Indie publishers look to directories for revenue, SEO boost

By Sally Duros

Ned Berke is on pins and needles about his latest creation for SheepsheadBites, which reports on happenings in Sheepshead Bay, N.Y.  It’s a directory of businesses that he’s creating as a direct response to what advertisers say they want.

“The idea came out of listening to our advertisers,” Berke said in a Facebook chat. “For some advertisers, the premium front page advertising just wasn’t efficient. So low cost advertising in the business directory would work, as it only targets those users looking for a particular service.”

Berke says that the directory currently under development is a natural fit to the site’s SEO strategy.

“[It keeps] people cycling through the site, since all mentions of businesses in our content will link to their directory, and for certain businesses and organizations we’ll be pulling in RSS feeds to the directory of the latest news on the site that relates to them.”

In creating his directory, Berke is joining a growing list of hyperlocal publishers — Brownstoner, Baristanet,  MyEdmondsNews to name a few — who are using  directories and advertising within directories to fund their sites. And they are doing it with easy to use WordPress plugins.

Trust is at the heart of the indie publisher strategy for winning the hearts and dollars of local advertisers. Traditional directories like the Yellow Pages have brand recognition but lack local connection.

“Think of these business directories as being an extension of community,” said Clay Graham, founder of welocally.com in Oakland, whose clients include local emenity directory Oaklandly. “Every single neighborhood wants to have their own business directory and they want it curated it by someone they trust.”

WeLocally is a WordPress Plugin that seamlessly puts posts, places and categories on a map allowing an indie publisher to create a directory. The place page makes it easy to sell banners for specials and other add-ons for a fee to advertisers.

Graham says that 49 independent publishers are using his plugin, which comes in multiple flavors, beginning with a free version for use on three sites and a highly customizable version that costs considerably more.  Another popular provider of directory and social Web services for indie news publishers is BlankSlate, whose clients include Brownstoner.

Graham says that the traditional Yellow Pages industry has still not figured out how to deal with the dynamic changes of the internet and Yelp is a cacophony that is not trusted.

“The Yellow Pages is getting eaten alive,” he said.

Meanwhile at SheepsheadBites, Berke says his directory isn’t ready to be revealed just yet, but he’s  eager to see how his directory performs against established business listing services such as Yelp,  CitySearch, MenuPages and  Yellow Pages.

At the very local level, the battle for local advertising is being fought among legacy news, hyperlocals and the big digitals such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, as I wrote in this post on my personal blog.

Meanwhile, research by The Pew Internet and the American Life Project on Where people go to learn about restaurants and other local business indicates that search engines will continue to greatly influence adults when they are deciding where to go for dinner and socialize.

Berke’s not alone in wagering that a good SEO strategy, boost to Google from local business directories plus the special formula of neighborly trust will give his revenues the boost he’s looking for.

“Will the Google juice of our main site give us what we need to rank in the top 3? We’ll have to see,” Berke wrote.

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Meanwhile Pew uploaded a slideshare today that offers some revealing stats about how young adults use the local news ecosystem and it looks like good news for online indie publishers. Enjoy!



Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on  and on twitter at saduros.


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