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Do Web Directories Still Work For SEO?

By: Lucy Evans

SEO companies know the benefits that listing clients in major directories can bring. Link building through directory submission has been one of the mainstays of the SEO business for years, but today there is increased uncertainty over the future of this once highly effective form of optimization. First, a brief history of web time-
From the dawn of time (the early 90’s in web terms), registering with directories was an excellent way to get visitors to your website. Directories like Yahoo prospered and could charge high fees for companies to list with them. The web grew, directories grew, websites grew and everything was perfect. Then everything changed - The search engine was born!
Search engines conquered the web, and Search Engine Optimization was born. It may interest you to know that the first recorded mention of the term Search Engine Optimization was in a message posted on Usnet on July 26th 1997. It is highly ironic that whilst the search engine was destroying the directory, the Search Engine Optimization community would breathe new life into the concept. The missing part of the puzzle was Google.
Google hit the web in 1998 and introduced the concept of Page Rank. Most people think that Page Rank refers to the rank of a page, which is an reasonable misconception. According to Google it is actually named after one of its founders - Larry Page. The concept of Page Rank (where a site improves its position in Google by getting links from other sites) soon became very popular. Many other search engines incorporated the concept into their algorithms.
Search engine optimizers had previously concentrated on using ‘on page’ keyword optimization methods. They needed to adapt fast to the new Page Rank concept and get inbound links for their clients. There were loads of methods for getting inbound links, from link-exchanges, to blogging, to link purchasing. One of the easiest and quickest methods was to list their clients in directories. Search engine optimizers and directories walked hand in hand into a golden future.
It’s a bit manipulative isn’t it? The web should be natural said Google. These Search Engine Optimization firms are listing clients in directories for unnatural reasons. Some of these directories have hardly any human visitors but have large amounts of companies listed. Even worse, people are paying to get listed in these directories. It’s not natural usage. We are being manipulated said Google, and we must stop it! So this is what they did.
September 1st 2005 Google Guy Matt Cutts stated in his blog “Google does consider buying text links for Page Rank purposes to be outside our quality guidelines” and “Google has a variety of algorithmic methods of detecting such links”.
Nothing seemed to happen for a while, but then some of the directories that offered paid links started having no visible Page Rank on their sites internal pages. This was true even of directories that had free links, but on the same page had paid featured listings. Bad news for those people who followed Google’s webmaster guidelines and got free links, worse for those who paid for them and ended up with nothing!
As well as cracking down on paid links, search engines have also enhanced their detection of sites that link out to what are regarded as bad neighborhoods (low quality spam filled sites). Many of the directories that are not carefully managed end up with low quality listings and as a result search engines discriminate against them.
Since the creation of search engines the fortunes of Search Engine Optimization firms and directories have been solidly, inextricably linked, but if Google doesn’t like directories anymore, these back-links won’t be any good. It’s all not true. Google loves directories. In Google’s webmaster guidelines it says - when your site is ready:
“Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!, as well as to other industry-specific expert sites.”
Google still likes directories it just doesn’t like those that are poor quality listings and those that sell links. After all how can Google discriminate against directories when it has one on its site (Google Directory).
How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Directory. The significant thing with directory submissions is to make the most of your efforts by placing your clients in the right directories. You need to list your clients websites in directories that are free and decent quality (human edited).
A good place to start with directory submission is the Open Directory Project. This is the biggest directory to submit your clients’ websites to. This is a long term strategy. Each section is human edited by volunteers and the acceptance times vary. It has been know for sites in less popular categories to wait for a year or more to be accepted! Another large directory is which will cost you $299 to list in. If you operate in markets outside the USA you can often get listed for free. is now free for UK firms in the majority of categories. Again there can be a delay before submissions are put live.
Don’t ignore the benefits of local directories. Listing in directories for your state or country can provide very positive benefits, both in terms of Search Engine Optimization and finding local customers such as the Canadian Regional Directory. Also look at regional niche directories that not only find local customers but also customers in specific fields.
There are a couple of great web sites for finding suitable directories such as Top Directories and Vilesilencer. The Top Directories site provides a lot of useful information on web directories including their Page Rank and the movement of page rank at the previous update. There are also details on submission times, gathered from user feedback. Vilesilencer provides huge lists of categorized web directories including a handy download of directories in Excel spreadsheet format.
Maximizing your efforts by selecting the best directories should ensure that the time spent writing directory submissions adds the maximum benefit to your business. This is true not only in terms of human visits, but also with regard to Search Engine Optimization.