The battle for any new online business to prove itself is far more difficult than that faced by businesses out in the real life world. The quality and success of a new shop-front business – if played right – can be quicker to materialise and easier to gauge. If the owner of a new café can have the footpath tables packed out for their first two weeks with plates wiped clean and a good review or two, you’ll probably take notice and be willing to give it a go.
But when it comes to the website of an online-based business, it’s really just you in a dark room in your pyjamas with a screen starting back at you. Who’s to say this business is legit? Who’s to say their product is any good? Who’s to say they didn’t materialise out of thin air yesterday, even though it may say Serving happy customers since 2004 beneath the logo? These doubts are double so for websites selling non-physical products like a directory website selling profile listings.
If you are starting up a new directory website based on paid user-generated profiles, you need to consider that visitors will be hitting your website with all of the above doubts already swirling about inside their head. That’s right, you need to prevent visitors seeing you as the online equivalent of that dodgy dude selling knock-off perfume and sunglasses out of a suitcase on the footpath! Here one day, gone the next.
There are two main ways to show people that listing on your directory website is legitimate, worthwhile and popular (or, at least, on the way to being popular):
Mo’ money mo’ profiles? Not so much
Directory websites based upon paid user-generated profiles have a hard ask in persuading potential customers to sign-up for a profile from the launch of the site. There has to be a damn good reason, price or guarantee that would convince people to part with their hard-earned money to list themselves on your new, unproven website. It really is a chicken or egg scenario though: being popular makes you look successful and legitimate; but how do you get people signing up to begin with if it’s popularity that makes others think your directory looks worthwhile?
Let’s say your new directory site will allow electricians to list their business, allowing site users to run a distance-based search and then contact for quotes and callouts. Unless you have a pre-existing database of profiles that you’ll be populating your directory with, the reality is you’ll be launching with zero profiles from day one. If an electrician heads to your site in its early days and sees that you’re selling an entry-level 12 month listing for $295 with only 3 other tradies listed on your site so far, they’re incredibly unlikely to part with their hard-earned coin for a listing on an empty and unproven website with unlikely conversions. This will be the reaction of any electricians coming across your site and your journey to having a critical mass of profiles will never even gain traction.
For any client of ours considering a similar model for their directory site, my answer is easy: keep it free (for now). I’d always advise to go the ‘free listing’ route for at least the first couple of months or for the first few dozen profiles – whichever comes first. Monetising the directory can come later from profile renewals, upgrades or trial period continuances. Getting a return on investment on the money spent on your website design is an understandable goal – but try to be patient and give it time. Being free and easy has always been a sure-fire way to become popular!
Proving the directory website's staying power
Let’s say the first challenge of a paid user-generated directory website has been conquered. Your directory now has profile listings – lots of them. The next challenge is to continue to prove to those profile listing owners on your site that there’s value in renewing profiles after their trial period ends or profile expires (or even upgrading from a standard to premium profile). The profile owners who are listing on your website need to see the value and conversions they’re getting out of continuing to list with you.
Just imagine that a customer named Sarah finds Brad the Bondi Electrician through your website and calls Brad direct on his listed mobile number direct. You need to somehow prove to Brad that Sarah found him through his profile listing on your website. The problem: Sarah (who’s the one who found the profile listing) probably couldn’t care less about letting Brad know, “by the way, I found you through your website listing” – she’s just happy she’s found someone to do the job.
Quantifying how many phone call leads come through from an online profile listing is difficult – encouraging callers or even offering incentives to mention the website can be hit and miss. Instead, potential customers filling out a quick contact form on Brad’s profile can be a great way for Brad (and yourself) to measure the results he’s getting through your website.
Directory websites built by The Web Showroom can include an extra functionality enabling an SMS alert to be sent instantly to the profile owner once a potential customer has submitted a form on their profile. Contact details like first name, mobile, suburb and possibly the type of job, chosen from a dropdown, can all come through direct to Brad’s mobile. This way – while he’s on the go – Brad will keep seeing text messages come through from his profile listed on your website. When he’s free, he gives them a call back. The best part is Brad knows that your site is working for him. You should consider giving website profile viewers an assurance or reason to fill in a quick contact form instead of calling – maybe a graphic saying Electricians receive your enquiry via text message instantly!
The business model, structure, design and demand of a directory website are important factors in launching it successfully. But it’s your ability to get as many profiles as possible as quickly as possible that will really help it off the ground. Building your directory with the above in mind will have you halfway there.