UK Small Business Directories – Are They Worth The Time & Effort

Is it worth the time and effort to list a small business in one (or more) of the many UK small business directories? In this post, we discuss the major points for and against.

Some business directory listings are free while others charge for add or services. For the free listings, it is important to count the cost of the time and effort involved in seeking them out and creating the listing.

Add on services may (or may not) be worth the extra cost so it is important to make some attempt at calculating an ROI before diving in. Of course, whatever effort is allocated to the activity it must fit within the overall small business local marketing plan.

There are hundreds of business directories online. The better known UK business directories include:

Free index


Thomson Local


There are also several market specific directories and local directories that cover a specific area or single town or city. The market specific directories include CheckATrade, VouchedFor and Trip Adviser among others. These offer additional marketing services such as lead generation.

Listings in local directories can be worthwhile for businesses operating only within a specific area. However, in our experience it is a waste of time and effort to obtain a listing in more than three or so of the major small business directories. The market specific directories are a special case discussed in more detail below.

A Typical Search For A Local Service Provider

Type in a phrase such as heating engineer Nottingham or accountant Sheffield into Google and one or more of the above directories will tend to show up on page 1. The question to ask is what competition do they face in online search and what traffic (if any) will they drive to a business website.

In most local service based searches on Google, the paid listings (Adwords) will be at the top of the page. Immediately below them will be a prominent Google My Business panel then ten organic listings before more ads. Among the Page 1 organic listings, one or two local service suppliers websites may show up. There may also be one or more job sites.

It is probable anyone typing a locally based search phrase into a search engine is looking for a solution rather than performing in depth research. Usually, they need someone to fix their problem. In the case of some services, it may be an urgent problem.

They are therefore unlikely to spend lots of time clicking through multiple pages or typing in many search phrases. It is reasonable to assume they are likely to select a listing nearer the top of page 1 of the search results than the bottom.

Someone searching for a solution may click on the Ads at the top of the page but there is evidence most trust the organic results more. Immediately below the Ads is the Google My Business listing.

The benefits of a Google My Business listing are discussed in detail elsewhere on this blog. Given the position of the Google My Business panel, we suggest a listing should be a higher priority than any directory submissions. It may also be worth building a Bing places listing. Both the Bing and Google local listing services are free.

Beyond the Google My Business panel the searcher will reach the main organic listings. At this point, some of those searchers will have been lost to Ads and a larger proportion to the Google My Business panel. From those that remain, we suggest a higher proportion will click a business listing than a directory. A high level of traffic from a directory listing is therefore unlikely but a listing does have other potential advantages.

UK Business Directories Offering Add On Services

Many of the Directory services mentioned above offer a variety of services. Basic listings tend to be free. Most offer the option of a paid listing that delivers a more prominent position. Some Directories such as Yell offer website and review collection services at a cost.

There are also specialist directories such as Checkatrade and Rated people for the Trades and VouchedFor and Unbiassed for services. Some offer a paid subscription model, some charge for sales leads and some offer a combination of the two.

Costs for the specialist directories can run to several hundred pounds per year so it is worth performing a basic ROI calculation before signing up. We tend to work on a five times multiple as a break even point. That is if total marketing cost is £1,000 we expect life time value of the clients secured via that marketing to be £5,000 minimum. But, the actual calculation depends on the type of business.

If paying for traffic to a website then it is reasonable to assume somewhere between 1 in 70 and 1 in 100 visits will result in a lead. In our experience securing a 1 in 5 lead to sales conversion rate is optimistic but it depends on how a lead is defined and the market segment.

If buying leads a 1 in 5 conversion to sales is probably the best to expect but again it depends on the quality of the lead. It should be a relatively simple exercise to perform an ROI calculation based on average lifetime customer value.

Other Potential Advantages Of A Directory Listing

Directory listings have other potential advantages that are not immediately obvious. A backlink secured from a local directory to a local business website can help a small business website rank higher in the major search engines. Just don’t expect links from directories to have a major impact. The days of securing multiple directory links to try to manipulate search results are long gone.

Some directories allow users to leave reviews of the business and reviews (as discussed elsewhere on this blog) build trust and have local SEO benefits. It is possible directory reviews will be picked up by Google and displayed in the Google My Business panel. That said it is often better to secure Google reviews directly.

On the subject of the Google My Business panel company information such as telephone number and address should be consistent across all directories (and elsewhere on the web). If your address is Services House, 23 Business Street make sure every listing states exactly that. Don’t miss the Services House of some listings but include on others. Make sure the main business phone number is consistent with the one listed in the Google My Business listing.

