Advertising in directories

There are some very good reasons for making sure your business features in relevant directories. A basic entry is free, and enhancing your presence with an ad will be one of the least expensive advertising options open to you.

A directory provides easy-access year-round reference source that can help to generate new business. Crucially, most people who use a directory of businesses have already made a decision to buy from someone listed – over four-fifths of the people who pick up the Yellow Pages will make contact with at least one business they find inside, and half will go on to buy something from that business. The directory reader has already been sold, they’re now looking for the place to buy. Which could (and should) be you.

There are two other pluses to directories – cost and coverage. For most directories, the cost is relatively low compared to other media both in absolute terms and in respect of the number of eyeballs viewing your ad.

And directories are usually circulated (or otherwise made available) to everyone that qualifies to receive it, with no charge to the reader. In the case of Yellow Pages and Thomson, for instance, that means total market coverage of each person and business in a particular area. With vertical directories, it should mean a majority of the potential purchasers in a particular segment.

On the downside, a good directory is a comprehensive one – which means you are there alongside all your competitors. For a hotly contested business like mobile phones, this means it can be difficult to compete – there’s a good chance that your ideal customer goes to a company with a bigger ad, or one that says they provide a service that hits the nail on the head, or simply one that appears earlier in the classification section.

Another significant drawback, at least with print directories, is the prohibition on updates. Say you change your address or your product mix, add new locations or shut down some, add or discontinue services; your ad remains current as long as the directory does, which could mean up to 12 months of inaccurate and out of date info about you.

Still, the pluses far outweigh the disadvantages. It makes sense to appear in directories basically because they’re used – not by everyone, and not all of the time, but by people who have already decided they’re in the market for what you have to offer.

Directory of directories
There are two main types of business directory: Local directories — produced in an identifiably common format by national publishers. The two principal examples are Yellow Pages and Thomson Directories, who between them produce nearly 200 editions covering different geographical areas. Some 28m copies of such directories will be distributed each year, all without charge to the recipient. In both cases there are online versions (at and and the publishers have deals with web search tools and portals to make them more widely available.

Simple text-only entries are usually free, but will be limited to the business’s name, address and some contact information. Anything else – from bold type on the basic entry up to a full display ad – will cost money, and once you’ve accepted the free ad you’ll be called regularly by the directory’s advertising department to try to persuade you to upgrade it.

Privately produced directories aim to compete with the big two on a more localised level, either in terms of geography (see for instance CountyWeb at or via industry specialisation – in which case the directory will often be branded with the name of a trade association or similar body, even though in fact it is probably compiled and produced by a specialised commercial publisher.

Included in this group you may find local directories produced by public authorities such as the local council or a local chamber of commerce.

Organisation-based directories usually provide a free entry as part of a membership subscription. Others might offer free entries for the sake of completeness to convince the user that they do provide reasonably comprehensive coverage, but again there will be a salesperson on the phone to you quite regularly.
Four basic techniques
People only look through a directory when they’re ready to buy. The trick is to make them select you rather than anyone else listed in your category.

• Punch above your weight. Start the ad with an attention-getting headline, not a logo and not even your business name. That can come later. Strike a chord: find an attention-grabbing statement that engages the reader. Or create a problem followed by your company’s solution.

Identifying a problem is the classic – “What happens to your business if you lose your mobile?” – and questions are a good way to personalise issues: “Does your current mobile supplier give you a new phone every six months?” “Ever wondered how to get email on your mobile?”

• What’s so special? Prospective buyers are always looking for benefits, which with a service business like mobiles often means differentiators. So your ad should include whatever it is that makes you better than competitors – something that answers the question implied in the ad’s headline: free call-out, fast service, a genuinely local business, no-quibble replacements, best-tariff advice, and so on.

Focus on your company’s unique value advantage in any solution.

Use the “I Would Certainly Hope So” test; the lower the score, the better. For instance, a statement like “we sell mobile phones” for an ad in a mobile phone classification gets a high score because it gets the viewer saying “I Would Certainly Hope So”. Something like “we only sell phones we’ve tested and trust” is more interesting. “We don’t sell phones” gets about as low a score as you can expect, though of course you follow it with something like “but we do sell peace of mind”.

• Look visual. Eye-tracking research shows that 65% of the time a reader looks at advertising is spent on the illustrations and photos.

Only 35% of their time goes to the text. In other words, arresting graphics or compelling photos actually draw your readers in; text-only or text-heavy ads will send them running to the one on the page. at most, text should fill only half the area of the ad.

Be careful with placing your graphics, though. People read from left to right; if you put a picture on the right with some text next to it on the left of the ad, the viewer will be drawn to the pic and so may skip the words.

Always go for a professional-looking, clutter-free design. That tells the casual viewer you run a professional, crisp operation even before they start reading the words.

• Write right. Speak to your audience using the fewest words possible. Make sure your copy is simple, punchy, and to the point. Your job is to simplify the potential customer’s search for the goods or services they want; you shouldn’t overwhelm them with lists of features or flowery superlatives.

Every word in your ad that does not meet the needs of your readers will drive them further away. Use the text to give them enough information and to establish some of your brand values. Write the words, leave them a day or so, revisit the text to trim and revise, let someone else express an opinion — and only when you’re satisfied that it works should you send off the ad to the directory.

What to do next? Always includes a call to action somewhere in the ad, typically towards the end. Tell people to contact you now, make it easy for them to do so, and remind them that they can’t afford to miss out on the benefits you offer.

TOP TIPS supplied by Hugh Symonds
Get a free entry in as many directories as you can. Don’t advertise in all of them, though – each ad may be cheap, but those small costs mount up.

Ask your customers which directories they use; those are the ones where you consider advertising.

Research the competition: spend some time looking at entries in the business directories in which you are thinking of advertising, find the ads that stand out, decide why they work. If possible ask customers what makes one ad more appealing than another in the same directory.

But don’t use this as an excuse for producing an ad that simply mimics the look and the features-and-benefits copy of your competitors’ ads. That doesn’t really give the viewers any choice at all, and you want them to choose you as being noticeably different.

Make sure you appear in the right classification — Yellow Pages has over 2,200. The right one might not be the obvious one. How about avoiding ‘Mobile Phone Retailers’ and selecting something with a bit more scope like ‘Business Advisors’? And most directories will let you repeat your entry in more than one classification for a modest charge.

Most directories will offer a design service, but for a display ad you’ll get a better result from a specialist advertising or design agency – particularly one that you’ve used before, one which (hopefully) understands the image you want to project and can translate that into print. After all, the people who work for the directory don’t really care too much how well your ad works; they’ll probably have moved on anyway by the time you come to think about another ad in the directory.

Don’t skimp on proof checking – any errors in your ad will probably be on view for the next 12 months.

Ideally, get someone else to check it for you, as it is very easy to miss errors.

What’s on offer?

Basic listing: Basic name-and-address details plus phone number and (if you’re lucky) email address. Almost certainly free, so take advantage of it.

Enhances the basic listing, typically with some bold type and/or a few lines of additional information like a slogan.

Semi-display: As for lineage but with a box around your entry and (usually) the chance to include a logo and a few more words.

Display: A conventional advertisement, with you specifying (or indeed supplying) the content for the particular size of ad that you’ve bought. That means you can use text in various type sizes, borders, graphics, photos, and perhaps colour. The most expensive option – and you’ll probably have to pay for special artwork to be produced for it—but this is the one that allows maximum impact.