Official: General Web Directories Are Dead - JoeAnt is PageRank 3, More Aggressive Hand Editing by Google

Mar 14th

[Update: After I made this post, Google engineers fixed JoeAnt's PageRank. Thanks Google!]

I just noticed that JoeAnt is now a PageRank 3. I have submitted hundreds of sites to hundreds of directories. For sites at the lower end of the quality spectrum (lets just call some of my experience academic) I simply would not submit them to JoeAnt, because I knew they would not list them. Many of those same lower quality sites were accepted in other directories like Business.com and the Yahoo! Directory.

While JoeAnt's editorial guidelines generally enforced higher quality than most directories, here are some of the things that may have hurt them when they were compared to the few general directories which have not had their PageRank scores edited:

  • smaller size
  • limited partnerships with other businesses
  • a lower price-point, which may have lowered the perceived value by the right customers and attracted some of the wrong customers
  • a name that sounded playful, rather than being business oriented
  • a smaller advertising budget
  • limited brand strength

I used to track 100s of general directories, and now I believe about 5 of them are showing their natural PageRank scores. The rest have been hand edited. Many of them were quite abusive and deserved to have their PageRank scores edited, but not JoeAnt, IMHO.

With so many of the clean link sources getting edited by Google, it is getting much harder for small businesses to compete with larger businesses for keywords on the commercial web unless they are ran by publicity whores. I am not sure if Google thinks that enhances information quality or helps mom and pop webmaster provide better services, but I guess we will see in a few years. The ironic part of it all is that if they force everyone to become marketing experts and PR agents to compete, then they undermine the long-term value of (and the need for) their paid search ads.

Why did a Google engineer chose to hand edit JoeAnt's PageRank score when similar directories with lower editorial standards like the Yahoo! Directory and Business.com did not get edited?

Published: March 14, 2008

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Comments

March 14, 2008 - 12:34pm

I get asked by local business people about how they should get more links, and I go into my spiel on blogging, creating useful content, link baiting, etc. Most of the time the response I get is "we don't have the time for that kind of stuff" followed by "we can't afford to pay you to do it".

This is why I think there is a need for quality, edited, directories. They're a baseline for the Internet that businesses understand, can easily do, and afford. A directory that charges for their time spent verifying a business and website is legit, and not MFA (for example), just helps Google and the other search engines.

Having said that, do you think that just having a visible PageRank reduction (stress "visible") means the value of the link is reduced by Google? Could they just be trying to sway the webmasters who buy them up for PageRank away from these links, but internally there's actually no change?

March 14, 2008 - 11:41pm

They might be doing that, but most of the sites that got similar PageRank dings probably deserved them and likely pass less PageRank to the sites they link to.

March 14, 2008 - 1:44pm

If we are talking about toolbar PR, what are we really talking about anyway? The reality is JoeAnt.com's internal pagerank is going to be based on the quality of it's 21,000+ links, plus the sites it links to. That and cache date of the page holding your site should tell you about the true quality of the site.

The real problem that comes with any directory in my opinion is the link equity each page is receiving either from internal pages or external in relation to the link equity it is passing to those in its directory.

No matter what the PageRank of the homepage is, if the deep, relevant internal page your link on is only getting a small amount of juice and pushing that out to 20 sites your not going to benefit from that link all that much.

I do suppose the the hand editing of the toolbar PR is cause for concern in that fact that it could signal a slow down in indexing for the site, but besides that blow up the PR toolbar and lets get back to talking about real PageRank

March 14, 2008 - 2:03pm

Dave - when you say "lets get back to talking about real PageRank," are you talking about the 21,000+ links, etc. you refer to prior? if so, is the implication that any hand editing of page rank might only apply to what's displayed in the toolbar and "true" page rank is always a function of the current algorithm?

