Online business directories: an important SMB investment

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In today's depressed marketplace, normal expenditures have been sliced from many companies' marketing plans. But cost-cutting creates new challenges of its own. As businesses reduce advertising, they've all but hidden themselves from view from the businesses that would most want to partner with them.

Thus, the recession has left business-to-business marketers with the uncomfortable choice of either not advertising at all and being invisible to key prospects, or continuing to advertise but at the risk of overspending when resources are scarce.

What's a business to do? For a smart advertising opportunity in tough times, seek out a good b-to-b online directory.

The best of the batch offer three critical benefits to every advertiser: They lend credibility to the advertiser's business, make a business more visible to a key client base, and help a business differentiate itself from other competitors in the field.

Let's consider each in turn.

  • Credibility. You know you're an upstanding, trustworthy member of the business community, but unfortunately it can be hard for your potential customers to tell the difference between you and a fly-by-night. This is so particularly if you don't have a known brand, or if a similar business has left a bad taste behind them. The only way you'll earn true partnerships is by gaining credibility in your prospects' eyes.

    Business directories can help. The best ones are run by known brands with sterling reputations. They understand that their own brand integrity is judged by the experiences their users have with the businesses in their listings.

    Better Business Bureau listings are one well-known example of the trust-building I'm speaking of, but many other directories have some kind of selection, self-selection or sales selection process that gives visitors a sense of comfort in reaching out to the businesses in the lists.

  • Visibility. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a business owner tell me, “I've placed ads in every channel possible, but no one picked up the phone.”

    In many of these cases, the business owner is blaming the ad. But what many advertisers don't realize is that it's often not the ad's fault for not delivering; it's the placement that's the problem. Too many advertisers run advertising where there aren't any potential customers. But your advertising only works if your customers see it.

    The best online business directories get enormous amounts of traffic, either because they're popular stand-alone directories (like, or that they're sections of other popular Web sites.

    Equally important, search engines understand that business directories are valuable information sources, and often list business-directory pages in their top results ranking for a great many of business terms. That strong standing in Google can readily translate into more traffic for those directories' listed businesses.

  • Differentiation. The best business directories help you do more than get in front of customers and gain trust. They also can help you tell your unique story, and to explain why your business is the best choice for potential customers to seek out as a partner. They help you truly differentiate yourself from your competition.

    These differentiation opportunities could include a lengthy description of your business, customer testimonials, or even tools for offering photos of your business as a way to convey the “feel” of your company, to showcase your work, or to offer before-and-after images. Whatever the specific features, the top business directories help you explain why you're the best business to partner with.

Will business directories save you from economic doom? Perhaps not. But in an era when budgets are slim, a marketing channel that helps businesses find you—and that builds credibility while letting you tell your own story, in your own words—is urgently needed. For you, that might be an online business directory.

Mark Simon is general manager of, the business-directory unit of Dun & Bradstreet with more than 26 million U.S. business listings. He can be reached at [email protected]

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