3 Simple Tips to Measure Online Directory Advertising ROI

April 27th, 2009 by Search Influence Alumni

Dartboard Image Courtesy of Flickr User timlewisnm

Image Courtesy of Flickr User timlewisnm

It’s pretty simple: marketing on the Internet is, on one level, about dominating as much real estate on page 1 of Google as possible.

The typical places to dominate are the left side of the page (natural or organic search results) and the right side of the page (paid search results). However, with the abundance of online directories aggressively marketing themselves, the ability to own more of page 1 of Google for a certain key phrase is more and more attainable.

Many online directories work as lead generation services providing their clients with a profile page that can act as a separate web site in organic rankings. Some even guarantee a certain amount of leads per month for a given cost.  Often they will also sell visible real estate on their site for an extra cost (e.g. a banner on the home page).

The main problem is that businesses sign up for these directories 1) without knowing enough about the service to ensure they are going to get an acceptable return on investment (ROI), 2) not knowing how to use these profiles to their fullest ability and 3) not understanding that in signing up they’re paying the directory to compete with them for search engine position.

I have outlined three ways you can begin measuring your ROI for each online directory you are currently under contract with, and those who may approach in the future: tracking, analyzing and optimizing

Bank of America Stock Chart

Bank of America Stock Chart


  • For each directory/profile listing implement call-tracking numbers. These numbers allow you to track exactly how many calls come in from that listing. This also allows you to track leads throughout the entire process and decide if they are quality leads.
  • Implement Google Analytics (the best free analytics tool available) to track referring sites (among other things). This allows you to see exactly how many people come directly to your site from your directory listing. There are some directories that can’t be tracked on analytics, so you will have to track these more closely in-house.


  • Each month every directory should send you a recap of the activity on your profile. They usually list how many visits to your profile, how many leads you got from the profile, how many leads went to your site, etc. You can use these numbers to compare to your tracking reports. This will also allow you to gauge if the leads are quality or not. Yes, they might bring in their number of guaranteed leads, but they may never convert into procedures, which is where the ROI comes into play.
  • Reality check with customers: If the customer was looking for you by name, and your lead source intercepted them, they’re not doing you any good and you should discount those leads.


  • Each listing is different, but it’s important to find out all the ways you can optimize your listing for better visibility. Some allow you to add video, press releases, optimized content, articles, and before/after images – you should take advantage of any opportunity you can. This will allow you to know at the end of your contract that you have done everything possible to utilize the listing and you can accurately measure the ROI (bearing in mind that you are investing your time).

Also be aware of what you can get for free- sometimes free is enough to get you what you need.

If you are considering joining a paid online directory, consider the following before signing the dotted line.

  • What is the cost per lead (CPL) the directory is guaranteeing, if any?
  • What is your current CPL for your own website and how does it compare?
  • How does that directory rank for valuable local and national key phrases?
  • How many of your colleagues will you be competing with on the site?
  • What is the site’s reputation (seek opinions from others in your industry)?
  • How long is the contract? Will they let you out if the leads are no good?
  • What are they doing to continue optimizing their site for your key phrases?
  • What is your opportunity cost of promoting their site over yours?
Photo: Phone calls = Money

Photo: Phone calls = Money

Being able to answer some of these will give you a good idea if it’s worth a shot.

Again, be aware of what you can get for free – this can sometimes be enough to get you what you need.

Directory advertising isn’t evil.  It can help you own more of page 1 and in the case of map based results may contribute to your ranking. Just be aware of the risks, rewards and cost (both monetary and opportunity) of paying someone to compete with you.

Related: Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket