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Ten Mistakes Webmasters Make About Web Directories

There is a lot of misinformation on the Internet. Much of it originates with unethical people on the fringe of the SEO industry, and repeated by clueless individuals who don’t know any better.

Internet forums and tweets are not the best sources for reliable information about search engine optimization or web directories. As a result, much of what people think they know is wrong, which causes them to do things that are not helpful.

Discussed below are ten fallacies, or errors that webmasters often make when it comes to web directories:

1. Nobody uses web directories anymore.

This is one that I have been hearing since 2000, when web directories were just getting started. Often people who make this claim are either lying or, more likely, their site isn’t listed in any good web directories.

If they believe that no one uses web directories anymore, they are not going to submit their site to any web directories, and clearly they can’t receive traffic from a web directory they’re not listed in. The same is true if the only web directories they’ve submitted to are of such low quality that, indeed, no one uses them.

My sites are listed in reputable web directories, and I do receive traffic from them. Although about eighty percent of my traffic comes from search engines, primarily Google, the traffic that I receive from web directories is targeted traffic, which means that these visits are from people who are looking for what I have.

In comparison, the traffic that I receive from search engines has a much higher bounce rate. I receive traffic even from web directories that I don’t consider to be particularly good.

If the 15-20 percent of traffic that I receive from web directories is targeted traffic, I don’t want to lose that.

2. Google doesn’t like web directories.

Google doesn’t like scams or junk sites and, unfortunately, a lot of sites using web directory scripts could be described that way.

In the past few years, Google has banned or penalized several web directories but, with only two exceptions that I am aware of, these have not been legitimate web directories. Unfortunately, when Google is intent on discouraging one practice or another, innocents sometimes get caught in the crossfire.

However, nearly every reputable web directory continues to do well in Google and, sadly enough, most of the bad ones have also gone unscathed, so you need to watch out for them.

Essentially, a web directory is a website, and as long as a directory provides useful content and does not violate the guidelines of a search engine, they are as safe as any other site on the Internet.

Web directories that offer content beyond that of outgoing site links will do even better, and that is something that I recommend. Directories whose site listings are supplemented by unique textual content are particularly desirable.

3. Web directories don’t pack link juice.Ten Mistakes Webmasters Make

That is simply not true. Once again, a web directory is a website. Not every website packs link juice, and web directories have to take the same steps that everyone else does in order to gain authority and link juice.

A web directory isn’t going to pack link juice simply because it is a web directory, but there is nothing about a web directory that would prevent it from packing link juice, and the better ones do.

Like any other webmaster, a directory owner will have to take steps toward search engine optimization, and most directory operators are aware of this.

4. Only submit to web directories with high PageRank.

Google has deprecated its PageRank tool several years ago. The search engine rarely updates its public PageRank and Google spokespeople have stated that they would no longer be updating its PageRank. Forget PageRank.

Most webmasters place far more emphasis on SEO metrics than they should. As far as search engines are concerned, the important thing is where your site places in the search engine page results (SERPs), and it is not at all uncommon to find sites with low SEO metrics placing very well in the SERPs.

The effect that search engines are trying to achieve through automated processes is for good quality resources to place well in relevant search engine results. Rather than concerning yourself with SEO metrics, look through any web directory that you are thinking about submitting your site to, and determine for yourself whether it is of good quality.

Are its categories and subcategories well organized? Are sites placed in relevant categories? Do its categories contain useful content? Are titles and descriptions well written and descriptive, or are they full of misspellings, grammatical errors, or promotional language?

Directories that include rich textual content beyond links to outgoing sites are particularly likely to be a good place for your site. Locate the most appropriate category for your site, and take a look at it, and any other sites that are listed there. Does it look like it would be a good neighborhood or a bad one?

5. Search engines provide better results than directories.

Well, search engines certainly provide more results than web directories do. Where a web directory might give you 10-25 results for a given topic, a search engine might return 50,000 results on a search for that topic. But how many of these results are you going to look at?

Most people never look beyond the first page of results offered up by a search engine, and only rarely does anyone go beyond the second page. Yet, the first two pages of results returned by a search engine will include several sites that are not truly relevant to your search.

In a well organized web directory, every site in the category will be relevant to the category topic.

Search engines have their place, and even web directory people use search engines more often than they use web directories, but directories have their place too.

6. We will submit your site to 5,000 top web directories.

When someone makes a promise like this, it suggests a few problems. First of all, there aren’t hundreds — and there certainly aren’t thousands — of web directories worth submitting your site to, and most of those will not accept submissions from the people who make these sorts of promises. Consequently, the directories that they will submit your site to will mostly consist of junk directories.

Regardless of any promises they might make about manual submissions, you can be sure that they will be using an automated process that does a poor job of it. You are in a better position to submit your own site. You can do a better job of submitting your own site than anyone else can.

7. You should submit only to free directories.

Think about this one for a moment. Unless the directory is a narrow niche directory, of which there are some, or a volunteer project such as DMOZ and JoeAnt, it requires a lot of time and money to develop a worthwhile web directory.

It can take a decade or more to create a really good general web directory.

Reputable web directories, such as Aviva Directory, Best of the Web, and Directory Journal, employ full- and part-time staff in order to maintain and to build their directories.

Ninety percent, or greater, of the listings found in a reputable web directory have been added by directory staff, not submitted by webmasters. Paid editors search the Internet for useful sites to add to the directory. They also review submissions that are made to the directory.

Whenever a site is submitted, directory staff will visit the site to ensure that it would be a useful addition to the directory. Often, submitted titles and descriptions have to be modified, and sites are moved to more appropriate categories. At times, an appropriate category may have to be created.

Larger directories are generally hosted on dedicated servers, which are not inexpensive. Directory software has to be purchased or created, and often there are costs associated with modifications and upgrades.