As with any marketing activity, it is essential to decide up front exactly what outcome is expected. It is also crucial to make some attempt at calculating the expected ROI. If services are paid for it is wise to closely monitor results versus expectations and to ensure there is an exit point if the service fails to deliver.

7 Key Small Business Marketing Ideas

If we assume a small business needs more sales and has a strong product or service offering in place at an acceptable price. Their next step should be to boost the profile of the business in the target area.

So what is the small business marketing process? What specific steps are required to raise the profile of a business in its local area and increase enquiries and sales? Before looking at each of the steps in detail let’s summarise:

GOOGLE MY BUSINESS PAGE – Make sure the business has some presence on page 1 Google. Service the active searchers for goods and services in the local area.

DIRECTORIES – The second line of defence to pick up those actively searching (in buying mode) for goods or services.

WEBSITE – The information hub for the business. More likely to pick up those searching for general information than active searchers. But if those searching for information find what they need and are properly nurtured they may become customers at some point.

LOCAL SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMISATION – The website needs to appear on page 1 Google  (worse case Page2) when a prospect types in a relevant search phrase.

REVIEWS – Build trust. Relevant to both the website and the Google My Business page.

SOCIAL MEDIA – For some businesses social media can be their prime lead generation tool. For other businesses a complete waste of time and effort.

OFFLINE MARKETING – Because it’s not all about online. Offline marketing activities can be the prime source of sales leads for some businesses.


Potential customers searching for a supplier of goods or services in their local area will often turn to friends or family for a recommendation (more on that below). Failing that they will probably scan the first page of the search results, they may even drop down to page2. but they are unlikely to go any further.

There are only 10 organic positions available on page1 Google. With any local search phrase (eg Accountant Nottingham) two or three of those positions will be taken up by major directories (eg Yell) another one or two by introducers (eg VouchedFor or Checkatrade) and possibly one by a job site.

All of the above invest significant amounts of time and resources in digital marketing and it can be difficult for a small business to compete. One tool that can level the playing field to an extent is a Google My Business page.

A Google my business page can give a small local business a presence towards the top of Page 1 Google. Type in a location based search phrase into Google and a map will appear immediately below the Ad block at the top of the page.

The map shows several red dots each representing the location of a local business matching the search phrase. Usually, three of those dots show a flag. A short listing is provided for each of the flagged businesses.Each listing shows the company name, telephone number, opening times and a link to the business website.

To secure a prominent position in the Google My Business listings is not easy (particularly in competitive markets) but it can be easier and cheaper than trying to secure a high position for the business website on Page 1 of Google.


the use of paper directories for small business marketing is in rapid decline (Yellow pages anyone!). However, online directories are still used by those searching for local goods and services. Of course, those searching are most likely to click on a website or Google My Business listing but directories do receive clicks. Listings are often free or low cost.

There is an increasing number of industry sector specific directories that offer various add on services as paid options. These sometimes include sales lead generation. However, it is important to measure the quality of the leads, the potential conversion rate and therefore the ROI before diving in.


To succeed in small business marketing it is important to understand where potential customers are in their buying process. If they ready to buy they are most likely to click on the Google My Business listing. If they are in research mode it is more likely they will visit the business website.

Of course, this is a simplified view. The prospect may click through to the website from the Google My Business listing. The prospect who lands on the website may be in buying mode. A recommendation from friends or family may have led the prospect to a small business website.

The key is to deliver the information potential customers need whatever stage of the buying process they may be at. Consumers need to build a level of trust before they will purchase from a supplier. The website should deliver all the information they need to build that trust including reviews and recommendations (see below).

In many cases, a simple website of only a few pages will suffice. The website must be technically correct, be easy to navigate, and deliver a positive user experience. It must be updated regularly with new content.

The design is important but failing on the technical, content or useability part of the equation means the website will not rank well no matter how good the design may be.


A Google my business listing has its limitations. The listing provides the briefest of details and not everyone will click through to the website. Some will ignore the Google my Business panel and dive straight into the organic results.

Driving the business website onto page 1 Google gives a business another chance to secure an enquiry or raise consumer awareness. But to obtain that Page1 position requires some level of search engine optimisation.

Search engine optimisation for a business with a potential national customer base is a complex, expensive, long term operation. Fortunately focussing on potential customers in a limited area simplifies the process.

That is not to say small business local SEO is easy. It takes time and effort and there are a number of tricks and traps to be aware of. However, for many (not all) local businesses the effort involved can pay off and keep paying off over the long term.


