The Idiocy of Nofollow Abuse & Link Hoarding

Recently it was noted that started using nofollow on many of their outbound links. If you don't trust the content of a site then why link to it at all? To list it on your own site and then put nofollow on it is to say that you don't trust your own content. Which is especially stupid. And perhaps the quickest way to become irrelevant, if you are an editorial listing company.

It turns out they were likely using nofollow on the free listings to some of the higher quality sites, which in turn means that the links without nofollow are pointing at sites that are on average of lower quality than the sites they added nofollows to.

If I was a CRM company I would think that on average a link from a page that links to is worth more than than a page that does not. If I was a software company I think that on average a link from a page that links to is worth more than a page that does not.

I think it muddies their credibility. A lot. Think of the quality of their site from a search engineer's perspective

Oh, the only links they left live were the low quality ones. Outbound link authority nuked. Next.

A site which uses nofollow on most of their quality outbound links also reduces their outbound good link to bad link ratio. Even if search engines still counted links I think the loss of quality outbound links hurts their authority far more than whatever gain someone gets from having a link on a page with fewer links on it.

Web Directories...are They Relevant to SEO?

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 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 should be counted as a directory, but other than those minor points this is a pretty cool study.

1 128,000 761 1999
2 111,000 2,060 1995
3 2,420 73 1998
4 106 1 2000
5 50 1 1996
6 23 0 2001
7 22 0 2001

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.

Think Local:

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.

Skaffe $2 Submissions

Skaffe has $2 submissions for the next 2 days to celebrate their 2 year anniversary.

DMOZ: the Decline Continues

DMOZ meta editor Hutcheson likely a fake posts about the fading of DMOZ:

The biggest decline in the quality of the web in recent years can be traced to the devaluation of ODP, and with it, the esteem of the hard-working editors who created the directory. We’re no longer the kings and queens of the web the way we once were. It is depressing, because while it lasted, being an editor at DMOZ was the mountain-topping experience of my life.

Many of use live on disability settlements and workmans comp. DMOZ is a job we can do from home; we feel important and that we are contributing to society; and the volunteer status means any income from the project is off the books and won’t threaten our disability pay.

I truly believed we were the gatekeepers of the internet: those entrusted to identify which sites were worthy. The inescapable truth is that we are no longer as important as we once were, and it is a blow to my self-identity.

I think I was duped ;) hutcheson said it wasn't him.

Volunteer Edited Directories

I was just looking through the Google Directory and noticed there are less than 10 DMOZ listed volunteer edited general directories, and even some of those are no good.

With all the rubbish spend $19.99 and get your link here general directories that have sprung up I find it a bit perplexing that there are so few profitable general directories. Are they being replaced by folksonomies & the wisdom of crowds? Is it just far more profitable to blog on your favorite subjects?

A while ago I said I thought directories would become more Wiki like, but other than Wikipedia I can't think of any general wikis that have really taken off, and there hasn't been a decent general directory launched in what, about a year.

I think a large reason for the demise is most people willing to work for free to organize information probably want to be able to say more than a sentence or two about the topic.

Another Directory Gets No Love from Google?

Some directories home pages see their Google cache come and go.

Others may see their Google cache disappear for a while out of nowhere.

Recently when people mentioned that some of O'Reilly's websites were selling off topic text ads Tim referenced a couple directories in a negative light. Now one of the directories that has been advertising on the website since January is no longer cached in Google.

When thinking of advertising off topic on a high profile sites keep in mind that sometimes search engines may not take action on certain things, and then may be forced into taking action by third party plublicity.

Site Sift has a database of around 17,000 websites, but if Google gives a directory a PageRank of 0, even temporarily, it may have a profoundly negative effect of the profitability of running that directory.

Site Sift also had a couple sitewide footer link to sites on expensive topics, which may have also been the reason for the recent problems with Google, but the timing of the PageRank removal was close to the O'Reilly link selling news.

I don't think it is bad to buy or sell links, but when you go exceptionally off topic with ads you have to expect that search engines will deweight your links. If you purchase a number of high profile off topic links that come under public scrutiny those links may end up costing you a lot more than you paid.

Vertical Directories...How Will They Change?

My friend Brad runs a good number of vertical directories and wonders how they will change going forward.

I think over time the directories that are
link info
link info
link info
will continue to erode in significance.

Using link info link info is a hard setup to display the personality of the site owner unless there is also some editorial information portion of the page or site. With the low cost of publishing information (or misinformation) and well over half the web being for profit spam it is hard to trust anything.

