5 Key Components for a Successful Directory Website

To understand what goes into a well-executed website, you need to understand the different types of websites and their purpose. For example, blogs or information-based websites can be used universally in nearly every business sector. However, directory or listing websites are more niche, and require a detailed understanding of their components to create a solid user experience. 

In this guide, we will explore what a directory or listing website is and key tips for website optimization. 

What is a Directory Website?

A directory website is a website which hosts a directory – or list – of things within a category. For example, a staff directory at a university or college, a community-wide listing of tradespeople in the area, or a virtual catalog of a brand’s products, are all types of directory websites. 

Here are common elements in a directory website:

  • A full item/contact listing page with some type of organization
  • Sorting and filtration capabilities – allowing users to filter listings by alphabetical order, cost, location, or other factors related to their niche
  • Tiered access based on cost
  • Information on the business or purpose of the directory
  • A method of contact in case of error

Directory websites have any number of uses, so each one will look different. For example, they are very commonly used as a way of locating professionals, such as solicitors, landscapers, and accountants, in a specified geographical area. 

Certain organizations will have their own directory websites. For example, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) enables users to search for a qualified accountant through their registered professionals directory. 

Designing an Effective Directory Website

Website design applies not only to visual elements of the site, but to every piece of the website that will affect user experience (UX) and usability. When designing for website directories, it’s important to consider 3 key questions:

  • Who will use it – your audience
  • How many people will use it – traffic levels
  • What it will be used for – its purpose

All of these will impact whether your design is effective for your audience. A poorly-executed directory website can lead to audience frustration, so it’s important to do your research and get it right. 

These are five critical components to optimize the customer experience and usability for directory websites. 

1. Content

In its simplest form – what does your directory website offer? There are online directories for just about every major profession, and hundreds more on niche topics created by dedicated industry professionals.

So it’s important to ensure that your content is strong and unique by conducting thorough and continuous research. 

Laptop screen showing website and keyword research analysis and data visualizations

Free to use image from Unsplash

This includes setting criteria for inclusion in your directory and a process for review. 

If you’re developing a directory website for a client, perhaps as part of your software development contracts, you’ll need to be very clear on what they need from you before you start your design. When creating a directory website, it’s important to have a clear listing agreement in place with businesses or individuals included in the directory. This is because the content of your directory will have a huge bearing on the visuals and functionality of your site. 

2. Organization

Directory websites should capture top-level and sub-level categories which apply to the categories into which your directory entries are sorted. 

Take a clothing retail directory as an example. Top-level categories may include ‘clothing’, ‘shoes’, ‘accessories’ and ‘gifts’ while sub-level categories might include ‘shirts’, ‘boots, ‘dresses’, ‘belts’ and so on. They may also be divided into several layers of subcategories. 

This is the organizational system on which you build your site. Your categories should be designed to avoid overlap and subsequent confusion. They should also cover everything in your directory, leaving no outliers and using terms that your audience will understand and use in their own vocabulary. 

Lastly, these categories should be clearly presented and distinguished visually on your site. 

3. Speed

Underpinning everything in your site is loading and search speed. While this is true for every website and search engine, a directory website is generally used purely for the purpose of searching for information. 

Think about the last time you used Facebook, for example. You searched for an old friend or a company, perhaps. When running searches in directories like this, users expect the results to be instantaneous. 

Statista bar graph showing respondents who expect instantaneous search results in directories

Image sourced from statista.com

You need to build optimized speed into your website’s design. This includes minimizing the number of plugins you use although paid directories should consider using an ecommerce website plugin and activity monitoring software. 

4. Filters

Consumers expect to be able to find the information that they want, when they want it. This means they want to access it quickly and easily. Your directory should include filtering functionality with common sub-sections in your niche. 

For example, a directory listing products for commercial kitchens should include filtering by:

  • Capacity
  • Price
  • Availability
  • Materials
  • Location – if required at a physical depot 

Filters should be relevant to your directory topic and clearly state what information it will show. You should avoid adding too many filtering options and ensure that only applicable entries are displayed when filters are applied. 

5. SEO

The point of your directory is to generate traffic and establish authority in your field, aside from being a helpful tool. To do this, you need to ensure that your listings link back to other sources and capture keywords, i.e. they have high-quality search engine optimization (SEO). 

Be sure to link back to your entries’ websites if they exist to build a catalog of backlinks


A directory website lists entries with a common theme for consumers to browse such as clothing or professionals within a certain area. They require a clear layout, a logical system of categorization, and a user-friendly sorting and filtering system. If you’re planning to build a directory website, these tips can help you optimize your site and avoid pitfalls.

About ShareThis

ShareThis has unlocked the power of global digital behavior by synthesizing social share, interest, and intent data since 2007. Powered by consumer behavior on over three million global domains, ShareThis observes real-time actions from real people on real digital destinations.

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