“How to make money from a directory website” and “how to monetize a WordPress directory” are a couple of the phrases you may have Googled to find this blog post.
Basically, you’re looking for an answer to the question of if you decide you want to build a niche or local directory website, how would this thing actually make money for you, other than asking people to pay to be listed.
First, our philosophy is that you treat this like a real business. That’s the only way you’ll truly reach the full potential of it. What that means is you should:
- Build a brand
- Invest in your online business
- Invest in yourself
Also, think of monetization in a 360 degree way. You can and should monetize your listings (businesses), your content (blog posts, resources) and users (website visitors).
We want to answer your question, so let’s jump right in. And to show you we’re serious, here’s our most unique way to monetize directory websites first.
Create an offline, printed mini-directory pullout in your local newspaper. I shit you not, you can do that and make it profitable!
Keep reading to find out how you can actually go about doing that, and our full list of 20 ways to monetize a directory website, online and offline, from standard methods to more unique ones.
20 Ways to Make Money From Directory Websites
- 1. Paid Listings
- 2. Pay to Claim or Verify Listings
- 3. Paid Featured Listings
- 4. “Brand” or “Partner” Listings
- 5. Selling Advertising
- 6. Ad Networks
- 7. Sponsored Content
- 8. Sponsored Messages (To Users and Businesses)
- 9. Websites
- 10. Web Hosting
- 11. Domain Names & Business Email 20. Printed Newspaper Pullout or Magazine
- 12. WordPress Maintenance Services
- 13. Social Media Services
- 14. Promotional Video Services
- 15. Brand Starter Packages
- 16. Affiliate Marketing to Listed Businesses
- 17. Affiliate Marketing to Users
- 18. Events
- 19. Selling “Real-World” Products
- 20. Printed Newspaper Pull-out or Magazine
A Paid Listing is the most standard method of making money from a directory website. In its simplest form, your directory can have two types of listings: free (basic) and paid (upgraded). This method is the quickest and easiest to implement.
On sign-up, the vendor or business owner can choose either free or paid. If they choose paid, they pay online and get access in their back-end account to the upgraded fields and options. Any decent WordPress directory theme should be able to handle this, with popular payment options like PayPal, Stripe or 2Checkout available.
You can also have multiple paid listings packages: free, premium and VIP maybe?
Some of the things an upgraded listing could allow the business owner to do is:
- edit and publish their own listing
- respond to comments, questions and reviews
- upload more content like videos and photos
- access more fields, business categories
- higher placements in on-site search results
- display coupons and discount offers
If your business directory is one where you add the listings yourself, and then a business owner can pay to “claim” or “verify” a listing, this is an obvious method of making money. Most of the popular WordPress directory plugins and themes have this feature built-in or available as an add-on.
When the business clicks the call-to-action to verify their listing, they’re most likely taken to a sign-up form with payment options. Once they pay, they can make changes to their listing or respond to reviews and comments.
These listings can have a badge like “Verified by Owner”.
Businesses in your directory can pay to be “Featured” listings, typically based on a category or search result. So for instance, if yours is a local directory comprised of lots of different types of businesses, a dentist can pay to be displayed as the “featured” dentist in the Dentist category.
If there’s a big brand that may interest your local or niche directory website (think KFC or hotel chain big), then you may want to allow a type of listing with a more bespoke design, instead of the standard layout.
If your website directory software allows it, you can essentially create a one page mini-site for that brand or partner as a listing. If you’re using WordPress, you can maybe use a page builder like Elementor to do this for you.
Tie in a brand promotion package where you promote the brand to your users across all your marketing channels (on-site display ads, email, social media, content) and you stand to make a substantial amount more than a simple paid listing.
Advertising is another standard staple of monetizing a directory website. Based on your traffic numbers and audience demographics, you can put together ad packages and a media kit for prospective brand advertisers. It’s best to do this type of monetization after you’ve built up some traffic to your directory through its content.
Display ads (ads comprised of graphics) may be the most well-known type, but you can sell a package of ads to an advertiser, comprised of on-site display ads, email marketing and social media. One advantage that your niche or local directory has with selling direct advertising is that your audience is more targeted than a general news website or other less-niche site.
So back to the dentist example, if yours is a directory of local dentists, then you can target your ad package to insurance companies that provide health and dental insurance. This makes your audience more attractive to the insurance company and they may be willing to pay a premium to reach your audience.
An ad network like Google Adsense is easier to start making money with than selling ads directly to advertisers in your niche or community, but you’ll probably make a lot less from them.
Watch this video from Google about how Adsense works:
You should investigate other ad networks besides Adsense, like:
Check out this blog post of the best ad networks for Publishers (yes, directories are types of publishers) > https://getgist.com/best-ad-networks-for-publishers/
Sponsored content is basically content on your website or social media that an advertiser is paying to be associated with. The content – in the form of blog posts, resources, video or social media posts – is either created by the sponsor themselves, or is created by the website owner who then sells advertising in the form of a sponsorship of that content.