March 14, 2008 - 11:44pm

But Google can easily edit their PageRank score to whatever they want. In some case and at some points in time the edits may be / may have been any of the following varieties

  • toolbar only (aesthetic)
  • toolbar + real PageRank
  • real PageRank but not editing the toolbar
  • only editing the ability to pass link equity to other sites
March 14, 2008 - 2:38pm

You mention in your post that "I believe about 5 of them are showing their natural PageRank scores". I am curious to hear from you "what 5" directories these are in addition to business.com and yahoo directory. Also, as this post is focused on General Directories I wanted to pose the question "is anyone seeing similar downgrades for quality local directories?" My team is definitely moving towards doing more and more PR, blogging, and social marketing but we do often still use regional, local, industry and some "what we thought" were quality paid directories to kick-start things.

March 14, 2008 - 11:51pm

We just had a thread in our community forums titled "Top 10 Directories that pass PR", which highlights general directories that still work. It does not focus on niche directories though, as there are countless of those that still may pass PageRank.

March 14, 2008 - 2:52pm

I'm against paying for links so I like the fact that paid directories are getting hit.

I am equally disturbed by the fact that similar directories like Yahoo's are still enjoying no penalties for the exact same service.

March 14, 2008 - 3:03pm

But there is overhead associated with having editorial approval and those costs have to be covered. Charging for those services (as opposed to charging for link love) isn't a bad thing, and at least it's done openly, as opposed to DMOZ.

March 14, 2008 - 11:46pm

Almost all links are paid for through relationship building, advertising, branding, public relations, domain price, site design price, effort and money put into building a site, etc.

Free links are largely a myth.

March 14, 2008 - 3:16pm

TinPig, I truly hope that the hand editing is only done to the toolbar PR, because I'm not sure I want to be playing in a game where the referee has complete control of the score.

To really look at this we would need to see if JoeAnt.com fell for any of its rankings upon being hand edited. If the answer is no, I think it is clear that the only hit it took was in terms of toolbar PR.

The reality for JoeAnt.com is that with the masses being uneducated about the difference between toolbar PR and internal PR, this slide to their homepage will be seen as the site losing value.

March 14, 2008 - 11:48pm

Google can easily edit their PageRank score to whatever they want. In some case and at some points in time the edits may be / may have been any of the following varieties

  • toolbar only (aesthetic)
  • toolbar + real PageRank
  • real PageRank but not editing the toolbar
  • only editing the ability to pass link equity to other sites
March 14, 2008 - 3:39pm

dave - if that's the case, then what's the point / value of the toolbar page rank? it's been well documented that the toolbar PR has always been based on "old" data, which is understandable. but if it's being handed edited and may not have any bearing on "true" page rank, then why is it there in the first place?

in the end, it's the masses that are consuming this information and making business decision based on it ("our page rank just dropped, buy more links!").

either way, in my mind, google has too much control over the score. i don't think they intended it this way, but i believe the link-based PR algorithm has back-fired a bit and so they feel they need to exert more control to protect the idea of relevancy.

March 14, 2008 - 11:48pm

dave - if that's the case, then what's the point / value of the toolbar page rank? it's been well documented that the toolbar PR has always been based on "old" data, which is understandable. but if it's being handed edited and may not have any bearing on "true" page rank, then why is it there in the first place?

It largely acts as a device to control and manipulate people. Plus enabling the PageRank feature sends usage data back to Google.

March 14, 2008 - 4:00pm

TinPig, I think there is no point to toolbar PR anymore beyond giving sites the ability to sell links, which is exactly what Google doesn't want to happen. But if they pull the Pr from the toolbar it may lead to less use of the add-on, and it will open up a market for other search engines to exploit.

Matt Cutt's himself said that toolbar PR issimply a visualization of historical internal pagerank on a 0 - 10 sliding scale. If you look at the pagerank equation itself you see that it can not be confined to a 0 -10 ranking in all cases. So what is the value of that little green bar, except that it has fueled link trading and sales?

Google does have too much control over scores, and it is indeed a sign that they have gotten away from there roots. They looked to take ranking out of the hands of humans. Search engines should be search engines and not mirror social media sites. I'm not sure human editing helps relevance, if so why don't they hand edit down the gross presence of wikipedia in the SERPs. Most of this hand editing has to do with business, who is making money off the search engine, and how Google can keep that money in their pocket.

March 14, 2008 - 4:54pm

Google is not just a referee, but 'the management' as long as you use their system.

