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How to Make Money Running a Directory Listing Site

There are numerous ways to make money with a website, from affiliate marketing to selling your own goods.

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One way to make money is with an often overlooked style of website: the directory site.

A directory site in its most basic form is a site that lists and links out to other websites and businesses within one or more niche.

Probably the most famous directory site out there is Dmoz, and it’s huge and covers a wide range of niches.

The thing is, not everyone is going to succeed with a directory site, so I’ve compiled some of my tips and ideas to help you get a head start with your directory website.

A Business Not a Blog

Most people who try their hand at directory sites fail. The simple reason is that they think that they can stick up a site and it will just work.

You absolutely must treat any directory site like a business, otherwise you will fail.

You need to make sure you have a plan in hand for how to generate traffic, how to generate listings and how to capitalize both to generate income.

Not being serious about the venture will end up costing you time and money.

Niche Selection

Let’s be frank, you’re not going to build a site like Dmoz easily, so like most things in internet marketing you need to narrow your niche down.

For example, you could focus on:

  • Dentists
  • Plumbers
  • Private Tutors
  • Music Teachers
  • Specialist stores
  • etc.

You could even narrow this down (initially) to just a single state or city if it’s large enough.

Having a specific niche will help with everything else you need to do such as traffic, SEO and listing selection.

As with any niche selection you need to be sure of two things:

  • Is there a market that is interested in finding quality sites?
  • Will someone pay you for it?

I once made a directory site that failed. It wasn’t because no one was interested; it was simply because the target market had no money to spare: the ones seeking the websites didn’t want to buy from the advertising, and the websites themselves ran such small margins, they didn’t want to pay to list.

Therefore, make sure you vet your niche before proceeding to make sure there’s at least some potential for earnings.

Traffic is Key

One of the most important things you need to realise is that building a directory site from scratch is a tremendous amount of work.

How do you attract people to list on your site when you have zero traffic and zero other listings?

Do you see the problem – without traffic people aren’t interested and without listings there’s no traffic!

How then can you get past this chicken and egg scenario?

Well, there are a few ways:

  • Start by hand selecting some sites/businesses and simply list them with basic details. It’s a good idea to contact them and let them know, both for marketing and so they can de-list if they wish.
  • Offer free listings. Everybody on the internet loves freebies, and free listings can help build up the site content quite quickly.
  • Promote the said free listings via social media and any sites that cater to your target location (remember, start small).


As well as starting to list sites yourself and reaching out to communities, you should be making sure your SEO is top notch.

A directory site rarely has much in the way of content, so SEO can be a pain to put it mildly, but there are ways to counter this.

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Categories & Tags

Using a solid category structure helps both search engine bots and users find what they need quickly and easily.

It’s worth spending time in the early stages planning out your category structure to make sure that it will be efficient, easy to understand and just as importantly, scalable.

The last thing you want to do is to have to change your category structure later down the line as this can cause numerous 404 errors.

Tags also need to be considered as well, more from a user point than anything.

Meta tags

Sometimes called schema, meta tags allow search engines to understand your website content in semantic terms. This means that they should know that a listing for one of your sites, is regarding a particular niche.

If you’re a WordPress user, WordPress doesn’t come with the ability to use meta tags, but some smarts minds out there have created some great plugins such as the All In One Rich Snippets, which can enable schema for you.

I’ll be honest, these things are a pain in the ass to get setup and running correctly, but they offer so much potential SEO benefits it would be stupid to set up a directory site without schema.

Content Marketing

Even though directory listing sites have very little content on a per listing basis, it doesn’t stop your from having a side-blog that can have more detailed content and help internally link your directory categories.

For example, you could write a monthly showcase featuring a particular site, talking about the website or business in detail and perhaps interviewing the owner or staff. This can then be linked back to both the website listing and the listing category. It’s a win-win for both the site/business as they get a spotlight, and you get the much needed content.


Another method of generating traffic is to use PPC or Pay Per Click advertising.

There are two potential routes you can go with this: advertising to get people to list and advertising to get traffic.

To begin with you want to get the traffic, as you can manually add listings. Later on down the line you may want to advertise to promote your money generating listings.

PPC is a risk as it costs money, but if done right you can get some targeted traffic to your site.

Quality Aggregation

Every directory site runs one major risk: having too many BS sites listed. This is why it’s important for your or a your hired help to manually check each listing and to review them every so often.

The manual check weeds out any undesirable listings from the outset (even paid for listings).

Sometimes websites fail, and sometimes their domains are re-purposed for spam, or porn or maybe just another website. This is why regular reviews are worthwhile, because the last thing you need to have are links that send your traffic to malware ridden sites, or even just to the wrong site.

I’d also recommend having strict terms and conditions for both free and paid for listings that gives you enough leverage to reject and remove listings and covers your back legally speaking.

Earning Money

The all-important question every marketer wants to know: how the heck do I make money from a directory site?

Luckily, there are a few ways.

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Paid Listings

The most obvious one is for promoted listings. These are just like promoted posts in your Facebook feed: highlighted listings to grab people’s attention.

You can charge anywhere from $50 to $1,000 per promoted listing depending on your niche, and the listing placement and length of stay.

Ultimately it will be down to you and your niche knowledge to figure out the best pricing model, but if you have enough traffic and an affluent niche, higher prices are quite viable.


There are two types of adverts in my mind: Networks like Google Adsense, and Private adverts.


I’m loathe to recommend using network advertisements. This is because they are so poorly paid, that people end up getting carried away in the effort of trying to earn something and plastering the site with ads.

This can become a very negative thing, because it not only looks tacky to your visitors, but you can’t guarantee what adverts will show up.

Private Ads

A better option, though not always easy to implement especially in the beginning, are private adverts. This is where you sell advertising space to sites that list on your directory. These can be pitched differently to the promoted listings as they allow the sites to use visual imagery or even video to promote their sites.

There are several WordPress plugins that can assist with controlling adverts, whatever type you decide on, such as the excellent AdRotate.

The Bottom Line

Directory sites can make money, of that there is no doubt. They do however take some planning and determination to succeed with.

Finding the right niche is only the beginning of your journey and traffic generation is paramount. If you can achieve that, then a directory site can be an excellent way to make money online.

4 thoughts on “How to Make Money Running a Directory Listing Site”

  1. Hey Dean, thank you so much for creating this blog. I read it from start to finish and it answered some questions for me so I am going to save this link -and print it in the morning so I have it in front of me. I am starting a directory in a niche- originally for SEO but I know what directories can make and I am seeing the possibilities. Have a great day! -Linda

  2. Thanks for such a well written post. With so many great detailed information provided, this will help me stay focus on exactly what need to be done on I have been working on this directory listing site for a few months now. I am in the process of finding businesses and actually listing them for free. As a matter of fact the hardest work so far is coming up with the content. You can check it out for yourself if there’s anything that I need to improve, please reach out and let me know.

  3. Hi Dean, thank you so much for you very informative article! This really inspires me to work harder for my newly build online directory website. I am still in the process of populating business listing content – which is the most laborious part next to seo and marketing. Looking forward to catch more updates from this blog. God bless.


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