If a site is without personality it may as well be created algorithmically.

Yet when a single person has to do everything it can become easy to burn out. How do you create social incentives to make others want to build your site / network while still preserving the quality of the content?

One area where I really feel like I am cheating myself, and the readers of my book or this site is that I have not created any communities from scratch or tapped the user driven content market yet.

The lone wolf blog with a personal voice getting a few random comments here and there is cool, but those who can create software or social systems that others inherantly want to work with will do far better than the average blogger like me.

Google Hijacked in their own Search Results

Google Hijacked in Google:
Official Google AdSense site bit by a meta refresh. hmm. Low quality site? more at ThreadWatch

For those who spin all the ethics stuff, do you think Google knew of the problem and was lying when they said it was no big deal? If so, is it ethical for them to tell blatent lies? If not, how is it that SEOs know more about their search engine than they do and they generally disocunt the whole concept of SEO?

Yahoo! Q Challenge:
whats up with a $5,000 prize - that surely is not much payout for the value they could create with that contest. I might need to create a similar marketing program for myself. hehehe

Michael Nguyen posts about some of their search features.

Novice Spam Tool:
I have not tried it, but someone promoted this site, via forum spam of course.

Yahoo! Public Site Match:
Nothing more than a PR stunt? It sure smells the part. A while ago they promoted that program a good bit, but it sure is hard to find information about it nowadays.

Masochistic Behavior:
reading IHY forums. I don't know anywhere else where a single comment can return pages about what a horrible person you are. SEO is doomed. We are all evil. hehehe

Lots of good ones in that rant thread, but one of my all time favorite Doug quote:

Most journalists I know of at least fall on one side or the other.

Another scary thing with that thread is I find myself agreeing with Glengara!

Open Source Rank Checker:
I have not tried it, but a friend pointed me to this software. I am not sure how it plays with Google, since they have been blocking some automated software.

OPD Should Close Shop?
Danny Sullivan weighs in on the ODP's recent site submission status closure.

Black Market Porn:
UK bans selling porn DVDs over the web. UK prostitution market to soar ;)

There is a website that qualifies you and prints out your ordained ministor certification in under a minute. A person today tried to justify me giving away my business model to them because they spent the minute to print one out.

Evolution of Yahoo! Search:
article about Yahoo! creating their search service. thnx to RC

Google Portal, Stemming, DMOZ Submission Review

Google offers portalization of Danny Sullivan has an in depth review. They have a number of features and intend to add many, such as RSS feed support.

Rand points out a post by Xan on stemming and a free online stemming tool

kills the submission status review. Now its even easier to be corrupt ;)

New York Times:
Begins charging for some of their content. Most of their content remains free. They are also replacing the CEO of

When Not to Submit to Directories:
when a person creates about a half dozen general directories and promotes them all together. that is not building value, that is trying to cash out and milk the web.

Many directory owners have become exceedingly greedy recently. All the while search algorithms continue to advance and few of the directory owners are actually trying to build any legitimate value.

The Search:
You can pre order John Battelle's new book. He said if you use this link he may be able to autograph it for you, assuming he can work out the shipping details.

The Size of Google's Index:
might have been a bit frothy

Google Factory Tour:
video presentations (should be up soon), Philip Lessen has highlights

Mirago AdSense:
Apparently they have a product similar to AdSense, which might be useful for companies like HotNacho.

Interview of Shawn Walters of Uncover the Net

Abut a week ago I interviewed my buddy Shawn Walters, asking him why he jumped on the web, and all about his new somewhat new and fast growing Uncover the Net directory, including questions about finding editors, regrets, surprises, and compairing Overture to AdSense. Here is an example question:

When you first launched you had AdSense ads on UTN. Later you switched to Overture feeds. What do you like and dislike about each program?

Overall, I would have to say I like Overture more, if nothing else simply because of the ability to integrate the ads into the directory in a seamless fashion.

I don’t like the fact that Adsense is so strict on its rules, and how it’s a predetermined size in a JavaScript code. Google is a great company, but everyone I talked to at Adsense is so scared of saying what it is on their mind (and actually helping me) almost seemed like they asked an attorney before they reply to each and every email. Heck, for all I know maybe they do, but that makes for horrible customer service.

With Overture, I have my own rep that helps me with reports, integration and is a real person who treats me like a person not client # 1234567879.

Read more of the interview.