I hate to say it, but online directories like Yell and Thomson can lead people astray without them knowing it. These organisations often known from their offline paper directories, with good branding and popularity that means people assume they're the ones to go for.

And to some degree that can be correct, so for example if I'm looking for a tradesman or service-provider myself I will often go straight to yell.com and look for a good genuine one with a longstanding presence on there. This is mainly because I know that the SEO-game of getting in Google listings can mean otherwise poor businesses getting within people's view.

Therefore having a basic free listing is essential, not only for visibility for a good SEO-link value. But just watch out for the paid upgrades.

This may be just a sponsored listing or advert on the site which should receive more views, or more behind-the-scenes digital and website services right from building a new website to helping with online marketing and SEO to get in google search results.

But these may not pay off, in fact I'd go further to say assume that they don't unless it can be proved otherwise.

If I could count the number of businesses I've spoken to about this with at best uncertain results, or at worst blatant no results, then I'd be running out of fingers and toes.

In fact a recent one was a local roofer who originally had a Yell website page that they had now stopped paying for, and were now paying thousands of pounds a year to Thomson for a new website and website advertising. But looking into this for them, it was ironically more the old Yell website that was still in google search results that was getting them phone calls.

Anyway, if you're looking into these and other similar ones for the first time or you're already involved with them and suspecting you're not getting value for money, then here are a few pointers to bear in mind:

1. Get Free Ones

As above, certainly get the free listings that are available, and make sure you state the right form of address and contact details that match your Google listing.

You might not be able to get a website link on these free ones, however the correct version of your business is still often worthwhile.

2. Don't Get Their Website Design Service

This is not so people like myself as an independent website designer can get the work, well okay a little bit of that, but hand-on-heart the real reason is that they are simply not worth it.

They're often basic template websites, with little practical ability to update and make changes in the future. To make it worse you often can't get hold or obtain any access details or domain names, and in reality businesses then often resort to putting up with the ongoing high monthly costs, or starting all over again.

3. Get Correct and Full

Whatever piece of virtual real-estate you have, use it to the max. Primarily this is just filling in all the bits that you can do, particularly adding photos and even videos where you can, and using all the description space you can do.

One thing you have to watch out for is the choice of categories your business is in, as well as using as many as you can do. The roofer mentioned earlier pointed out that there were multiple variations of roofing-categories on the directory that all started adding up cost-wise, and therefore he had to choose very carefully which ones were used.

4. Track, Track, and Track Again

Whatever you do with them, particularly adverts and beefed-up listings, then make sure you track the results.

This could be through their websites, or using unique pages and contact details at your end - it gets a bit technical here, but make sure you get someone to help you out here.

5. Keep Short Term

Don't get excited by initial offers and sign up for long-term contracts - this all needs to be carefully tested as above.

And in actual fact, there is often some negotiation room here as well, after all they're sales people after your well-earned business.

Being Direct With the Directories

Therefore when dealing with online directories like Yell and Thomson, just make sure you know what you're getting and that you're receiving true value from them.

Having a free listing is certainly a no-brainer yes, but watch out for a pushy sales person to then be chasing you for chats about upgrades.

These may be worth looking into, but go through the above issues and just make sure it's easily trackable, you take one step at a time, and the whole thing simply makes sense and you can understand it all.