Why would you believe that a web directory should be free? Yes, some of them are, but very few of the good ones are completely free, although free submission options may be included.

Although there are some very good free directories, most of the free directories that you are likely to come across are operated by people who don’t have the resources to hire directory staff, and hope to build up their directory through free submissions. The problem there is that free submissions attract spam and, without the necessary staff, these directories will most often fail to regulate the quality of the sites that are being added to their directory.

8. A directory submission should never cost more than ten dollars.

There are some good directories that charge only five or ten dollars for a basic submission, but you will often find that their featured option is a better deal.

When a directory is new, a directory owner might keep submission fees low, knowing that webmasters are unlikely to pay a large submission fee for a directory that hasn’t yet developed authority or traffic.

Many low-priced web directories are a good deal, if they are well organized and of good quality because, assuming they continue to be well maintained, they will eventually have authority, and be able to raise their fees accordingly. Your site, however, will already be there, and you can enjoy the boost.

However, the reason they are not charging a larger fee often relates to the fact that their directory is not yet able to offer as much of a benefit for your site as the more expensive directories can.

You will achieve maximum benefit for your site’s position in the search engine results if you have a mixture of links, which should include some of the first-tier directories such as BOTW or Business.com, as well as second-tier reputable directories like Aviva Directory, Directory Journal, and Jasmine Directory. To that mixture, you can safely add newer directories that may only charge ten dollars or less, as long as they are of good quality.

9. Using the same site description for each directory you submit to.

When a site is submitted to multiple web directories, most webmasters will use site descriptions that are identical, or nearly identical, and this will usually be the same as the one used in the meta description. Don’t do this.

We all know that Google does not like duplicate content, so why would you want your site to be listed on a page that contains textual content that is the same as that on a hundred other web directories?

When Google’s spider finds a bunch of links to your site, all with the same surrounding text, that might send up a red flag. It’s not likely to result in a penalty from the search engine, but it’s quite likely that your site won’t receive the maximum boost.

The better web directories will review submitted descriptions, editing them for errors or inaccuracies, but they probably won’t run them through Copyscape.

I know that it’s difficult to find several ways to describe the same site, but you should do your best to do so. At the very least, you should come up with several versions of your site description and alternate them.

Most directories will require that the submitted title be the same as the actual title of your site, and use that as your anchor text, but some will allow you to choose your anchor text. When you are allowed to do that, take advantage of it because it’s good to have varying anchor text.

10. Writing insufficient descriptions.

Unfortunately, some directory editors will edit keywords out of beautifully crafted site descriptions but, more and more, directory operators are coming to recognize the value of a well written site description as textual content to be spidered by the search engines.

When you are restricted to 150-200 characters in a site description, there isn’t much that you can do but, far too often, sites are submitted with the same 150-200 characters to directories that allow 500, 1,000, or even 3,000 characters in a site description. Find out what you are allowed, and take advantage of it. Don’t pack it with keywords or promotional text, but don’t submit a site description that is far less than what you are allowed. Generally, when a directory owner decides to allow up to a thousand characters in a description, it is because he or she wants longer descriptions.

When I am reviewing submitted sites, I often add text to the submitted descriptions, but don’t depend on that. I don’t work everywhere.

Don’t forget that human beings visit web directories, so it is in your best interests to write a description that motivates users to want to know more about your site, so that they will be more likely to click on the link.

In a forum discussion, someone pointed out that descriptive text on a web directory page will help the directory place better in the search engines. That’s true, but it is to your benefit to be listed on a page that ranks well in the search engines.

There you go. I have listed ten mistakes webmasters make regarding web directories. There are others, and I would be interested in reading your comments.

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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.

'Ten Mistakes Webmasters Make About Web Directories' have 5 comments

  1. January 3, 2015 @ 5:33 pm Jenna

    #6 is one of the ways that I tell my clients which provider NOT to use. Those that use that type of promise are nothing but charlatans. They don’t know real SEO and certainly do not truly understand how the web or the search engines work these days.


    • January 3, 2015 @ 6:20 pm WDD-Admin

      I know there are people who will do a good job of submitting a client’s site to useful directories, but the chances of finding someone who offers to do that are low, and you certainly won’t find it from someone who promises to submit a site to hundreds or thousands of directories.


      • January 5, 2015 @ 11:01 pm Jenna

        Exactly! I tell my clients to make up a list of the directories that they want to be added to and then hire someone to do it for them. Submitting to directories can take a lot of time, but there’s no reason to do it all yourself.


  2. January 16, 2015 @ 8:42 am Neil

    Part of #7 is pretty much what puts me off considering free web directories as a viable traffic source, but it has opened my eyes to paid web directories. After seeing countless people over the years offering what you have outlined in #6, submissions to thousands of directories, “manual” submission services and the like, I guess it has progressively built a negative image in my mind of free web directories being nothing more than cesspools of spam. And I also wondered about the sustainability of these free web directories. I’d imagine dealing with a constant influx of spam submissions would eventually drive directory owners nuts. No doubt, there’s a lot of work involved but paid submission/placement seems like an effective quality control measure.


    • January 16, 2015 @ 6:39 pm WDD-Admin

      There are some good free directories (DMOZ comes to mind), and there are also some good paid directories that offer free options, usually intended to entice submitters to go for the paid option instead. Others embark upon a plan of accepting free submissions until their directory can get established, but this rarely works, for the reasons that you outline: free submissions encourage spam, and spam discourages directory owners who aren’t making any money from their directory. My suggestion, if someone really wants to accept submissions for free, is to charge at least a dollar, since spammers will rarely invest a dollar to spam you, particularly considering that the majority of the spam submissions aren’t made by human beings.


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