The business listings on your niche or local directory are what visitors ultimately come for. But, you will stand a much better chance of getting them there with relevant content, in the form of blog posts and other resources. That’s because real people would probably do a Google search like “Best X in [this location]” or “[this type of business] in [this location]”.
For a real life example, our event vendor website has blog posts like “20 Wedding & Event Venues in Port-of-Spain Trinidad That Are Not Hotels” and other similar content because that’s what people search for. Those blog posts actually account for more than half the traffic coming to the website.
We can now monetize the group of them as sponsored posts and sold to a relevant advertiser, like a local financial institution offering wedding loans or “I Do” savings accounts.
Sometimes when you sign up for a free report or webinar, the publisher will have in their terms that “you may receive promotional messages from our partners”.
Your directory is based on a list of businesses and their contact information. If you’re smart, you’ll also find a way to collect visitors’ email addresses as well to be able to continue a marketing relationship with them.
If there are related businesses who would be interested in reaching your listed businesses or users, you can sell sponsored messages.
You should make clear in your business or user sign-up process that they may be sent promotional messages from partners.
Besides email addresses, you can also collect telephone numbers for sending SMS messages. You can also implement a push notification feature so users can receive notifications on their desktop or mobile.
More Unique Ways of Monetizing A Directory Website
What we’ve spoken about so far are all the standard ways directory websites make money for their owners. But let’s now look at how modern, business-oriented directory owners are monetizing their directory websites.
Marketing Services (Online and Offline) to Listed Businesses
We said earlier that your listed businesses are essentially a list of prospects you can then market additional services to, cheaply via email and SMS.
In many markets, like the United States, there’s already a lot of competition for digital marketing services. Your advantage is that you can use the influence you already have in their business to promote these additional services to them that can be done quickly and cheaply.
Some of the digital marketing services you can provide to your listed businesses are able to generate Monthly Recurring Revenue for you, which in turn can begin to stabilize your revenue stream.
You can go three ways with this:
- Do it internally and develop your own “agency”
- Outsource the services but manage the process
- Partner with a freelancer or agency
The easiest ways to promote your marketing services to your listed businesses are through (1) regular email: newsletters, series, transactional; and (2) your directory dashboard.
For the email, you can start with a free account at a provider like Sendinblue. They provide you with both transactional email and marketing emails and you can send up to 300 emails per day with their free tier.
Even in 2020, many small businesses still don’t have websites, even if there are lots of options out there for them to get one.
To keep costs down and delivery fast, your offer can be to develop WordPress websites with a combination of the Elementor page builder with a free theme like Astra or OceanWP. Those come with pre-built templates and full websites. Just plug in the content, add your client’s branding and you’re done.
You can also outsource the work to a provider on Fiverr or other freelance portal and make it a regular gig.
If you’re offering web design services, you can also offer managed web hosting services for those small, low-traffic websites. To maximise your profit without harming the performance of your customers’ websites, get a shared hosting account at Bluehost or a managed WordPress hosting account at Cloudways.
You can host multiple small client sites on that set-up while charging each an annual fee of about the same as they would pay for web hosting themselves. They would be free of the hassle of having to manage their own hosting; one less thing for them to have to worry about. They will thank you for this.
Why do a lot of small businesses operate with free email accounts like Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! while cheap, branded email accounts are available? Maybe they just don’t know how easy and cheap it is to acquire one.
The client needs a domain name for their website, but they can also get a domain name for stand-alone branded email accounts as well. Here’s a tip: get a domain name for the client at Namecheap, and give them their own account.
Then use Zoho’s free business email to set the client up with a branded email address. They’ll get a 5GB, web-based email account they can use for their business.
More than 25% of all websites on the internet are built with WordPress. That’s over 75 million WordPress websites! A service that has popped up in the past few years is maintenance services or care plans for WordPress websites.
Since you’re offering website design services, an ongoing care plan is a service you can offer as well. This is an opportunity to earn monthly recurring revenue.
For a monthly fee, the service provider will do everything regarding maintenance of a WordPress website, leaving the owner to look after their core business, including:
- Updating WordPress core, plugins and themes
- Regular backups, speed optimizations and security
- Website edits
Some also include web hosting in their monthly plans. WP Buffs provides a white-label WordPress Care Plan service you can check out if you’re already outsourcing the design services > https://wpbuffs.com/partnerships/
Many small businesses also claim that they are short on time to post on their social media regularly. This is another opportunity to earn monthly recurring revenue by offering social media services.
It’s also another service you can choose to either offer in-house as part of your “agency” services or to outsource, to a freelancer you work with locally or to a provider on an online marketplace like Fiverr.