The psychologist Dr Robert Cialdini (and several others) have identified social proof as a key determinant of human behaviour. It is natural for people to seek out the opinion of others before making a decision. This is why publishing positive customer reviews on Google My Business page, the business website and (if appropriate) social media is so important.

As stated above one of the first sources of information potential customers will seek out when looking for goods or services in their local area is the recommendations of friends and family. They may well check out business reviews before making a final purchasing decision.

Reviews also have a secondary impact. One of the many signals used by Google to decide which businesses it should show (and their position) in the Google My Business panel is the number of reviews for that business. Many believe they also assess the proportion of reviews which are positive rather than negative.


This is a difficult one. For some businesses, social media activity is a complete waste of time and effort. For others, it can be their prime method of securing enquiries for their services.

There are three major issues to consider. First, and most important, are ideal potential customers using social media and if so which social media channels are they using. It could be Facebook or for a younger audience, it could be Snapchat. For B2B it could be Linked In. If the product is best represented visually it could be Pinterest.

If your potential customers are on social media and it is possible to determine which is the best social media channel to reach them the business owner must have the time (and inclination) to put into having an appropriate presence on social media? To succeed means being active on whatever channel is chosen on a regular basis. Will the significant time and effort involved generate an ROI?


All the chatter may be about online marketing but for many businesses offline is still effective. In this post we have been talking about only one key element of the small business marketing mix, raising awareness. There are many offline tools available to raise the profile of your small business.

To name but a few there is local sponsorship. Perhaps an advertising board at your local football or rugby club. Networking groups may work for some businesses, assuming the business owner is the right type of person. Local advertising can still be effective if the right media is chosen and an appropriate message is crafted. Investing in attending events can work well for specific types of local businesses.

It is worth keeping an eye on what the competition is doing. What marketing techniques are they using and are they successful? Be careful, just because they are investing in technique X, Y or Z does not mean they are generating a return on their investment.

Any small business with a local customer base can implement a successful small business marketing campaign to raise their profile for little cost and with minimal (if any) support. All that is required is the time to learn the tools and techniques involved and the ongoing commitment to drive the process forward.

4 Small business Marketing Myths

There are many small business marketing myths that continue to be peddled online. Perhaps the myths are simply perpetuated by those who know no better. Or it could be more sinister and based on vested interest. Whatever the reason any small business falling for the hype is likely to end up out of pocket for no real return.

Myth1 – All I Need Is a Business Website!

Many businesses believe that all they really need for the enquiries to roll in is a professional business website. While there is certainly a credibility issue if a prospect types in the business name and no website is found investing in a new website build is not necessarily the best use of resources.

The questions to ask are:

  • How much of my business comes from existing customers?
  • How much existing customer business will I lose if there is no website?
  • Can I expect to obtain more business from existing customers if a website is in place?

With these answers in hand you can now turn your attention to new customers. Is it likely those prospects will be searching for your product or services online? As the answer will almost certainly be yes then how many website visitors do you need to secure a sale and what is the value of that sale? It is important to research these figures to establish how much can be invested in the website build and in making sure the website is found by target prospects.

To secure new customers via a website assumes those prospects can find the website. Statistics shows >85% of website searchers never go beyond page 1 of search to satisfy their information requirements. While these statistics can be misleading there is little doubt if a website cannot be found it is a waste of time and money.

Myth2 – I Need To Be On Page 1 Of Google!

Small businesses probably waste more on search engine optimisation than any other marketing activity. Yes a website needs to be on page 1 but that is only relevant if it is based on a relevant keyword search. Which search words or phrases (keywords) are prospects most likely to use and how common is that phrase (traffic) is a key consideration.

For a very specific keyword phrase a website may rank on Page 1 without any difficulty but does that keyword phrase (and its immediate derivatives) actually bring any traffic (prospects) to the site? Single keywords and phrases are less relevant to search than they once were and ranking on a single phrase is now of little use.

At least one post (probably more) is realistically needed to cover what follows but for now a quick, but important, summary will suffice. There are two major SEO myths to be aware of. The first states that backlinks (websites linking to your site) are no longer relevant. The second states that all you need is lots of relevant and engaging content on your site for it to rank high on the search engines. Both, taken in isolation, are utter rubbish.

Content is important, so are backlinks but to use one in isolation will not work. What is needed is both high quality backlinks and engaging content as part of a search engine optimisation process. Content then needs to be distributed appropriately to drive both visitors and high quality links.

