If you are in business in Ireland then there’s a good chance that you’ve been approached by one of the “definitive” online Irish business directories. I’ve been approached by several and (even though I been working in this game for a while) find it difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

They might only be looking for a few hundred quid with the offer of getting you “thousands of visits to your website” but if that promise is empty then that’s still a few hundred quid you could spend on more useful things, such as multi-coloured paper clips. I’m not suggesting that all the offerings are the same so here are five fairly simple things you can do to check if your money would be worth parting with:

1. Ask them are their visitor numbers audited?

Any site looking for advertisers will have their website visitor numbers audited by an independent third party such as ABC or JNIR. If the website cannot give you audited figures then the most you can assume about them is that their site is a scam. Avoid them if you have any sense at all. Would you pay someone to distribute 10,000 flyers for you if you knew they were only going to give out a handful down in the local? Have a look at how Daft.ie communicate and verify their visitor numbers. Expect the same from anyone you give your money to.

2. Check what the directory’s Google “Page Ranking” is

Install the Google Toolbar on your web browser and every time you visit a website it will tell you how it ranks that page. It gives an independent, albeit simplistic, view of the “authority” of that page.  A top Irish website would have a page ranking of 7 or 8 out of 1o. This humble blog has a ranking of 2 out of 10. If a business directory doesn’t have at least a ranking of 5 then it is probably either not well enough established or not comprehensive enough for search engines to pay it much heed. If no one can find the directory because the search engines don’t like it then no one is going to be able to find you on it.

Google Toolbar with Page Rank icon highlighted

Google Toolbar with Page Rank icon highlighted

3. Check the directory’s Alexa.com Ranking

Alexa.com is a website that offers a relativity score for websites based on the number of people it estimates visit that site. It is a very useful site for comparing one website against another, especially where websites don’t have their visitor numbers audited by an independent party.

Plug in the web address of the directory in question together with the address of website you know the figures for  (say daft.ie who tell us they have 1 million unique visitors per month). The chart that is presented will give you an indication of the relative popularity of the directory in question. Or put in the names of two directories and see which comes back better.

This chart shows two of the  most high profile Irish business directories (blue and red lines) mapped against daft.ie (the top green line):

alexadirectories

Alexa also has a useful list of the top 100 websites that Irish people visit.

4. See if YOU can find businesses easily on the  directory?

Be your own judge of how good the directory is. Do a simple search for your category and location in a search engine. Is the directory coming up in the top 5 search results spots?   If not then these guys are not very good at search engines and if no-one can find them, then there’s even less of a chance that they’ll find you there.

Now there are some sites that simply take all the businesses in a town and list them on a very long page. Once a web user lands on that page there is little chance of them scrolling through a long page and trying to find your business. Neither will someone navigate through pages and pages to find your listing.

A good directory will have a search facility on the home page that lets you select category – e.g. “optician” – and location – e.g. “Athlone”. And if you search there you should find relevant businesses. There’s no point in being on a directory if no one can find you on it.

5. Check if the directory is comprehensive

If it does not have a comprehensive list of providers in your area or other areas then you might think this is a good thing. You’re thinking “I’ll be the only optician that people find in Athlone”.

The problem is that if a site is not comprehensive people will stop using it. Say I stumble across BestBusinessesInIreland.com and only find one optician listed in the whole of Westmeath – I’m simply not going to go back to that website in the future. There’s simply no point in being the only person on a directory if no one is using it.

Look, I’m not trying to be overly negative. There is a role for businesses directories in Ireland, but the thing I see going on that annoys me is that the first priority for many is to get businesses to pay money to be listed. In my mind the first priority should be to get people using your directory in large numbers, have those numbers validated and then go looking for money if a business wants to continue to be listed or to have a premium listing.

Directory owners, stop promising what you are simply not delivering. Business owners, beware and judge for yourself.