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What to Look For in a Web Directory

PageRankI have been involved in the web directory industry for many years, and I am arrogant enough to believe that I know quite a bit about web directories. If nothing else, I know what I look for in a web directory because I have been working on them for well over a decade now, and have been reviewing them for the past couple of years.

Nevertheless, I just spent some time on the Internet reading through the results from a search on the key-phrase represented in the words of this article. I have read through several articles and forum posts on the subject, some going back to 2007, and one thing that I found in common with nearly every one of them was that Google was mentioned in the first sentence, or at least in the first paragraph, with several of them making Google PageRank the focus of the entire article.

The authors of most of the forum posts on the subject are one-liners, suggesting that the only thing to look for in a web directory is high PageRank.

One thing that I can see with certainty is that when you give me that line, I can be sure that you’re clueless. You’re going to have to find a new phrase to parrot because Google deprecated its PageRank a long time ago, isn’t updating its public PageRank anymore, and its spokespeople have said that they don’t intend to.

Judging a web directory, or any other site for that matter, by SEO metrics has always been an exercise in stupidity because if it says anything at all, it says that you aren’t smart enough to tell a good site from a bad one, and have to turn to someone else for a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

Search engine optimization has to do with the things that you do to prepare your web site to be properly indexed by the search engines. Consider the definitions of the three words that are put together to form the familiar phrase, “search engine optimization,” and perhaps you can understand that submitting a site to a web directory is marketing, not search engine optimization.

As a marketing step, web directory submissions can be quite effective despite all of the one-liners that self-proclaimed SEO gurus have posted on forums. They don’t know what they’re talking about but they think they sound wise when they say it.

Good Directory - Bad DirectoryWhen someone tells you that web directory submissions are bad, ask them why, and if they can’t give you an answer that doesn’t involve Google, you can assume that they are clueless.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Certainly, there are bad web directories, just as there are bad websites representing pretty much every genre on the Internet. Given the fact that someone can buy a web directory script for thirty bucks, and shared hosting for a few dollars a month, and call it a web directory, there are a lot of bad web directories. There’s not much to be done about that, but the answer is simple: don’t submit to crappy web directories.

However, not all web directories fit into this category. There are plenty off good, reputable, useful, and safe web directories, many of which have been around for well over a decade.

How do you tell a good web directory from a bad one? I’ll answer that with another question, and then elaborate: How do you tell a good web site from a bad one? Web directories are web sites, plain and simple.

Does it serve a useful purpose? Before you try, that’s not a question that you can answer for an entire industry any more than I could logically say that Reggae sites serve no purpose because I’m not a musician and I have never learned to appreciate Reggae.

Obviously, web directories serve a purpose since I have been earning my living through web directories for quite some time now, and I am hardly alone. Web directories serve a purpose because they provide an alternative to the often nonsensical results provided by search engines. Web directories are useful because people who have web sites listed in reputable web directories receive targeted traffic from them, and because they may help your site’s position in search engine results, although that last part is arguable because search engine optimization has everything to do with the content and organization of your site, and much less to do with anything else.

Some web directories are more useful than others, and that is the determination that you need to make when you are evaluating any one particular web directory.

Web directories may be useful to the people or companies whose sites are listed in them, and they may be useful to those who are trying to find some online resource. A good web directory serves both web site owners and users, but I am not so sure that it is necessary to consider both of these functions of a web directory.

Web Directory - Search EngineThe reason I say this is because a web directory that serves its users well will, by extension, contribute to the businesses, organizations and products whose sites are listed in the directory, as well as functioning as a web directory rather than as a back-link merchant.

Be careful of web directories whose focus is on what they can do for web site owners rather than on what they have to offer their visitors, and don’t take a second look at a directory that advertises its PageRank. A reputable web directory will serve a purpose beyond providing a link for a web site owner.

Don’t compare web directories with search engines. Web directories and search engines are both in the business of guiding Internet users to online resources, but that is where the comparisons end.

With nearly unlimited capacities, search engines are able to index nearly every web site on the Internet, and can serve up hundreds of thousands of results for pretty much any topic that someone might look for.

Web directories, on the other hand, are far more limited. For a specific topic, at most, you might be given only a couple of pages of results; at the least, only a few sites.

However, the average search engine user never looks beyond page one or two of the results, and many of the sites found on these pages will often be meaningless or only peripherally related to the the topic the searcher is seeking information on.

A really good web directory will include the best sites relating to a topic, and perhaps some others whose owners have paid to have their own sites considered for inclusion.

Think of a specific topic or topics, and see if you can find a category representing that topic in the directory. In a well organized directory, you should be able to find it without much difficulty.

