With Zeal recently closing (I think Looksmart are dumb to have closed it) some people have recently been questioning the value of directories.
$hoemoney recently had a mini interview of a few SEOs asking if they are still relevant. The general consensus was that if the directory sends traffic then it is a good link to buy.
I think that is a good rule of thumb, but I am also a bit more aggressive. I still buy a few links that I figure won't drive much traffic, largely because I think they still work well in Yahoo! and MSN. Having said that, I think there are certain quality signals or anti-quality signals that it helps to look at.
- Is it ranking in the SERPs? - If a site ranks well in the search engines it stands a good chance to be trusted by them. Plus even if those links do not count to help boost your ranking they still can drive direct traffic. I frequently see directories like Business.com and JoeAnt ranking in the search results.
- Do they sell direct links? - Direct links are more likely to be taken as editorial votes of quality. Some redirected links may still count, but many of them will not.
- How frequently is their site crawled? - You need to check and see if the category pages are being cached in Google, and how frequently they are cached. If their pages are not getting cached or have not been cached for 6 months then the odds are pretty low of that link carrying much weight.
- What is the quality ratio? - Does it list anyone who pays? Or do they hold sites to some quality standards? Do they categorize sites properly? Or do they sell links to anyone in any category, even if it is the wrong one? Does each page have unique content? Are most pages empty - adding nothing but clutter to search indexes? If they do not help engines categorize the web (ie: no editorial value) then eventually the engines are not going to trust their votes.
- What is the ad ratio? - Are all the listings paid? Or will they list some useful sites without payment? Does the site look like it aims to serve end users? Or does it look like it exists just to get AdSense ads or affiliate ads indexed?
- Do they sell outbound sitewide links? - Prettymuch the equivalent of selling out - when a directory puts sitewide outbound links on their site (especially if those links are to junky sites) the odds are pretty good that the links are not going to count much.
- Is it decrepit? - Directories which have 50% of their links broken or pointing at URLs that have been purchased by spammers or domainers are not going to pack as much punch as sites which have few broken links. I recently bought a 25 page directory that has not been updated in a couple years, and it had about 400 broken links in it. Not good!
- Does it have unique content? - Is it a DMOZ clone? Are its listings manually compiled and unique from what is offered at other directories?
- Is it relevant to my site? - Many small niche directories can drive decent value due to offering decent co-citation data and having exceptionally relevant traffic streams.
Bob Mutch recently rated 40 top directories based on their age, how many edu and gov links they have and whether or not they are listed in DMOZ and Yahoo!. I would contest that WhatUSeek isn't a real directory, ISEDB is a directory of search engines and directories, and that Vlib.org should be counted as a directory, but other than those minor points this is a pretty cool study.
I think the inbound link profile is a good starting point for rating (when you add it to the other criteria I mentioned above), but what I think is even more interesting is how quickly they fall off in the quantity of quality links. After DMOZ solved the general directory problem and Google solved the search problem no general directories were able to get many citations. That sorta shows the importance of market timing.
While there are many quality links that are not from a .gov or .edu TLDs, I think those are a good proxy for overall link quality. Notice how quickly the .edu count falls off. That is why the top directories may be worth $300 for a listing...they are trusted quality links.
The quick fall off in legitimate citations is why some types of link spam are easier to detect than many people think. When they manually build links many of the links they accumulate are outlier low power links, often ones sharing similar link profiles with each other.
What General Directories Provide Great Value?
I liked the ones I left linked above. There are a few others that are decent as well, but the broader I make the list the more likely I am to eventually promote sites that are doing lots of spammy things, like whoring out their sites to AdSense or sitewide casino links.
I see a couple of the unlinked directories listed above ranking in the SERPs for a broad range of queries, but some of them may not exercise much editorial control, and will eventually lose some of their authority.
For the sake of MSN and Yahoo! I still do submit to a number more directories than just what is listed above. The number depends on the field, but if the business is going to be a web savvy business that can afford to create strong brands and/or useful content then they will also have many links from outside the directory sphere.