I plan to keep submitting to free, high-PR directories until I see some results. I do not like link-baiting, so am looking for another avenue. I plan to sign up for SEO book training, but only when I feel I have done due diligence on the basic SEO stuff.

March 14, 2008 - 11:38pm

There are not many free high PageRank directories outside of DMOZ.

March 14, 2008 - 5:06pm

I am finding the same thing. Most every time I check to see if all the directory submissions for client sites are still active, they are on pages with little to zero PageRank and even worse, aren't even indexed in Google. Therefore they carry absolutely no value, especially seeing that they drive zero traffic as well.

Social media is quickly replacing directories in their ability to help link pop as well as send direct traffic.

March 14, 2008 - 11:37pm

Welcome to the site David. Thanks for commenting :)

March 14, 2008 - 5:24pm

David,

I completely agree. Social Media has truly made directories of little worth. If i get a link on a social media site that passes link equity, there is a great chance that it will be quickly indexed and it will likely garner more link equity than a deep directory page

March 14, 2008 - 11:36pm

In the longrun the social media sites will only continue to get more and more polluted. Eventually most of them will get edited just like the directories did.

Just yesterday I discovered multiple Digg listings for pirated copies of my ebook available on eBay. And that sort of stuff will only get worse as time passes.

March 14, 2008 - 5:26pm

Google has been coming down really hard with the hand edit. I even saw CraigsList postings for people to manually review and edit websites. You can read more about it at Google Manual Review

March 14, 2008 - 5:39pm

I think it's a question of editorial value. As a search engine, do you give more trust to private editors that charge for their services and have financial motives in what they list, or do you try to build weighting via popularity in social media and other places that have some form of human review? The latter at least seems more open. Lately I've been thinking of Google's algo process as a proxy for a mini RFC, with the net goal of figuring out what is valuable to the internet populace.

March 14, 2008 - 11:34pm

As a person who has gamed many of the social sites, and as a person who sees Digg.com links to eBay listings selling pirated copies of my ebook, I can tell you there there is a lot of garbage in the social media sites, and that on average JoeAnt is a cleaner signal of quality.

March 14, 2008 - 6:23pm

What is Social Media and what is the method for getting a white-hat link there?

March 14, 2008 - 6:40pm

Hopefully, I'm not overstepping my bounds or putting words into Aaron's mouth with this post, but I think that the real focus of this article is more about webmasters wanting Google to use the same manual review process for everybody--regardless of size.

If this was a manual edit, however, I think we'd all like to know why Google's Quality Team would ding a smaller player (Joe Ant) who has a more stringent review process, and not do the same to a big guy (Yahoo) who has a less stringent review process.

Question:

1. How do we know that this was actually a manual edit? Maybe they were dinged for employing marketing/advertising tactics that are prohibited by Google's Webmaster Guidelines, and not because they offer what is essentially a competing advertising opportunity?

March 14, 2008 - 11:32pm

Well, the fact that their PageRank score came back the same day I made this blog post is a good indication there was some manual involvement.

March 14, 2008 - 9:04pm

Christen,

Social Media refers to a multitude of platforms:
Social Networks = i.e. Myspace, Facebook
Social News Sites = i.e. Digg, Netscape, Sphinn
Blogs = such as the one we are on
Forums
Yahoo! Answers
Wikis

the list keeps growing lately. The reality is that anything where the general public can create and control the conversation a social media platform. Creating links from these places can be delicate/tricky.

The best concept is just creating a great site with exceptional content (easier said than done) Link bait works, putting stuff out you know people will link too. SEOBook has a ton of great link building ideas that relate to social media, Andy Beal at MarketingPilgrim.com is another good source.

March 14, 2008 - 11:12pm

Your post must have been read by a Google engineer - JoeAnt is back at PR5 already.

March 14, 2008 - 11:30pm

Wow that was quick. Thanks Googler. :)

March 15, 2008 - 6:36am

Thanks Dave S. I'll check this out.

March 15, 2008 - 10:06am

Hi,

Sorry, but it may have been an hand edit but I think it was just a mistake. Someone new a Google wasn't familiar with the directory lowered the PR, but I am sure this blog post helped to fixed things.

