Web Directories Are Not Search Engines

apples - orangesMany people compare web directories to search engines, concluding that search engines are more efficient because they return far more results. However, they are very different kinds of sites.

The chief difference between search engines and web directories is the mechanism of indexing used. Search engines are always indexing websites on the internet, performing their tasks continually and automatically, using a crawler or bot to find new websites on the internet, presenting them, in response to queries, based on internal algorithm variables. On the other hand, web directories only index sites that are submitted to them, or which have been found and added to the directory by a human editor. Each site that is added to a reputable web directory will have been reviewed by a human editor who is tasked with determining whether or not to add the site to the directory and the category to which to add it, as well as assigning a title and description that are reflective of the site’s topic and features.

That is the most obvious difference between a web directory and a search engine. What other differences are there? Here are a few.

  1. Keywords — Keywords or key phrases are used to query search engines. However, while most web directories include a search box, directory users generally click through categories and subcategories to find the content in a web directory. When a search feature is used in a web directory, it will search only the sites that are included in that directory.
  2. Listings — Web directories will list websites in the appropriate category manually, and human editors will review each site before adding it to a relevant category or subcategory. So, it can be expensive and difficult for your website to get listed in the best web directories, unless it is of high quality and contains valuable content that is relevant to the category it is submitted to. On the other hand, search engines will list websites automatically via their web crawlers, presenting them in response to a search query based on its internal algorithm. Because many more sites are involved, search engines generally offer far more results for any given topic. However, because web directories are built by human beings, they tend to offer more relevant results.
  3. Price — There is no cost for a website to be listed in Google or the other search engines but, since most users of search engines will not look beyond the first page or two of search engine results, many of these listings will never be viewed by your potential customers. Subsequently, many people pay large amounts of money for search engine optimization professionals to help their site place higher in the search engine results. Meanwhile, you will need to pay a fee in order to get listed in many web directories, and this fee will usually be paid up-front, with no guarantee that your website will be accepted. Some directories also offer premium or special listings for yearly or monthly fees, as well as other options. There is no guarantee of traffic from a web directory either but, because web directories usually include only a few of the best sites for a given topic, anyone interested in that particular topic who is using the directory will likely view the listing.
  4. Availability — While your website is likely to be indexed by search engines shortly after you have added your URL to the respective search engine, and often before, it is not guaranteed that your website will be listed in the first or even the second page of the search results for your intended keywords. Even sites listed in the top ten for a given keyword can slip, as ranking tends to change from time to time, with unpredictable results. However, when you use a web directory, your website will usually be listed there as long as the directory is in existence once it has managed to pass the review process, and the listing can easily be found in the most appropriate category.
  5. Traffic — Web directories can provide a website with a more targeted traffic, since it will be listed in a specific category that has been selected for its appropriateness by a human editor. So, even though you will receive less traffic from web directories, you’ll get more targeted visitors to your website, which means that the visitors you receive will be those who are particularly interested in your website’s topic. Meanwhile, search engines will give you far more traffic than web directories, but the traffic they will bring is usually non-targeted, which means that these visitors may not be particularly interested in your website, and will be less likely to look beyond the first page than those coming to your site from a web directory.

As you can see, web directories are not search engines. Both are useful but, although they may look similar and serve a similar function, they are significantly different at their core.

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.

'Web Directories Are Not Search Engines' have 4 comments

  1. January 31, 2015 @ 3:56 am Craig Frederickson

    Whenever someone decides to actually make an argument, rather than a baseless statement, about web directories being dead, the arguments they use are either the fictitious claim that Google penalizes sites that are listed in web directories, or they make the point that search engines are so much more efficient.

    Depending on what you’re looking for, you might argue that trains are more efficient than buses. Yet, trains don’t go everywhere, and neither do buses. Perhaps this is why we have cars, motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles, and even horses. The existence of one doesn’t herald the end of the other because they are not the same thing. This is true of web directories and search engines, too.


    • February 1, 2015 @ 1:14 am WDD-Admin

      I worry about those who get their SEO education from one-liners on SEO forums.


  2. January 31, 2015 @ 3:58 am Craig Frederickson

    Search engines are like the index section in the back of a book, while web directories are like the table of contents.


  3. April 13, 2015 @ 6:15 am Apples and Oranges - Web Directory Digest

    […] See Also: Web Directories Are Not Search Engines […]


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