For decades, web directories have been used to help people find content online and, in turn, help improve search engine rankings. But after years of misuse and abuse, the vast majority of directories are now considered by many to be both problematic and worthless for SEO, and Google frowns upon most. So, should we abandon web directories altogether as a bad SEO strategy? Perhaps not so fast.
Many SEO experts still argue that there are still a few directories that pass authority and trust on to you site, and that submitting to those select few can still be advantageous as part of a larger link-building strategy. It seems the answer, like much in the ever-evolving world of SEO, is not entirely straightforward. To better understand whether or not directories are bad for SEO, let’s take a closer look at the facts of the matter. But first, one thing to consider. There are many types of directories. General directories, niche directories, industry specific directories and local directories are the main categories. I can tell you for certain that they all have the ability to help SEO right now, if used correctly. In fact, I took one client to multiple number one positions for very competitive keywords by just using powerful general directories. Ok, that we have that out of the way, let’s jump into the subject.
What purpose do directories serve and how have they evolved?
Long before Google, Bing and other search engines came to be, web directories were developed as a means to help people more easily find information on the web. Beginning in the early to mid-90’s the popularity of web directories rapidly grew, giving rise to early pioneers, including Yahoo! Directory, the Starting Point Directory, and The Mozilla Directory (DMOZ). But soon, companies like Google arose to provide people with an automated way to search through the quickly expanding, which ultimately began a decline in popularity.
Yet, for years, directories were still considered useful by many in the SEO and online marketing world as a way for people to still find content and to help provide backlinks and authority to websites. Until as recently as 2007, there were still plenty of quality directories that could be utilized, both paid and free. But soon, Google began penalizing unscrupulous directories, whose numbers had swelled into the thousands, as many offered little value to users and mostly served as link-building schemes. And quickly we saw a pretty rapid transition away from the use of directories by many in the SEO field, as they were wary of the Google-penalty risk associated with them.
How are directories bad for SEO and what types should be avoided?
Back when directories were still largely considered a reliable way to build backlinks to websites, it was common practice to submit a site to many different directories for listing under specific categories for a particular industry. But as the trend took off, you started seeing many thousands of “fly-by-night” directories (as Google’s Matt Cutts likes to call them), popping up to offer their services, usually for a fee.
Many of these directories were automated sites (as opposed to the more carefully edited ones of the past) designed to make a quick buck and not necessarily help people connect with the content they needed. In addition to these schemes, you also had cheap SEO services offering to submit in bulk to hundreds or thousands of directories without bothering to submit to quality and appropriate directories, while promising higher page rank on search engines.
Google came down hard on these link-building schemes and practices, penalizing those that it considered unnatural and intended to artificially manipulate page rankings. In turn, this also led to penalties and dramatic drops in search engine rank for sites where those directory links pointed.
So, what types of directories should you avoid these days? Here are some characteristics of bad directories that you want to avoid:
- The directory accepts all links or says “submit your URL” – If a directory accepts all or the majority of links submitted, this should be a warning that the site was likely just created for the purpose of creating links and won’t carry any SEO weight and could be problematic.
- Keyword-anchored links – If the site allows keyword-anchored links, it’s a telltale sign that Google will consider it an unsafe source for links, even if your link would be listed as a URL.
- The name of the directory suggests it was created for links – Steer clear of these obvious schemes, as well as ones that have already been banned by Google, but may still be operational.
- The directory boasts high PageRank (PR) – This is a definite red flag that the site was just created for links and not to be useful to people.
Are directories still a worthwhile SEO practice?
Now that we know what to avoid when it comes to directories, the question remains: are there still ones that are worth the effort? While some might argue that links from a directory are by definition unnatural because they are self-created, but Google still seems to consider a handful of directories acceptable. By sticking with those few that are still considered to offer trust and authority, many in the SEO community still believe you can pass quality juice to your site and help people find you. Of the few remaining quality directories, here are some of the major ones (that are not necessarily niche or industry specific) that are still considered reputable and carry SEO importance:
Now these are more general directories, opposed to local directories or niche directories, which most SEO professionals agree make sense.
Links from these directories still matter for SEO as they are coming from a reputable source, are not easily obtained, and because there is still a high volume of traffic going through them. So, what parameters should you think about when considering a directory for submission?
- Relevance to your business – You want to make sure that both the directory and the category you would be listed under is relevant to your business. In some cases local directories or niche directories specific to your industry can be more useful.
- Does the directory screen submissions? – Directories that review and edit URL submissions are considered to be higher quality and worthwhile, even though they may take longer to be included on.
- Frequently updated – Another good sign that a directory is well maintained and not link-exchange scheme is that it is updated and revised frequently.
Directories have certainly evolved dramatically over the years, and while their usefulness has ebbed and flowed, there are still a select few that can be useful for SEO. By sifting through and avoiding the ones that are link-schemes or offer little-to-no SEO value, you can save yourself a great deal of time and headaches. Submitting to the few remaining reputable ones and those that are most relevant to your business and industry can still prove useful for helping people find your site and helping to improve your ranking. The key, as with most strategies, is not to put all of your eggs in one basket and expect that inclusion in any particular directory, will offer guaranteed SEO success. These days, a smart SEO strategy employs a diversity of tools and techniques to help you connect with customers and improve your ranking. And as a final rule, it you feel at all on the fence about the directory, better to just stay out of it.
What are your thoughts on directories for SEO and what has your experience been with them? Let us know in the comment section.
- “Is that directory link unnatural?” (Search Engine Watch)
- “The advanced guide to link building” (Quick Sprout)
- “Are website directory submissions good or bad?” (WooRank)
- “Directory links: are they always bad?” (Site Pro News)