Web Directories – still worth taking note of?

The question of whether directory submissions are still a valuable element of your SEO efforts is one that is often debated by digital marketing experts. Unfortunately, the practice has become hard to get right- there are a lot of low quality directories out there that can negatively affect your SEO rankings. Here we will talk about what exactly a web directory is, how they should be used and any signs to look out for when deciding whether or not a directory is legit.

Web directories were the precursor to search engines, which have now taken over as the main vehicle for searching the internet. Rather than displaying lists of websites according to specific keywords like a search engine, web directories list sites according to category. They’re basically an online Yellow Pages, enabling users to find businesses according to the type of service that they require.

The way they work is that you submit your website to directories in the appropriate category, sometimes for a fee and sometimes not. As well as contributing to a useful resource for your potential users, it is a good way to gain quality and relevant backlinks to your site – that is, as long as the directories you have chosen are good quality themselves! As always when it comes to link building, even with directories you have to ensure that the site itself is one that you are happy to be connected to, or you risk being penalised by Penguin (the Google update focusing on link spamming). Directories can rank highly on search results pages (especially if it is a localised search in line with the Pigeon update – see more on this in our blog about local SEO), so if you want to be in line with your competitors it’s a good idea to be present.

The reason that directory submissions have the potential to be untrustworthy is that there are so many out there that may not reflect well on your website. Google are really cracking down on poor quality link building, and you definitely don’t want to get caught up in that. One obvious way to work out if there is a directory that will be beneficial to your site is to see whether there are any that show up a lot in the results pages for keywords that are associated with your business. You’ve got to do your research if you want to get into some decent directories. It’s not always easy to tell the difference between a high quality web directory and a potentially dodgy one, so here we’ll give you some tips about what to look out for.

5 pointers to bear in mind when researching potential directories…

  1. Check out their PageRank – it’s a really good pointer for you to see whether or not it’s worth your while getting involved. A general rule of thumb to go by here is to steer clear of anything ranked 3 or lower.
  2. Do you have to pay a subscription fee? It’s not an absolute rule that if you have to pay it’s definitely safe, but it can be a good signifier of authority. Use your initiative with this one and consider it alongside the other factors.
  3. Is there an editor at the directory? If your submission is accepted without any kind of editing process it’s not a good sign – it bears the question of the quality of all the other sites that have been accepted.
  4. What does your instinct tell you? Naturally it’s not an exact science, but often you can get a pretty good feel for a site from the first impression. Have a look at the other websites listed in your category, as they are likely to be a good indicator of the editing process (or lack of). If you can trust the sites that have been deemed worthy of inclusion, then you can probably trust the directory too.
  5. Does the directory require a link back as a condition of your submission? A good directory shouldn’t, so if that comes up it should set off the warning bells.

Now you’ve got your checklist to hand, it’s time to consider the ways that you can optimise your site to ensure that once you’ve actually identified the directories you want to be in, their editors want to list your business. Bob Keaton, the Editor in Chief of the Open Directory Project (DMOZ, one of the largest web directories out there), in an interview with Debra Mastaler from Search Engine Land, noted the 3 reasons that they may not accept a website’s submissions:

  • The website was submitted into the wrong category
  • The site is incomplete, has errors or is lacking in quality and unique content
  • The content is the same as a URL already listed in the directory

If you want directories to see you as a valuable addition to their listings, you need to give your website a once-over, and check out any potential problems such as 404 errors or any unfinished content. Chances are if you’ve been serious about your digital marketing strategy and researching how to get your SEO efforts spot-on then you won’t have anything to worry about.

A couple of other things to consider are the relevance of the directories that you are looking into – try to look for niche directories that are specific to your business area rather than just the general ones. It can be tempting to just submit your site into lots of different directories regardless of whether they are related to the services you are providing, but this will be picked up on and you’ll risk being penalised for it. That isn’t to say that you can’t submit your site to lots of different directories – you can, and should, but only where relevant and think about submitting them staggered over a period of time as opposed to all at once. This will show that you are constantly updating and keeping on top of the best directories out there and will look better than if you just submit to numerous directories in one go and then never think about them again.

On the subject of ‘keeping on top of things,’ perhaps the most important thing when it comes to using directories is not to submit and then forget. Though it may be time consuming, if anything changes to your business, such as a change of phone number, website URL or address, make sure you remember to update your directory pages to make sure you don’t give out any false information and lose potential customers. While doing all of this may not necessarily bring you exponentially more traffic, when used properly it can really help the credibility and authority of your website.

The Open Directory Project – DMOZ

DMOZ is one of the most well-known web directories still in usage, so is definitely worth a mention here to give you a brief overview. Formed in 1998, DMOZ has numerous editors that check up on things such the accuracy of the listing itself, whether there are duplicate links and the overall quality of the site. Getting listed here can be quite a lengthy process – DMOZ is human edited, which basically means that it takes a lot longer for submissions to be accepted. There is some debate over the relevance of DMOZ nowadays, but it certainly can’t hurt your business to put in an application. 

So what are your experiences with web directories? Anyone out there tried and had a success – or any problems? Let us know!

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