In Praise of Toy Shop UK
In my experience very few directories have the potential to drive any kind of traffic and this includes services like Yell and Scoot. (In fact, rather embarrissingly I once bought an entry on Scoot. Â The entry produced so little traffic (one hit per month) that I wrote to Michael Grade and got my money back). Â Scouring the web for links produces no end of sites that want Â£10 or so for a listing. Â It is rarely worth it. Â Most directories are also of very limited use to consumers, giving very limited informations about their entries (i.e. they are for SEO purposes only which is fine, as far as it goes). Â They are compiled without TLC.
One notable exception is Toy Shop UK. Â This excellent directory is not only free, but generates quite respectable traffic for my site. Â The directory allows retailers to add a comprehensive description of their business and categorises by useful categories such as brand of toys, toys sold and location. Â In short a rare example of a directory which is both useful to retailers and consumers. Â Good work! Â Check out the Hello Baby entry.
I caught up with Tim Hawkins from Toy Shop UK, to find out the secret of their success.
Please give us some history behind Toy Shop UK
As ex-independent toy retailers, we wanted to create a site that enabled smaller, independent shop owners to compete on more of a level playing field with the larger national stores.
We came from the basic principle that if you’re not even mentioned, you’ll never get found – so something that helps you to be found for free really is a no-brainer.
Whilst we’re not on any particular crusade to blindly promote independents over larger companies, at the heart of Toy Shop UK we do believe that a characterful and diverse High Street is something that is really special and worth championing. This is even more true online, where independents provide an invaluable service by being able to offer far more expertise and choice in the brands and ranges that they choose to stock.
Although we can’t ‘protect’ independent toy shops against the expansion of national chains, the fact is that we have helped many independent toy shops increase their online sales – and we’re very proud of that.
What do you think makes a good directory and how have you implementedÂ this on your site?
Having submitted to hundreds of directories ourselves for previous businesses, we knew instantly what the main flaws of most directories are.
Slow turnaround times and the inability to speak directly with a real-life administrator were definitely high on our list of gripes. However, the cost of inclusion and the disappointing levels of resulting traffic were easily the two biggest criticisms that can be levelled at virtually every single directory we’ve submitted to.
The price was easy for us to sort out – we simply made it free and decided that we would generate an income from people other than our advertisers.
Generating real traffic for our visitors was a harder task. With the guidance of an online optimisation expert, we’ve worked really hard to create a great looking site with high-quality, original content that is not only found by people searching online for toy-related search terms but is genuinely useful for them too. That probably sounds really obvious, but if you look at most online directories – even the really famous ones like DMOZÂ they don’t actually provide visitors with any tangible traffic.Â Even Yahoo’s Directory which costs $299 to be considered for doesn’t achieve good traffic referrals – and that’s why we wanted to create something different.
Do you think consumers use directories instead of just googling?
Traffic stats for Toy Shop UK show that there is a definite place for directories. This is backed up by high page views and low bounce-rates which reassures us that people are genuinely browsing the site rather than simply finding a result and leaving straightaway.
There’s no doubt that the vast majority of online directories don’t perform any using searching/browsing function and I think that has tarred the reputation of directories in general. That certainly explains why many people just see directories as a necessary evil; something that you have to spend three days submitting to whenever you want to launch a new site.
Many of our listers submit their website simply to get that all important hyperlink – and whilst that is totally understandable, we make a big effort to try and change the perception that all directories are just there as a way to shift Page Rank around the web.
Many of our listers are pretty shocked when they realise that we actually send them a consistent flow of traffic. It might not be huge quantities of traffic but it’s of a good quality, and crucially, it’s targeted. It’s much more likely to have a higher conversion rate than traffic from search engines, simply because a human being that knows the industry inside has already filtered the results and removed all the garbage.
What is your business model?
We decided early on that the site would be free for toy shops to join on whatever level they felt comfortable with. The site has a light sprinkling of Google ads, and there are a few affiliate listers on the site that pay small commissions.
Advertising space will soon be available strictly for manufacturers and suppliers only, in order to maintain complete impartiality for our listers.
New developments are constantly in progress, and as the site becomes even better known we see it as the first website of choice for anyone wanting high quality information about toy shops, toy brands, toy reviews, toy categories or toy organisations.
Ideally we’d like to partner more with independent shops and maybe even work towards some kind of comparison system for just independent shops as most similar systems out there are well outside the budget of most small retailers.
Plans for the future?
Once we have the model perfected, Toy Shop UK is certainly something that could be rolled out to other industry sectors – but I can’t possibly tell you which ones that might be yet!