No, backlink building is not dead, and neither are web directories. While it is true that it can be dangerous to buy links, the fees that you pay when you submit your site to a web directory are submission fees, which help to pay for the operation of the directory. Although they may charge you for considering your site for inclusion, a reputable web directory does not sell you a link. Don’t submit your site to a directory that guarantees inclusion, or one that appears to accept every submission without concern for quality.
Once you eliminate low-quality or no-content directories from consideration, as you should, a web directory can bring targeted traffic to your site, and it may help your site to gain increased performance in search engine results. Although the amount of the traffic that you get from a web directory may not be large, the traffic that comes to you from a high quality web directory will likely convert well and, while a spokesperson for Google did once say that the search engine would like to discount backlinks from its algorithm, they have not done so, and the same spokesperson implied that they would not be doing so in the foreseeable future. They tried once, and the results were disastrous.
There has been a change in the way in which web directories are used for collecting backlinks, however. At one time, the quantity of backlinks that a site could accumulate was more important than the quality of its links, so it made sense to submit your site to as many web directories as you could find, particularly free ones. Although this method of building backlinks was popular and somewhat effective in the past, it resulted in the creation of large number of low quality directories that acted as little more than repositories for spam. When Google, and, to a lesser extent, the other search engines began penalizing low quality sites, and discounting links that were contained in them, this method of link building became less effective, and potentially even harmful.
Web directory links are considered to be unnatural links only when the directory itself is unnatural. Web directories that adhere to quality standards serve a purpose that transcends selling links, and they remain valuable resources, both for people looking for content online and for webmasters looking for a place to submit their links.
Using directory submissions for backlink building can still be an effective strategy. Below are ten simple rules that can be used for the effective use of web directories in backlink building.
- Can you find the directory in a search engine? — The first step in determining whether a link in a particular web directory might be helpful is to find out whether the directory itself is indexed by major search engines. If you are submitting your site in order to get a valuable backlink, a backlink from a directory that is not itself indexed by the search engines isn’t going to be of much help. There are several ways to do that, as well as tools that can be used, but one simple way is to go to Google, and enter the word “site,” followed by a colon, and then the domain of the directory you are checking. For example, to check to see whether DMOZ is indexed by Google, you would enter site:dmoz.org. Don’t enter the period after the .org domain extension, however, since I added that simply to end the sentence.
- Avoid directory networks — Some directory operators run multiple directories, often using different domains all hosted on the same IP address. While there is not necessarily anything evil in this, with some exceptions, they are usually not well maintained, but the biggest problem is that the backlinks may be considered as only one link by the search engines. My suggestion is to submit your site to separate directories, and to even avoid those that have the same look.
- Submit to relevant categories or niche directories — One of the things that has changed, in backlink building, is that relevant backlinks are more highly valued than irrelevant links. For the most effectiveness, your site should be linked from pages that contain content that is relevant to the chief topic of your site. As this pertains to web directories, the other sites listed on the page that you submit your site to should be that of your competitors. If you can find a niche directory that matches the topic of your site, that is an ideal home for your link. In larger, more general directories, you should submit your site to a category that is relevant to your topic.
- Seek link diversity — There are several types of web directories that may be relevant to the topic of your site. As mentioned above, niche directories can be an excellent choice, and there are also general directories that may have a category that is relevant to your site’s topic. If your site represents a business or organization, you should also consider regional directories that represent the location of your business or organization.
- Quality counts — Any directory that you submit your site to should be active and well organized and, while there may be a variation in quality among other sites that are listed in the directory, its listings should not be dominated by spam and low-quality sites. Spend some time looking through the directory, and decide whether your site would be in a good neighborhood or a bad one if it were accepted into this directory. The quality of any site linking to your site is also considered in the search engine algorithms.
- Submit your site manually — There are several businesses and individuals online that will offer to submit your site to web directories for a fee, and there are also tools that can do this automatically. Without doubt, you should stay away from the tools as they will do you more harm than good. There may be submission firms that will do a good job of submitting your site but there are far more of them that will simply take your money and then use a tool to automatically spam your links to thousands of low quality web directories that you would never choose for yourself. The safest course of action is to submit your own site so that you can know which directories it is being submitted to, and so that you can ensure that it is done responsibly.
- Use variations in anchor text and descriptions — When you are submitting the same site to multiple directories, you should come up with several variations in the description text that you use. In so doing, keep in mind that some directories allow as few as one hundred characters in a site description while others allow a few thousand. At any rate, search engines have never been fond of duplicate content so if your site is associated with the same description text in multiple directories, that will not be as beneficial as if each description were unique, or at least not worded identically. Anchor text is another matter, since most directories will insist on the actual title of your site as the anchor text. That’s fine, since this usually represents your brand, but where you are allowed diversity, you should take advantage of it.
- Take full advantage — Each directory will have its own rules, so that is something that you will want to look at before submitting your site. When a directory allows you to use a thousand characters or more in a description, you should take advantage of that. Search engine spiders index content, so if you are allowed to provide content for the page on which your link is going to be, it is to your advantage to do whatever you can to ensure that this page is indexed, particularly when the content is in reference to your site. Additionally, some directories will allow you to include links to some of your site’s internal pages. Although this might cost you a little more, it is to your advantage to do that, as this will also help to facilitate link diversity.
- Don’t submit your site too often — Don’t submit your site to several web directories at the same time. Since Google and other search engines will give more value to natural backlinks, its algorithm may flag the appearance of multiple backlinks in a short period of time as being unnatural, or as spam links, so it is best to pace yourself.
- Use other methods of backlink building — Building backlinks through web directory submissions should not be the beginning and the end of your marketing strategy. Use other link building methods as well. Once again, think link diversity; all of your backlinks should not come from web directories.
If you follow the above steps, you will find that web directories can play a significant part in introducing your site to a larger audience, and that a larger audience may lead to the natural links that you are looking for. The better web directories will send targeted traffic to your site, as well. Real people use real web directories, and good web directories are good SEO.