Why You Can’t Dismiss All Directory Links

If you follow me here or on the Link Spiel, you know I am a loyal fan and staunch supporter of using directories to secure links. After reading last week’s Elephant in the Link Building Living Room, I wanted to present a different point-of-view as I don’t feel the directory industry or the link builders using them were presented in a positive light. To suggest all link builders sell useless submission services or the directories are white elephants is inaccurate and insulting. I have a much different view and would like to show how using the directories can be a smart part of your link building mix.

Before I begin…

If you’ve spent any time in/around the SEO industry, you know there are hundreds, if not thousands of small directories online; most of these sites lack editorial guidelines, were created to host AdSense and network links. I think it’s important to draw a distinction between these sites and the responsible, well run directories that I and most link builders I know, use.

What is a directory?

In short, a directory is a collection of websites categorized by subject and/or geographic location. Human reviewers determine what source will be added and also maintain the directory and it’s structure.  While there are hundreds if not thousands of general directories online, only four stand out as heavy hitters:

If we check their PageRank scores, we’ll see each of these directories sports a greater than average meter of green. Even if it’s only half right, the toolbar tells us Google thinks well of these pages.

It is difficult to get a site listed with the DMOZ and VLIB, but it’s not impossible if you have an authority resource and follow their guidelines. Even if you’re unsuccessful in getting in, these directories are excellent research sources and can be mined for link partners. For example, when I look at the links on  this page of the VLIB and click on the Gardening category, I can find no less than five niche directories listed in the first 20 links shown. If I owned a gardening site, these would be great directories to be listed in from an algorithmic and traffic standpoint.

Yahoo! and BOTW are both paid inclusion with expensive review fees, but that cost is part of what keeps the junk sites out of their indexes. Each employs human reviewers to look at the sites submitted and determine which category they should be placed in. This process of being scrutinized to determine acceptance is known as editorial review, and is why these and other directories are respected algorithmically by the search engines.

Are directories white elephants?

In my opinion, there are 15 good general directories (includes the big four) worth submitting to, and those include sites such as JoeAnt, Business, Dirjournal, MassiveLinks, RubberStamped, Illumirate, among others. Here’s what I use to qualify a directory as “good”:

  • minimal/no AdSense on category pages
  • no site wide links
  • has full contact information available
  • internal pages indexed and cached frequently

If you argue most directories display low to mid-range PageRank scores I’ll agree, but also point out while their meter of green may be low, it is more a result of their function, not their quality. Directories are hubs and hubs are one-half of the authority equation, a factor incorporated in both the PageRank and TrustRank algorithms. Keep in mind how PageRank scores are determined and the fact directories are designed to link out, not in.

Directory submission tactics as a business model

If you owned a business on Main Street and wanted to promote it to the community, it’s doubtful you’d use just one advertising method to get your message across. You’d probably begin with the basic, less expensive options such as buying ads in the Yellow Pages, your local newspaper and ValuPak mailers. Eventually you’ll move up and buy radio, television and sponsorship opportunities which will help make you a dominant presence in your community.

This scatter gun approach to building a credible reputation can be done online as well. I advocate using directory links in the first wave of linking as a way to jump start your linking program. Granted, they’re not algorithmic giants, but directory links will pass link popularity and add to your overall back link profile.

Bottom line? If you understand the editorial significance of  directory links  and the role they can play as part of your link building mix, you’ll see the positives outweigh the negatives. For as long as Google hosts DMOZ, for as long as Yahoo! and VLIB survive, for as long as BOTW provides a solid search vehicle and supports IM  charities, and especially for as long as the directories don’t contribute to the pinking of the Web, I will support them and recommend you do the same.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Link Week Column


About The Author: of LinkSpiel.com and Alliance-Link is based in Fairfax Station Virginia and offers link marketing consultations and content partner services.

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  • http://silvery.com Chris Silver Smith

    I like this article, though I wish you’d mentioned local directories. Those are valuable for ranking within Local Search.

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    Debra, from your article: “To suggest all link builders sell useless submission services or the directories are white elephants is inaccurate and insulting”

    Not what I wrote at all. It’s there, plain as day for anyone who wants to parse it. Here’s the copy/paste…”Hundreds of companies still sell useless directory submission services”.

    As you can see, I wrote “hundreds”, not “All”, and I stand by it. I did not write “All” nor would I because, as you know, I despise absolutes, and beyond that, there are plenty of useful directories, and services to utilize them, especially within verticals, local, etc.

