Do you remember how you used to find a local handyman or hairdresser back in the pre-internet days? Chances are either a friend recommended a place or you would just crack open the yellow pages to see a list of businesses in your area. Or if you were job hunting, you would have checked the classifieds or job section in the newspapers. Both of those are examples of directories, or lists to help you find a specific product or service. Today, in the online age, directories are still alive and well. If you’ve ever searched for a job on sites like Indeed, or browsed the various for sale listings on Craigslist, then you’ve used an internet directory.
In more detail, online directories are designed to allow visitors to search for and browse information broken down into organized categories. The most common type is usually businesses according to their industries but this can also include job listings, townships by county, or addresses to name a few others. Some directories contain information that is applicable only to specific areas while larger websites cater to national audiences by allowing users the option to customize their search for their locality. But the other way to look at that is you’re no longer limited to information just in the city where you are. Let’s say you live in New York but you want to know what the job market is like in Dallas. You can go to a directory site for jobs (like monster.com) and filter your search for the results that you want. The biggest advantage to online directories, over printed media like the yellow pages, is that information can be updated within minutes. No more having to wait several months for the latest edition to be printed.
Anyone can use one of these websites, weather you’re a private individual or a company or business of any size. Using my previous example – Indeed.com – individuals can browse entire directories of job listings for their chosen profession and local area while businesses use the website to advertise open positions to the widest possible audience of prospective candidates. Another advantage is that some online directories also allow users to leave reviews and feedback for companies they’ve worked with, which allows other users to make informed choices. Companies with the highest positive customer feedback are often given preferential front page listing status, depending on the directory. For example, Angie’s List is an example of an online directory that focuses on this aspect as a core feature of its business model. The primary advantage to this kind of directory is that businesses can’t just simply “buy their way to the top,” as they would on sites that are more centrally managed. Therefore, users are better able to trust the reviews they’re reading, which means the consumer is the ultimate winner.
And speaking of the consumer, Craigslist is an example of an online directory that has its own benefits for people looking to buy and sell stuff. In this setup, a user can select his/her local portal and browse for different items for sale in various categories like home items, cars, or property for sale. But unlike e-commerce sites, there are no methods in place to allow users to pay via credit cards. Instead, buyers and sellers contact each other to negotiate price and payment, and then the final transactions occur offline. The main advantage to this type of setup is that it allows sellers to keep more of their money without the website taking a cut (such as with eBay). However, the notable disadvantage is that there are no fraud protections in place because the actual transactions take place offline so there’s nothing to trace. In other words, the buyers and sellers are on their own. However, if users see listings for items that are not permitted, then they can simply flag an item for automated removal.
This is an example of community self-policing, where site users are partially responsible for regulating the majority of posted content. This model has its advantages, as well as its drawbacks. Some sites employ this method because it allows them to operate without needing to employ a large maintenance staff. You might need only a couple part-time moderators to monitor content and insure that posters abide by user guidelines (such as not posting content that’s offensive, illegal, or ripping off copyrighted material). This is usually fine for smaller online directories that are marketed only to certain local areas. But when it comes to websites that cater to a national audience in multiple cities and states, it becomes essential to have some kind of dedicated content-monitoring staff in place. The number of moderators needed will depend on how a directory website is setup. The implementation of automated keyword filters can usually go a long way to prevent users from posting blatantly inappropriate content or outright spamming the site. However, human moderators are still needed to verify that the information being posted is accurate, and address any user disputes that might arise.
Because online directories encompass such a vast library of content, and users need to be able to post content on demand without having to wait for approval from a webmaster, having a content management system of some type is essential. The type of CMS that will be used depends on how big the online directory site is expected to be. In some cases, you might be able to get away with using a pre-packaged platform like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal. However, if you’re planning to run a major website, it’s likely you will need to have a custom system designed and built from scratch. A custom CMS will require a dedicated staff of programmers to build, maintain, and keep it running, whether they’re in-house or if that task is outsourced to an outside IT company.
A CMS, for this purpose, would need to be built on some type of server-side scripting language (such as PHP) in order to allow users to be able to post and edit content on the fly, as well as allow backend support staff to be able to edit and manage content efficiently. A database will also be needed so that content can be easily organized and managed. The front end of the directory website needs to be able to communicate with this database on the backend, so your support staff would need to have programmers with experience in database design, development, and management. And lastly, these database experts will also need to implement adequate security measures to protect sensitive information. For example, if your site requires users to create login accounts, to be able to access certain areas, then you need to insure that user passwords and email addresses are stored in a secure manner. And if users are required to pay to subscribe to any services from your site, then the need for strong database and website security becomes even more paramount since you will likely be handling customers’ credit card and/or bank account information.
Additional resources that need to be taken into account include web hosting and server requirements. Obviously an online directory is going to require a server with lots of storages space and expandability. But you also need to consider bandwidth speed as well. On online directory that servers customers nationwide is expected to have a significant amount of daily visitors. Therefore, it’s important to insure that the server you choose to host your site has the right hardware resources to handle the amount of anticipated traffic. Dedicated servers would be best suited for this task because with this setup, you have an entire server machine “dedicated” exclusively to hosting your website. The result is faster performance and better security over other hosting options like shared hosting, where you share a server with other websites.
So as you can see, online directories come in a variety of sizes and cater to both individuals and businesses in multiple markets. There is also a lot of work that goes into building them. How they’re setup depends on the size and the kind of information they’re providing (job listings, for sale classifieds, or public records) as well as the features they offer (user logins and account subscriptions). Because of the sheer volume of data that many directory websites hosts, they require quite a bit of technical knowledge and resources to implement . And then once they’re implemented, they require at least a small staff to maintain them and keep content updated. Again, how many dedicated staff members are needed will depend on how big the site is. Because of the amount of work involved, such websites are usually owned and maintained by companies or multiple individuals. But the services they provide to the public are invaluable. It certainly beats going back to having to use the Yellow Pages.