If you do it in-house, you can use a design tool like Canva for your image posts. They have also recently started offering quick video creations as well. Use Buffer or Hootsuite to manage multiple social media accounts and to schedule your posts.
The cost and accessibility of promotional video has been reduced in the past decade, due to the increased quality of video cameras on smartphones, drone video and the rise of easy-to-use web-based video creation tools like Wave.video.
If you want to offer a low-cost promo video product, you can standardize your offering and create a promo video with a collection of stock video clips, photos and text. Or you can outsource it on Fiverr.
On the higher end, you can outsource or partner with local video production professionals to do some great promo videos for your clients.
Here’s an example:
Package a “Brand Starter Pack” comprised of a logo, business cards and a branded business email address.
Bonus points if on their business card you include a short link back to their listing on your directory.
We will assume you already know what is affiliate marketing. You can use it to earn passive revenue from both businesses and users of your directory website.
This topic needs its own blog post, but the general idea is that you will be promoting relevant products and services to your listed businesses.
Here’s a realistic example: an email marketing affiliate. Earlier we told you about promoting your marketing services using an email service provider called Sendinblue. Every business should be doing some kind of email marketing as it’s cheap and easy to do.
So you send your listed businesses a newsletter talking about Sendinblue with your affiliate link. A few of them click the link and sign up; you earn a commission.
If you have a completely free directory, it’s understandable that you would want to maximise your earnings from marketing services and affiliate revenue, and that means you would want to send your offers to listed businesses very frequently. Just be mindful of turning them off from wanting to hear from you if you send too many emails.
Your affiliate offers should reside in the dashboard area of your directory as well so businesses are able to see them when they log in.
You should definitely be pushing relevant affiliate offers to your users, and here is where your blog content and email marketing play a big role.
Let’s take a real life example from our own event vendor directory website, VendorsForEvents.com. Users come from a Google search to a blog post about wedding venues. They send a vendor an email through our website and we collect their email address in a list of people having a wedding soon.
The very next day, they receive the first of a series of automated emails from us sent weekly with offers or content about weddings, honeymoons and marriage; like:
- Books on Amazon on making a good marriage (blog post on the website)
- Books on Amazon about finances for married couples (blog post on the website)
- An email on Honeymoon options with links to hotels on Tripadvisor
All of those are content with affiliate links. So whatever niche you choose for your directory website, you can come up with relevant affiliate offers for your users.
If you treat your niche or local directory website like a real business, and you begin to gain some traction, you will begin to see opportunities to build on that in the offline world. This is a great time to consider hosting an industry event, which when done right, can be very profitable.
I’ll share a real life example. The Building Source (http://www.thebuildingsource.com/) is a niche + local directory of home and construction businesses and products who took their business seriously. They had a media launch, hired sales staff, invested early in online ads to grow their brand, etc.
After a couple of years in existence, in 2016 they successfully hosted the Caribbean Building Expo and Conference, which was a large trade convention based around the businesses in their directory and industry.
Your events do not need to be as quite a large scale as a convention, but if you think this is something you can handle, go for it! You can start with small networking events or training seminars and build on those.
Opportunities for selling physical products to businesses and users is another idea for real world monetization of your online directory business. Let’s look at an example.
We began to promote hygiene products to our listed businesses and to users for their events after a chance meeting with a local supplier. It was obvious that the benefits of his products were very important for the successes and reputations of our users and businesses, alike.
For event venues, we marketed products for their bathrooms and environment, since event venues want a reputation of being clean. For caterers and event planners, we promoted products for keeping hands clean to reduce incidences of people getting sick at events.
Imagine you went to a wedding and someone or a few people got sick. The first thing that comes to mind is that something was wrong with the food (which may not be the case). That bride’s wedding will forever be remembered as the one where your aunt got sick, and no one wants that! No one wants their event to be remembered like that.
Look for opportunities in your own niche or location to increase your revenue with a physical product or a rental.
A pullout in your local newspaper is a great idea for a niche in a small market. Contact your local newspaper for an idea of the cost to do it, then sell the ad space to your businesses. Make it stand out by having the newspaper print it with a contrasting paper from the regular newsprint, such as a white, thicker newsprint.
In the pullout, include the branding and URL for your directory and some quotes from users. Consider a QR code or short link for a reader to subscribe to your email.
To build on the printing and real-world idea, you can also do a magazine with the same concept of the pullout, because yes, people still do read or browse physical magazines.
With the magazine, you would need to make it seem like the main benefit is the content, so your content needs to be strong. You could get contributions from your businesses as part of a sponsor or ad package.
Consider how you would drive visitors from the magazine to the website, possibly with a giveaway.
You can also encourage your advertisers to include a special promo code or coupon in their ads.
So as you can see, there are a ton of ideas for making money with a directory website business, both online and in the physical world.
Do you have an idea for monetizing your niche or local directory? Please tell us in the comments if you’ve come up with a new, out-of-the-box idea for making money.