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.

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

Become a 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 WordPress Business Directory, 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.

The Search Engine Journal, Yoast.com, the Stone Temple Blog and Backlinko are just few 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), buysellads.com (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”.


Making a living with online directories 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 question about the subject or suggestions to improve this post, don’t hesitate to do so by leaving a comment down below!

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

  1. 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

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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

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

  4. 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 http://LinkDart.com – is it too late to start one?

    • 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

    With moz.com/explorer:

    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,


    • 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!

  7. 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.

    • 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 🙂

    • 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 wix.com to a self hosted WordPress website.

  8. 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 doubt..it will be great if you could be your direct E-mail id .. that would be very helpful.. instead of geo forum..

  9. 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

    • 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.

  10. Hi Paolo,
    Thank you this. Contains some interesting suggestions I had not considered yet. Very useful. We actually started our listing directory http://www.languageadvisor.net 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 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 clien’s website as a description, is this bad? Even if other content might be unique? How would you apply Seo principles to 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.

    • 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.


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