Aren't Web Directories Dead?

In this blog entry, I offer comments on the value of web directories today, and discuss whether they still serve a purpose.
Over the past year or more, I have been hearing from people who consider themselves to be experts in search engine optimization that web directories are dead. No one uses them anymore, and being listed in a web directory no longer helps your sites ranking in the search engines, and may even harm its search engine placement.

Does anyone use web directories anymore?

The quick answer to that is yes, I do. I don’t use them nearly as much as I once did, but I still find them to be valuable when I am not getting good search engine results. Nevertheless, I will have to concede that not very many use web directories to find sites that they are looking for anymore. Looking through the categories of some of the web directories that I have been involved in, I see web sites that have been listed in a category for years, yet which have received fewer than ten clicks from the directory listing, but I have seen others that have received hundreds of visits from the web directory. Still, a few hundred site visitors over a few years is not good site traffic. I think it is fair to say that better than 90% of the average web site traffic comes, not from web directories, but from search engines. The organic value of a listing in a web directory is minimal, at best. Of course, this will differ greatly from one web directory to another, but I don’t believe that any of them can be expected to send a large amount of traffic your way, at least not organically.

Will a web directory listing hurt or help your site’s placement in search engine results?

To that, I’ll reply with another anecdote. Just over a month ago, in December of 2012, I completed a new web site. Having heard that web directory listings were no longer valuable, I submitted my site to one web directory. In this case, I chose the Aviva Directory, but I believe that similar results would have occurred had I chosen another reputable web directory.

After completing this web site and uploading it to my server, I purposely did not link to it from any of my other domains. I did not enter it into my Google or Bing Webmaster tools accounts, nor did I upload a site map to any of these search engines, or anywhere else. The only place that the site was listed was in a regional subcategory of the Aviva Directory, one that itself had a Google page rank of zero.

Here’s what happened, within three days, the web site had been indexed by Google, followed a day or so later by Bing, and within two weeks, it was on page one of the search engine results, in both Google and Bing, on a search of the city and state that the site pertained to, and within a month it was number one in Bing and number two in Google, just behind the Wikipedia article for that city and state. Barely a month old, my web site still has a Google page rank of zero but Google has indexed every page of it, and it ranks very well on Google searches.

By no means am I telling you that your web site will appear on page one of the Google and Bing results on searches of your favored keywords just because you submitted it to a web directory. A lot of other things were involved. First of all, my web site pertained to a very small town, with a population of fewer than a hundred people, one that didn’t even have a municipal web site or other sites to compete with in the search listings. Secondly, my site was comprehensive, with nearly three hundred pages of history and biographies of early settlers, just the kind of food that search engine spiders like to eat.

The point to this story should be obvious, and that is that, contrary to the opinions of some of the experts, search engines do indeed index web sites that are listed in web directories, and there are other web directories that have a higher Google page rank than the Aviva Directory.

That said, there are perhaps thousands of web directories on the Internet, yet there are perhaps fewer than ten that would be of significant value to you, and maybe another dozen that might provide some benefit to you. The vast majority of web directories on the Internet exist for one purpose, and that is to take your money, giving you little or nothing in return.

My answer to the question of whether a web directory listing will hurt or help your site’s placement in search engine results is yes, to both parts of the question. A listing in a reputable web directory will help your web site’s placement in search engine results, while a listing in a disreputable web directory will likely result in harm to your site’s standing in search engine results, and there are many other web directories that are somewhere in between.
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