Myth3 – Mobile Marketing Is The Way Forward!

In principle yes, there are lots of statistics to show that search traffic is moving away from desktop and towards mobile telephone and tablet but that is only part of the story.

A recent post from Graham Jones perhaps illustrates one of the major issues. We all tend to segregate our activities so the relevance of mobile is very much dependant on the product. Using mobile marketing inappropriately can quickly alienate a potential prospect base.

A quick look at Google analytics will show the relevance of mobile to your site. Click on the browser tab on the left and take a look at the percentage of current traffic coming from Safari and Android. Then ask around among your customers to establish what they use to browse to your website and why. This is far from perfect science but it does give an indication of the relevance of mobile (or not) to your business.

Myth4 – I Need To Be on Facebook!

Well yes if your customers are there and they are using Facebook to research your type of products or services then it makes sense. On the flip side for many businesses their customers are simply not there or they are not active users.

It is also important to remember the segregation issue mentioned above. Many use Facebook and the other social networks for social activities (there’s a surprise!) like keeping up with friends or gossip and not for business. Often, finding business information when in social mode is a real turn off and creates a negative impression of the business.

There is a common theme to all of the above and that is there is little point using any marketing technique that does not reach your target market. What do I sell, who needs that product or service, how do they decide on a supplier and how do I reach them are the key considerations. The marketing tools or techniques are secondary.

It is the big picture and process that matters, not the hype over the latest and greatest marketing technique or the small business marketing myths perpetrated by those who simply need to sell a product or service regardless of the ROI.

Related Posts You May like:

Outdated Marketing Tactics To Avoid

Best Practice Search Engine Marketing – What’s Changed

In House Small Business Marketing

time available for DIY marketingIs in house small business marketing a viable proposition or is it always best to buy in marketing services? The answer, I am afraid, is not clear cut but depends primarily on the time available to the business owner or key staff to deliver the marketing process on an ongoing, consistent basis.

Can In House Marketing Succeed?

If the time and the will are there to take on raising the profile of the business in house there is plenty of evidence that those with little marketing education or experience can achieve results.

Despite what marketing agencies and freelancers may wish to portray the majority of online marketing is not particularly difficult but it is time consuming. If there is information available to point in the right direction and overcome the inevitable short term experience gap then it is possible for the small business owner to achieve real results.


DIY Marketing – The Basics

For any small business to make a success of in house marketing the key requirements are

  • Time
  • A willingness to learn
  • Persistence

Time to both learn the process and achieve meaningful results is perhaps the crucial ingredient. If the business is either desperate for short term sales or the time is not available to both learn and deliver marketing on an ongoing and consistent basis then it is best not to start the process at all and simply hire in the required services.

It is fair to say little will go as expected and there will be many times when the results obtained appear to be not worth the effort but this is normal. The will to carry on and a firm belief that the marketing process will deliver results in the medium to long term are vital to success.

Small Business Marketing Tools

To deliver a successful local marketing campaign requires appropriate delivery of

The website is the hub for all marketing activity. It must deliver the key company messages, act as an information hub, facilitate ongoing customer communication and ultimately convert visitors to customers.

However, if a website cannot be fouin house marketing processnd when a local prospect types in a relevant search term then it is of little use. There are various studies that show that over 85% of potential website visitors never go past page 1 Google when search for suppliers of goods and services. Appropriate, localized search engine marketing (SEM) is therefore crucial to success.

Link building is a vital component of search engine marketing activity but local link building requires a different approach. Local links are required and to secure those requires networking. More details can be found in this post from Hallam Internet

Finally, content is the fuel for the marketing process. It builds SEM, builds credibility, facilitates ongoing communication, builds relationships and has a significant impact on conversion rates.

In House Marketing – Useful Resources

So where can you find good quality education resources to help you build your own, in house, local marketing process? Unfortunately, it is not as easy as may be imagined. Best practice internet marketing develops at a rapid pace and books on the subject are often out of date soon after publication. There are a vast array of blogs and information online but it always important to check the date of publication and the source.

The vast majority of information online is either regurgitated from another source, plain bad advice or of little value. Some good, reliable sources I have found include

Local website design – this post may help you get started

Content Marketing – Some useful material here from Iconsive

Search engine marketingSearch engine Land

Google+ – Key to local marketing success – A number of useful posts from Daniel Sharkov

Social media tips and resourcesThe Social Media Hat

General online marketing tips and advice – from Kikolani

But there are many others that are out there to be found and utilise

In summary therefore, in house small business marketing can deliver results but those results will take time to come through. Time and persistence are required to learn a process, to make mistakes and to go again. However, if the time and energy are available then the savings over buying in services can be substantial.

