I consider charging a membership fee? Will that put people off? Thanks!

    1. Hi,

      I have no idea what the market size is, but if we are talking about the United States, I would guess that there are tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of athletes. Adding their family members, that is not that small of a market. I would start with all free and once you reach a certain level of traffic and listings, start offering upgrades to premium listings to those wanting more visibility.


  10. I just also wanted to say thanks for this well written article. My query is in terms of advertising package pricing. So far I have always offered yearly pricing… do people have most success with monthly packages?

  11. Great article! I’ve been doing directories for over 15+ years and am about to get back in the game again. It was a nice refresher on ideas and picked up some new tips.


    1. Hey, glad you liked it Michael! I hope you’ll do your next directory with our tools!

  12. Hi Paolo,

    I hope you’re still in there lol. This is such a nice article. I’m looking at creating my WordPress+GeoDirectory but does making a directory website like these requires business plan or I can just purchase WordPress’ personal Premium plan? Thanks!

    1. Hi,

      if you want to do that on, you’ll need a business plan. If you use WordPress self-hosted, you can host it on any server you like and have a bit more freedom.

      Thank you,


  13. Very well written article. I created the directory a few weeks ago. still adding listings to the specific industries around the area. Very time consuming but, I think this could be a great opportunity for our local community to be able to support | shop & live local better 🙂

  14. Hie how are you…very informative article. I have just created an online business directory and i want to know how i can add value to the businesses that i have recently added myself. I have about 15 so far but i want to know how i can convince others to sign up and what benefits they will get for doing that?

    1. You must bring them some traffic and sales. That’s how you add value… 🙂

  15. I am looking into taking over a, a directory for New England with all things related to horses. The originator is retiring. It was started in the 80’s and was very successful but now with old technology, no new advances in content and a smaller horse community sales have fallen off. She is looking to sell the database and as is software (Quork is one of the systems). I think with brushing off some of the proverbial dust and getting a fresh start with some new ideas like a blog, it would be well received. The directory has 7K in the database. Thoughts or suggestions to the viability to this project. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

    1. the domain does not have exceptional value, but the website ranks pretty well for being that old. Renewing and reviving it could definitely make it a successful website in its niche and bring some revenues.

      WordPress and GeoDirectory combined would definitely help you achieve your goal.

      If you have any other questions please let us know.

  16. First of all thank You for a great blog post.
    I consider to start hunting niche directory listing website. I need recommendation on my plan.
    I plan to:
    1. Create website with up to date requirements of these days internet (mobile support, good seo practice, site speed, design etc.)
    2. Manual add listings for the start (thinking of 10-15 listing of each categories) and then contact their owners to inform that their website/service is listed. Maybe ask for website link exchange and start conversation about paid listing in the future…
    3. Write relevant content on blog to generate traffic and discussion.
    4. Start paid listing service.
    5. Social media stuff…
    So, my plan is on the right direction? sorry I’m not English native.

    Best Regards,

    1. You are welcome and thank you!

      Yes your plan seems about right. Especially if you have some knowledge about the niches you are going to cover…

      You could also offer premium listings for free to the market leaders. That will push others to buy the paid listings too.


  17. First of all thank You for a great blog post.
    I consider to start hunting niche directory listing website. I need recommendation on my plan.
    I plan to:
    1. Create website with up to date requirements of these days internet (mobile support, good seo practice, site speed, design etc.)
    2. Manual add listings for the start (thinking of 10-15 listing of each categories) and then contact their owners to inform that their website/service is listed. Maybe ask for website link exchange and start conversation about paid listing in the future…
    3. Write relevant content on blog to generate traffic and discussion.
    4. Start paid listing service.
    5. Social media stuff…
    So, my plan is on the right direction? sorry I’m not English native.

  18. Hi Paolo,
    Thank you for this. It contains some interesting suggestions I had not considered yet. Very useful. We actually started our listing directory and a are now testing and developing before really populating the database. We are in the category niche with worldwide coverage.
    Our clients can create their own listings and soon we will create listings for them, after which we will send the login and password.
    Three questions. How important in your opinion is it to have unique content? I mean if you copy/paste text from the client’s website as a description, is this bad? Even if other content might be unique? How would you apply Seo principles to a multilingual website? And what would be a good solution to promote a category/search instead of a single profile? I mean if in our case a user looks for a Spanish course in Boston, the directory contains 10 listings for this search, but 1 profile is found and opened, how could you also promote the other 9 listings, providing a better result to the user has he might want to refine his search. Thanks in advance and thank you for the post.