Topically Relevant Directories:
It is hard for me to list quality topical directory examples because:
- if you do not know a topic then it is hard to judge quality
- directories change over time.
For example, I used to always use a certain directory as an example of a quality directory, but now that there are off topic airline ads on the home page and too much AdSense ads I don't put as much stock in it.
Some local directories are way under priced and of high quality. Quality local directories tend to drive significant hyper targeted traffic.
A few other things to consider when registering with directories:
- I use Roboform to submit my sites, but mix up my link anchor text and descriptions (especially since some search engines have certainly looked at word relations outside of on-the-page content and anchor text).
- If your market is competitive and your site is new you will also need to get other types of links if you want to rank in Google
- mix your anchor text
- if brand name is keyword rich make sure you also try to get a few variations in your listing titles outside of your brand name such that if you push the brand hard and cause significant natural linkage it won't cause your link profile to look wonky due to too much similar link text.
- If your brand is not generic it may only take a couple links for you to rank at or near the top of the search results for it.
- A Yahoo! listing or DMOZ listing may be worth 20 or more links from lower quality directories.
- Each good link you get allows you to get many junky links without it really hurting you (say ~50 or so - depending on industry)
How Different Search Engines Count Directory Links:
Yahoo! and MSN still tend to count directory links (including low quality directory links) far more than Google does.
For a new one page flash site I got about 50 directory links in a couple days a while ago. It competes for a basket of low traffic $3 per click terms that can cost about $600 a month ranking at about #2 on the PPC ads.
In Google 2 weeks after I started link building the site ranked in the top 10 across a wide array of terms from this basket of keywords. After about 2 months without additional link building the site's rankings in Google dropped off. After that they have started to slowly improve.
Yahoo! took a bit longer than Google to react, but once it did and I went to #1 I stayed there almost every day for the last 5 months.
MSN reacted about as quickly as Google, perhaps even a few days quicker. Outside of a few fluctuations it has ranked fairly consistantly at #1.
The client ranks #1 for their brand name and related terms in all major engines. They probably would rank a bit better in Google if I got those links over time and showed consistant growth, but considering how cheap I sold those services for I am still certain they have an exceptionally strong ROI, and I am certain their ranking will rise over time if we put more effort and resources into SEO.
Why do People think Directories are Becoming Irrelevant?
- As a business model directories do not work well unless you are hyper focused or have significant authority to leverage. (Unless you are selling PageRank to naive webmasters who have yet to learn much about SEO or get burned by shady directories.)
- As more people write and compile information the quality of information needs to be better to be link worthy.
- Most directories (especially most paid directories) do not add much context as to why a particular site is important, useful or worthwhile.
- People do not give out links as freely as they once did. It is hard for a directory site to be viewed as link worthy as they were in the past, thus they do not get as much authority to pass on.
- Active channels, such as topical weblogs, tend to drive far more traffic than most fairly static directory sites.
- Google's algorithms are improving. They are getting better at scrubbing link quality and filtering out duplicate or near duplicate content.
- Most general directories are useless spam.
- Couple improving search algorithms with social bookmarking sites and they make the job of professional catalogs and archivists less relevant, except perhaps for ultra niche categories that are not well cited.
Why is the Business Case for Directories Falling Apart?
- Many of the reasons listed above (market hypersaturation, lessening authority, other content types - like blogs and wikis - are fighting for the same audience, improving search quality, bottoms up social systems).
- Directories create inefficiently priced marketplaces.
- Most directories drive so little traffic and value that it is hard for them to make their marketplaces more efficient.
There is Still Some Value in Directory Links:
In conclusion, I still like a number of directories, but sometimes it helps to drill down to look at relevancy more than just buying any old link. I also think that even if some of the mid to low quality directories do not offer lots of value in Google they still help with the other engines. Another added bonus of building links from directories and other sources is that they can inflate your link count to help discourage competition and/or pollute your link profile to make it hard for competitors to see what all links are helping your rank where you do.
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