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Web Directories Can Be Bad For SEO

Web directories are not all made equal. While Google has sometimes tended to bad-mouth directories, the truth is that a quality web directory can be an excellent resource for visitors looking for information and solutions to their personal or business problems. For businesses, a good business listing can be a trusted friend, providing targeted traffic from qualified, motivated buyers.

Junk Directories

It doesn’t cost much initially to buy or obtain a web directory script, pick up a shared hosting account for a few dollars, and launch a web directory. It is possible to outsource to low-cost talent in order to create a list of businesses in a certain part of the world or for a specific industry. Then someone can be paid to perform data entry work to enter the information into a database and a fully populated new web directory site is born. The sad fact is that most people don’t even go that far. Rather, they will scrape DMOZ content or simply put up a crapload of empty categories and subcategories, and open for business, listing nothing other than the sites that are submitted to them, much of which falls into the category of spam. In this sense, it is too easy to start a web directory, and this can lead to problems with quality control.

Junk Directory Networks

Once a junk directory operator has one directory online, some of them will take a big step forward, turning one junk directory into an entire network of junk directories, all on a shared server, and sometimes identical except for the directory name or logo. In any event, they will hold one thing in common — a lack of quality control.

Not every directory network is junk,  but it takes a great deal of time, effort, and resources to properly maintain one directory.Bad Directories = Bad SEO

Quality Control

Quality is really where the rubber meets the road when it comes to search engine optimization.

Some bad web directories, which I will refer to as low-quality directories, will simply list every site that is submitted to them with little regard for organization or quality. Although there may be categories and subcategories in place, no one is paying any attention to whether sites are placed in appropriate categories. Often, sites are approved as they are submitted, upon payment of the fee or placement of an affiliate link. No one visits the site to determine whether it is likely to offer anything of substance to a directory user, and no one evaluates whether or not the submitted title and description are truly representative of the site. Even when submissions are not automated, far too often the only thing the directory administrators are concerned about is whether payment has been made. Even when there are sites listed in a junk directory, the focus is not on good selection, quality picks and real reviews of each submitted site.

Another type of junk directory is the no-content directory, in which the empty categories outnumber the listed sites. These folks have probably put up an out-of-the-box directory script that came complete with a suggested taxonomy, probably borrowed from DMOZ. Other than placing their own name or logo on it, little else has been done. Rather, the directory operator hopes to simply sit back and wait for sites to be submitted. The no-content directory may or may not offer free submissions. If they offer free submissions, they may eventually evolve into a low-quality directory, filled with the sort of spam and other garbage that is generally submitted to such directories.

Eventually, Google and the other search engines will figure this out, although they are surprisingly slow in doing so. Lacking information that cannot be easily found elsewhere, Google will see this type of web directory as a doorway page or a middleman site that serves no useful purpose to visitors, and this can be bad for SEO. Links from these types of web directories to a business site will not be looked upon favorably and could even jeopardize the ranking of the business site in the process. For this reason, businesses and organizations need to be mindful of which web directories are directly linking to them, whether it be a solicited or unsolicited inbound link. This is why it is always safer to submit your own site to a web directory than to outsource that task to someone else. A web directory can be your friend, but you should never let someone else choose your friends for you.

Lack of Differentiation

When a web directory looks the same as many other web directories, and seems to be little more than a clone of DMOZ or another directory on its network, then there is nothing original there, and no reason to expect that it would be able to be of any assistance to you in your search engine optimization efforts. When a directory has nothing unique to offer, it is unlikely that you will be receiving visits from its users. The type of directory that is likely to provide any SEO benefits will be one that enjoys human visitors, so if there is no reason for people to visit a particular directory, there’s no reason to expect the search engines to index it regularly.

One thing that junk directories will not do is to add useful content or other resources. For that reason, when you see well-written category descriptions, site descriptions, or other textual content in a web directory, that is most assuredly not a junk directory. Several reputable directories are beginning to add such content in order to differentiate their product from the large number of junk directories that populate the Internet and plague the web directory industry, and to provide textual content to be indexed by the search engines.

Bad directories are bad for SEO. Having your link in a junk directory will do you no good whatsoever, and could potentially be harmful to your link-building campaign. If your site is already listed in a bunch of junk directories, the good news is that it is unlikely that it will cause you any harm, but it is even less likely that any good will come from it. If you have reason to believe that these links are causing you a problem, you may even want to contact these types of low quality web directories to request that your links be taken down. Be prepared to pay a fee because some of these directories will charge you a fee to remove your link from their index. Alternatively, Google’s disavow tool can remove the affect of the low quality link from the ranking of the business within the search engine.


Jim Veradyne is the author of several websites portraying small North Dakota cities and townships.

'Web Directories Can Be Bad For SEO' have 3 comments

  1. December 27, 2014 @ 2:53 am Web Directory Digest / Web Directories Can Be Good For SEO - Web Directory Digest

    […] See also, Web Directories Can Be Bad For SEO […]


  2. January 17, 2015 @ 8:23 am Neil

    Your thoughts on junk directories brought back some amusing memories I had of DigitalPoint’s “Directories” forum:

    I can’t count how many times I’d see people posting threads in an effort to get people to submit links to their directory which often consisted of empty categories/sub-categories and essentially listing nothing other than the websites that are submitted to them, as you mentioned. But I guess we all have to start somewhere haha.


    • January 17, 2015 @ 9:19 pm WDD-Admin

      If I am not already aware of a directory that I find on DP, it is rare to find one that isn’t junk. It cracks me up when someone will refer to their directory as being “powerful” or as “a leading resource,” when they have only three sites listed, and no one has ever heard of them before. Okay, I get it. You’ve got to market yourself but it’s nice to have a product to market first.


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