Further, Joe Ant and BOTW should have higher PRs. Joe Ant is priced at a level for small business and does look at the category you request to be included in. Yahoo in critical but over priced, IMHO.

All links are paid for, be it labor or cash, it's hardheadedness to think otherwise.

March 15, 2008 - 10:20am

Go Guides got knocked at one point as well, then they added nofollow to their sponsored links and quickly got put back upto a PR5. Another one that has been hit is starting point, that was always a sure thing for a nice high PR link.

I would just like to get my rankings back for my Biz-Dir.co.uk, not too worried about PageRank, the pages just used to rank and I was getting 500-700 uniqes a day.

I have dropped all of my paid links, just canceled my sponsored listing in Yahoo! directory to be safe. Thinking about changing all of the link titles, descriptions and categories and maybe adding a news blog to get more original content. Running out of ideas though.

March 15, 2008 - 2:23pm

we all know that our directories got hit because of our high visibility on forums like Digital Point.
I don't know what is going to happen with Frog Engine for example, but the more we complain, the less likely there will be any changes.
Dropping all paid links is IMO a big mistake and I've told you that before.
Keep the links you have and get some new ones.
This is not algorithmic, so you can do whatever you like, but if the editors are not made aware of having made a mistake (which I doubt they believe they did), you can spin your wheels and not get anything accomplished.

SO if you want to stay in the directory business, just start something new and don't be so publically obvious about why people should buy a listing. ;)

March 15, 2008 - 8:55pm

Concerning getting quality without paying someone to do it, start using hittail. Even one new blog a week be hard. It beats google alerts for keeping up with what's on people's minds.

March 15, 2008 - 11:42pm

Concerning getting quality without paying someone to do it, start using hittail. Even one new blog a week be hard. It beats google alerts for keeping up with what's on people's minds.

If you are entirely reliant on a tool to tell you what topics to blog about then your blog is already dead.

March 20, 2008 - 6:09pm

Well, the fact that their PageRank score came back the same day I made this blog post is a good indication there was some manual involvement.

Well, there ya go! LOL

I wish there was some way to find out what the net effect was--post manual PR reduction and post manual PR reset. Besides seeing the little green strip go down, did antie_em even notice a drop in submissions, or traffic while the PR bar read 3?

March 20, 2008 - 6:48pm

I am not sure if they saw a short term drop in submissions, but if the PageRank was not restored they surely would have seen a long term drop based on the perception of lower value (which numerous readers expressed to me).

March 20, 2008 - 10:42pm

No doubt about it! PR Dead? Not hardly. The Green Juice just tastes to darn good.

April 6, 2008 - 4:42am

Hi.

A bit off topic but this is the latest post I could find about JoeAnt.

I was just curious about this little agreement you enter into with JoeAnt when you sign up to be an editor:

(3) License
By uploading files, inputting data, or engaging in any other form of communication (a 'Communication') through JoeAnt.com you are granting JoeAnt.com and WebToFu a royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to (i) use, copy, sublicense, adapt, transmit, publicly perform, display, or create derivative works from any such Communication, and (ii) sublicense to third parties the unrestricted right to exercise any of the foregoing rights granted with respect to such Communication. No Communication shall be subject to any obligation of confidence on the part of JoeAnt.com or WebTofu.

Wow. Anything and everything you do with JoeAnt by default becomes a shared copyright.

I realize as a functioning, ongoing directory they really cannot do anything crazy with this license but. At least as long as they want to remain in the directory business. My question is what happens if the directory business they engage in ever goes bust? Someone could buy the company and essentially be buying the copyright on a ton of stuff. The owner can use everything ever submitted to JoeAnt in any way they wanted. The license even clearly states they can enter into 3rd party agreements with anyone else to use your now "shared" information.

Any thoughts about this?

April 6, 2008 - 5:13am

Not a big deal IMHO. It is just the listing details they get copyright of. If I submit Apple.com that does not give JoeAnt a copyright over Apple.com, just the listing I submitted.

September 21, 2010 - 11:25pm

A bit late but thanks for letting Google engineers know about this issue. I don't know what we'd do without great seo's like yourself keeping an eye on stuff like this. Without you maybe joeant would be dead...

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