Business directories were once everyday tools for professionals in any industry, giving companies of any size easy visibility for consumers and business partners. Even as the business world evolved, and the Internet grew, directories still had a niche, transporting their listings from the page to the web.
But as the Internet has evolved even more, and search engines and apps are now the standards for finding information, what relevance do directories have in the modern business world?
There are two parts to this answer: the business directory (both online and in print) is far from a relic, but it needs to evolve, and some companies have already begun to take that initiative.
Google Has Limitations
To understand what a business directory needs to be useful, we need to first examine what the alternatives provide. If one was to look for information on Garcinia (the tropical fruit of weight-management fame), they might type the keyword into a Google or Bing, and have a huge pool of results to wade through. Upon one such search experiemnt, the majority of the results were completely irrelevant to a natural products business audience, as the hits ranged from a television personality’s site to a medical site to news articles. Even the “good” results vary. For example, non-news search results on Garcinia mainly comprise consumer-oriented Web sites, which serve their purpose of informing a general audience, but fall short for the retailer or formulator looking to expand their universe.
Evolved B2B Directories
What the evolved B2B directory offers someone searching for industry companies are enhanced information and convenience. Using the WholeFoods Magazine SourceBook Online (www.naturalproductfinder.com) as an example, the same person trying to find a company that offers Garcinia products would not only have the option to search for a certain brand name should they already know it, but to also use the Find A Product option to search for by company type (suppliers, manufacturers, etc.), by category (cosmetic care, foods, supplements, etc.) and even by over 50 subcategories should they be looking for an even tighter focus (1).
Search options by zip code and alphabet are also available. As a result, the same search for Garcinia on the WholeFoods SourceBook Online offers four Spotlight companies that offer Garcinia products, followed by over 50 more companies that also offer similar products. The option for further refinement of the results is also available due to the variety of search filters available. With a B2B directory, every search result is relevant and valuable, and the concept of blindly sifting through results to find a useful one simply doesn’t exist.
In addition, the evolved directory also offers a convenient way to learn more about a company after you’ve discovered it. Company Web sites often have several pages you need to access to learn all the information available. The WholeFoods SourceBook has all a firm’s information one a single page, often with further in-depth information tailored to a business audience that you can’t find on a company site like compile profiles, key personnel, sell sheets, videos and more.
Directories also retain unique benefits for businesses on the other side of the coin as well. The main aim for a business’s inclusion in a directory is to maximize its exposure, be it for potential sales, networking or simply visibility. It is on this end that the search engine is weakest and the directory is strongest.
A study shows that people using search engines tend to use approximately 20% more pages when using a search engine versus surfing alone when online, something attributed to several factors including clicking behavior and search-engine rankings (2). From a perspective of a business trying to maximize its exposure, this isn’t a positive, as it increases the likelihood of their brand being forgotten over the course of an online session, even with maximized SEO. After all, how many times have we searched for something, noticed something else in the results, and end up going in an entirely different direction?
The evolved B2B directory alleviates this issue with a widespread, but a narrower focus, namely, through specialization. B2B directories shouldn’t try to be something to everyone, but everything to someone, ensuring that the businesses featured get maximum interest for their investment.
Revisiting the WholeFoods SourceBook Online, the directory specifically services the natural products industry, an industry that is steadily growing, but with many brands lesser known to the general public than their conventional counterparts. Businesses that feature themselves in this directory will already have a built-in audience with a demonstrated interest in natural products, with ad space available to interest them further. The directory also creates a built-in community of natural products companies, with a demonstrated interest in a specific field already established, making networking that much easier.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the business directory as a concept remain viable not by expanding, but by shrinking, targeting specific business sectors and providing as many services as possible. WF
1. WholeFoods SourceBook Online, “Guide to Using the WholeFoods SourceBook Online,” http://directory.wholefoodsmagazine.com/help, accessed May 16, 2014.
2. S. Fortunato et al., “Topical Interests and the Mitigation of Search Engine Bias,” PNAS, 103 (34), 12684–12689 (2006).
Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2014 (online 5/24/14)