    1. Hi Richard,

      all your questions are SEO related, which is a service we do not provide. I’d be glad to refer a good SEO agency to you if you wish.


    2. Hi Richard, amazing job on your directory, one of the best I’ve seen. Hope it’s successful! I was just wondering if you used Geodirectory to build it and if you did, what base theme you used? Thanks.

  19. Hello
    Thank you for this article. It is really helpful.
    I have a totally different question though.
    I started to build my online directory/blog, but i do not own a company.
    It’s just me. Are business going to accept my invoices as a person and not company?
    I worry about the professional image of my little business

    1. Hi Kate, thanks for your comment. IMHO, if the directory is creating value for them and they wish to be listed, they won’t care who the invoice is coming from.

  20. Hello Mr. Palao,

    Before reading this article, I have already got your geo directory with its child theme.

    I have already started working on the same.

    I have certain will be great if you could be your direct E-mail id .. that would be very helpful.. instead of geo forum..

    1. I’m sorry but we don’t provide support outside of our forum. If you wish to get one on one support, you can hire a freelance developer here:

  21. Hi,
    How can I apply these tips to a Mental Health Directory please? TIA.

    1. Hi,

      if you plan on building it for a wide region or the entire world, try not to be too generic and dominate 1 specific niche. Otherwise start from a small geographic area and make sure to be the n1 reference for Mental Health in that area.

      There is a lot to write about Mental Health, so you should focus on getting traffic through content marketing, by writing a great blog about all things people could be looking for, when searching for help for Mental Care.


      p.s. another important step for a successful directory, would be to move from to a self hosted WordPress website.

  22. Thanks for the great article. And yes it dies take time and hard work. The problem I am having is getting past the gatekeeper to get to the decision maker. I have some ideas such as scheduling an interview with clients in my city for content and an introduction.

    1. Are you sure that you picked the right niche? You are competing with Facebook, Yelp and Yellow Pages, where most of your potential advertiser are used to get exposure without paying…

      On top of that, you have a big overhead for using the brilliant directories platform. How many listings do you have to sell to break even?

      I can only wish you good luck!

      And thanks for stopping by 🙂

  23. Hello there,
    can I talk to you in private please

    1. Yes, feel free to send us an email:


  24. Nice article.I have started directory site but the key is you need to get the people first for that you need to start with free listings.

    1. you are 100% right!

  25. I really love your article. It’s very informative. I want to start a SME business directory. What would you advise?

    1. Hi Daniel,

      thanks for your comment! Either go after a small niche and a big geographic area or go after all SME businesses but starts with a small region.

      Good luck with your directory!

  26. Hi,

    I’ve discovered that Google has made Keywords Planner non-free. While looking at other Keywords research websites, I have come across their metrics I do not entirely understand.


    If the Dfficulty metric for keyword A is 40 and for keyword B it is 70, which keyword is more preferable?
    If the Opportunity metric for keyword A is 80% and for keyword B it is 12%, which keyword is more preferable?
    If the Priority metric for keyword A is 25 and for keyword B it is 50, which keyword is more preferable?

    I hope you can understand what I am trying to say.

    Kind regards,


    1. Keyword planner is still free and I doubt they’ll have charge a dime for something like that.

      I have no idea how the explorer works.


  27. I’m thinking about creating a directory for our business as well. This definitely gives us ideas on how we can structure it. Appreciate the help! And hopefully we can monetize it and make some money!

  28. Not sure what the date of your published article is ..however I still find it relevant. However I am curious if in late 2017 directories have lost their value? I am considering launching a curated directory at – is it too late to start one?

    1. Hi, generic link directories like yours are a bit a thing of the past, however human curated niche link directories are still relevant for Google and can be easily monetized.

  29. Great information that will definitely help me launch my directory in South Africa

    I especially loved the tip about hot offer more for premium listings, I think I will definitely the information in our article to really kick start my travel directory and really something with it

    Thanks so much

    1. Thank you, too bad you are using the wrong technology for your directory, if you grow, you’ll never be able to scale…

  30. Hi,

    I want to thank you for this article. I’m actualy working on my online project. I will take note of wise advises I found here.

  31. Thanks for this great article, am already following your guide.

  32. This article is very helpful to us, the beginners. Thanks for this. Good job. Keep it up.

  33. Thank you , It was very useful for us .

    1. Thanks for your comment Hossein, we are glad that you found the information to be useful!

  34. Great article!
    Every think about doing case studies? Would love to participate!

  35. This is real eye opening topic, when we started our own directory we dont put some of these into consideration, I think with these clues we can kick off something

    1. Thanks for your comment! We are happy to hear that you found this information to be useful.

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