The risks of hiring a marketing supplier who then fails to deliver on their promises are also minimised. It is an unfortunate fact that although there are many high quality suppliers available marketing does tend to attract those with little expertise, who are aware of the relevant buzzwords, who can talk a good game. It may be worth saving your hard earned cash and givivng in house small business marketing a try.

Related posts you may like:

Most online marketing advice is bad advice

The value of local link building

Search engine marketing – There are no quick fixes

Build A Joined Up marketing Process

Don’t shoot the messenger but the latest great small business marketing techniques you may have heard about won’t work. Now I have that off my chest let me clarify that statement – it will not work in isolation. Only a joined up marketing process will produce the required results but don’t expect it to be easy and it won’t happen overnight.

Single Tactic Marketing

Let’s look at the old outbound techniques first. Yes, many of them did work in isolation and that was why they were so popular. However, things have changed telemarketing does not work, the effectiveness of traditional advertising and direct mail have been in decline for years and sales orientated Emails increasingly end up in spam folders.

What about the brave new world of online marketing? The website salesman arrives at your door with what appears to be a compelling argument. A new website increases the credibility of your business, it raises your profile, allows you to deliver your message to the marketplace and presents the opportunity for you to jump ahead of your competition.

SEO as a key element of the marketing mixAll true, but what is the point if your great new website cannot be found online by prospects who may type in a relevant term to a search engine. Various search engine research documents show that 92% of searches never look beyond page 1 of the search results. So some method of ensuring your website is on page 1 is required but that really does open up a can of worms.

Historically, there were three main options, Pay Per Click, organic SEO or a combination of the two (SEM). Taking PPC first, yes it does work well in many markets (not all) if set up and managed correctly. Consistent results can be achieved in time but it does require an initial investment to build a reliable process. However, the amateur can waste considerable sums on poorly set up PPC campaigns.

Some research (GroupM and Neilsen) shows 94% of searchers prefer the organic results to PPC. Although this figure is extremely difficult to measure and the figure is unlikely to be correct it is probably safe to assume more searchers prefer organic results. SEO tends therefore to be the preferred route for many businesses and, in the past, there were many SEO agencies that could deliver results for a relatively low cost.

Those days have gone and good quality SEO services are far less easy to find. The costs today can seem much higher than in the past but that is based on the reality of the time and effort that is required to generate the required result. One thing is certain when it comes to SEO, if a deal seems too good to be true then it should be avoided at all costs.  It really is possible for a poor quality SEO supplier to more harm than good.

Marketing Strategy And Process

The number one reason any marketing activity fails to deliver results is a failure to think through both what a business wants to achieve and what makes the business different from all the rest. If a business cannot document why a customer should choose them then, unless all of their business is via recommendation, they are in a very dangerous place.

With the basics in place a strategy to deliver the required result can be assembled and this can be flowed down to the promotional plan. The process does not need to be complicated and a simplified marketing strategy can often be documented in a few pages. The time invested is usually refunded many times over as it prevents the waste involved in jumping from the latest marketing bright and shiny object to the next.

A Customised Marketing System

There are many possible marketing tactics (a colleague recently documented a total of 46) both online and offline. What matters is how those tactics are chosen and combined to achieve the planned outcome. Every business is different, their objectives are not the same and markets constantly evolve and change so it is not possible to produce a one system fits all system. Many have tried, and failed, to develop a standard approach.

content fuels the marketing processThere is however, one constant and that is the value of content. The amount written about content marketing is enormous. Although, it has to be said, a large amount is produced by those with a vested interest in content marketing services its value should not be underestimated.

Various marketing research studies show that up to 81% (GE Retail research) of consumers of items worth >$500 research online before contacting a supplier. Buyers in general are generally more resistant to the old push marketing tactics and much more likely to research a product or service before making a purchase. They are looking for credible information (content) to guide that process and are likely to value a supplier that delivers that information above the rest. Content, in its many forms, is the fuel for any successful marketing process.

Most small businesses are quite rightly focussed on the product or service they deliver and their customers. Marketing and promoting the business is often recognised as a key task but in house marketing expertise and resource can be an expense too far. Outsourcing can therefore be the norm, which is fine, if it remembered that whatever service is bought in fits with the businesses joined up marketing process and is delivered by those with the required expertise