    Lastly, you’ve known me for ten+ years. I’m not a hater, and you know it. It seems what you are miffed at is that I did not make a clear enough distinction between the crap and the non-crap out there in directory land. Fair enough. You could have done that here without acting like I insulted the SEO world. Jeez. As I told you in my email to you last night, you also could have had me provide a brief clarification you could have used in your column.

  • http://www.brentcsutoras.com Brent Csutoras

    @eric I don’t know… that is how I took it as well when I read the article. Maybe more for the fact that in your article a month before you said the following:

    “Link building has so many “boondoggle” services it’s ridiculous. I couldn’t cover them all in a single column here if I had to. I could mention a couple, like press release distribution for link building (pointless), or so-called top tier directories, (which I can count on one hand and none o them really matter either). Sorry Yahoo, you kinda sorta matter, but I’ve got client sites ranked 1st at Google that aren’t listed in Yahoo period.”

    Where I took it as saying that no directories, even top tiered ones, really matter, well because that is what you said.

    I personally think that Deborah is right on with this article and think that directories like BOTW, Yahoo, and many others she listed, have great value for a website trying to do well in search.

    Wouldn’t you agree?

  • AlanCh

    I’m a big fan of trusting Google et al to do the logical thing in their listings – that is, trying to replicate human decisions.

    Therefore, if a plumber is a member of a recognised industry body [perhaps guaranteeing work performed], and that plumber’s site has a link from the ‘directory of our members by location and qualifications’ element of that body’s website, surely the SE will give that link some credit?

    By the same token, paying £25 for a link in an ad-surrounded list of plumbers in a ‘directory’ of plumbers on a domain something like plumbers4U.cc is not going to figure highly on Google’s ‘validity’ radar.

    In real life, which ‘directory’ would you use if you had a leaking tap?

    And Debra & Eric: Share your toys and play nicely or you’ll be sent to the [virtual] naughty step ;-)

  • http://www.millennium-hosting.com taoseo

    Yes I have a local directory for the Toronto area (Canada). Those are directories that should be taken seriously too cause well in my case, I only allow businesses and websites from that area to post their info.

    It’s funny how that same pharma spammer keeps posting his website thinking he’s going to get his global services into my regional directory.

  • http://www.staffingtalk.com greggd@tempworks.com

    this is the most entertaining exchange on the saturated topic of seo i’ve read in a long time…thanks all

  • http://www.staffingtalk.com greggd@tempworks.com

    AlanCH…Google, evil-as-the-rest-of-them-Google, itself is a directory…it directs us. And we pay for links there with ppc as well.

  • http://www.ericward.com Eric Ward

    @Brent…Great point about the prior article. Yes, I agree with Debra that some directories have value for some sites. But now let’s be brutally honest about another undiscussed point. A web site’s success in the long run is not going to be dictated by general directories, no matter how well edited and curated those general directories are. A web site must be able to prove, over time, that it can earn and sustain vertical merit based links, or else general directories -even as good as BOTW and Yahoo, wont matter anyway. As a site ages, if the only links it ever shows ability to get are general directories, then as helpful as those general directory links might be at the start, that site is still on death row. A site better show vertical resonance, in the form of citations and links, or it’s over.

    @greggd…Hey, Debra and I both know a good blog argument is worth linking style points :)

    @taoseo…Sadly, big pharma brands are among the worst link spammers

  • J_Mac

    Debra wrote: “Yahoo! and BOTW are both paid inclusion with expensive review fees, but that cost is part of what keeps the junk sites out of their indexes. Each employs human reviewers to look at the sites submitted and determine which category they should be placed in.”

    This is just not true. I do my own SEO and one of my competitors has no less than 10 websites that are built around keywords featuring crappy keyword enriched content and they are all listed in BOTW.

    All of these site even follow the same layout template as their only purpose is to drive traffic to his main ecommerce site and offer no real ‘value’ to the directory or its visitors in terms of real content.

  • http://www.mediawhizsearch.com Marjory

    You can add this to your list of valuable directories (although it’s almost impossible to get listed – if you do, it’s well worth it)
    http://lii.org/ – Librarians Internet Index.

  • http://davidodonnell.com.au davidodonnell

    I agree there is still value in directory link building when done right. Also, thanks for reminding me of that method of mining quality directories for other quality niche directories!

  • http://www.alliance-link.com Debra Mastaler

    The focus of the article was on general directories, not local or niche. We agree they play a role in local search and use them as well.

    @Marjory I didn’t use Lii because they don’t accept commercial websites.

    J_Mac I’m pretty sure BOTW suffers from some misfits just like Google does.

    @AlanCh The naughty step might be kinda fun ;)

    @Eric Yep, I agree a website should not depend on directory links alone, it’s why I recommended they be a part of your link building mix.


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