Once you have found the topic you were looking for, would the listed sites be useful to you if you were interested in that topic? If the directory you are looking at is a general web directory, one that includes a regional or geographical tree, is there a category for your home town?

While you’re browsing the directory, pay attention to site titles and descriptions. Are they reasonably well written, are the words spelled correctly, and are the descriptions descriptive?

Keep in mind, however, that web directories were established at a time when most people were connected to the Internet through a dialup service and server space was at a premium. Because of this, a de facto standard was set that called for brief sentence fragments for descriptions; fifteen years and hundreds of thousands of site listings later, it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to go back and change them now.

Nevertheless, descriptions should be reasonably descriptive, and free of promotional hype or spelling and capitalization errors. A reputable directory will employ editors who will edit blatant errors before accepting a site, as well as ensuring that sites are listed in appropriate categories.

There are times when the most appropriate category for a site can be difficult to determine since web sites are often about more than simply one specific topic. Web sites have also been known to change topics after a site is accepted into a directory and, while directory staff watch for this, they won’t necessarily come across it right away.

Overall, you should be trying to determine whether a directory employs editors who review each submitted site, making sure that they are listed in appropriate categories and that site titles and descriptions are reasonably descriptive, as opposed to those that are on autopilot, or whose editors will simply accept whatever is submitted, as it is submitted, as long as the submitter pays a fee.

These are some of the differences between a good directory and a bad one. A good directory is also one whose editors are actively engaged in seeking useful sites to add to the directory’s categories. Ninety percent of the listings in a reputable directory have been added by directory editors rather than through site submissions.

As is the case with pretty much every industry in the history of commerce, directory owners should be able to adapt to a changing market, and this might involve a wide variety of things that I couldn’t begin to cover here.

By necessity, newer directories, and even some of the older ones, may begin to look less like traditional web directories and more like content sites that include referrals to other web resources, while others may opt to serve a niche market.

Watch for this. It’s not a bad thing. The web directory industry is very much alive and well, but the days when someone can put up a thirty dollar directory script and wait for the submission dollars to come in are over. It takes work to produce a useful web directory.

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Ken Anderson was an early meta editor for the Open Directory Project (DMOZ), as well as an editor with the Go.com and Zeal directories, and several other web directories, both short- and long-term.

'What to Look For in a Web Directory' have 6 comments

  1. December 15, 2014 @ 7:15 pm fastreplies

    > Judging a web directory, or any other site for that matter, by SEO metrics has always been an exercise in stupidity because if it says anything at all, it says that you…
    know how to manipulate SERP and good enough to dump totally unrelated to web directories site that sells Indian Gifts or Spices and to spam top 100 or even top 10 search results.

    It makes me puke when some SEO dickhead says that directories aren’t good because he can find in Search Engines everything… that is of course if he have time to scroll over a couple of thousandths of totally useless for him links to get one or two he wants whereas in directory he can get a couple of dozens directly related results starting with first one on top.

    > Ninety percent of the listings in a reputable directory have been added by directory editors rather than through site submissions.
    The problem with that if you’re running paid directory, you’re actually diminishing your chances for one day to be paid


    • December 15, 2014 @ 8:23 pm WDD-Admin

      You are diminishing your chances to be paid by adding sites for free, but you are increasing the value of your directory as a directory, which increases the value of a link in your directory. In the long term, everyone benefits.


      • December 16, 2014 @ 1:29 am fastreplies

        Right, but… the keyword is “Paid” directories or combination of Free and Paid, whereas strictly Free directories have no beef one way or another.

        Since last week when AMRAY Directory changed it Submission Policies and started charging Business and Commerce sites review fees, Editors too have changed their forging habits and now they select for inclusion only Personal, Educational, Academic, Technical, Informational, Non for Profit, Charities, Government, Free for All and few other topical sites thus insuring the Value while increasing the mutual benefits in the long as well as in short run.


        • December 16, 2014 @ 2:47 am WDD-Admin

          I have no problem with that, since the quality of a directory has little or nothing to do with whether or not they charge submission fees. My concerns for those that don’t charge fees is that they will be unable to maintain a useful directory long-term if they are not monetizing it in some way, and my concerns for exclusively paid-submission directories is that, if they limit the sites that are included in their directory to those whose owners are willing to pay, they may not have enough useful content to qualify as a directory. In the end, it’s the result and not the method that matters, however.


  2. January 2, 2015 @ 8:43 pm Jenna

    This was an interesting read for me; both the article and the conversation in comments were very informative. I’ve always felt a web directory submission to be marketing, as well, and it’s nice to hear an expert validate that belief.


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