Selecting Good Web Directories

In this blog post, I have discussed the qualities of a good web directory, as well as those of a bad directory, and offered suggestions for being able to tell the difference.

In my last blog entry, I discussed some of the places that someone could go to find lists of reputable web directories, as well as the reasons why not every list could be trusted. Today, I am going to discuss ways in which you can learn to pick the good directories from the trash, and there is a lot of trash posing as web directories.

Unlike my directory reviews, which are published on this domain, in which I evaluate directories from the perspective of a potential directory user, my discussions here will assume that you are looking for a directory to submit your website to; although, with few exceptions, the things that a directory submitter should be looking for will be very similar to that of a directory user.

There are, however, some search engine optimization concerns of a site submitter that may not be shared by the directory user. While you will receive some valuable targeted traffic directly from some of the better web directories, a chief advantage of a web directory listing may be to increase your site's position in the search engines.

Metrics


I covered metrics, such as Google PageRank, Alexa Traffic Rank, and Moz Domain Authority in my last post, so I won't go very far into there here. In deterring whether a directory is worth submitting your site to, metrics may play a part, but they shouldn't pay a large part.

I would ignore Google PageRank altogether, and pay only minimal attention to Alexa Traffic Rank. Although it can be easily manipulated, an Alexa Traffic Rank below 100,000 probably indicates that the directory does receive traffic, so I wouldn't ignore that entirely.

Moz Domain Authority is more difficult to manipulate, but it isn't designed to measure the amount of traffic that a site has. Rather, is measures how well a domain is likely to rank in search engine results. However, a fairly new directory with low Domain Authority may nevertheless be a good choice, while an older directory with low Domain Authority may not be.

It takes a long time for a new directory to attain high Domain Authority, so a low number there is not an effective indicator of quality or worthiness.

Determining the age of a directory


Most web directories will have a copyright date in the footer, but you can't always depend on these dates as being accurate. Some directory administrators might outright lie, while others will use the date that the domain first went online, even when it wasn't initially a web directory.

There may be other ways to determine the general age of a directory, or any other web site for that matter, but my favorite is the Internet Archive, also known as the Wayback Machine. The Internet Archive maintains copies of web pages as they appeared on specific dates. It may take a few months for the Internet Archive to find a new site, so a directory may have been around for five or six months before it was found by the Internet Archive, but that will give you general idea of how old a directory might be.

If you click into the earliest archive date, you can see what the directory looked like when it was first archived. You may find that the domain was parked at the time that it was first archived, or that it was something other than a web directory. If so, keep clicking on successive dates until it appears as a web directory.

Submitting to older or newer directories


Well-maintained web directories that have been around for a decade or more are usually a good choice for your site submission, but some of them can be expensive, as far as the $300 per year range or higher. Others are more reasonably priced, and some established, reputable directories accept free submissions. If you can afford it, it might be worth your money to have your site listed in some of the more pricey directories, as well, so I wouldn't rule them out.

A well maintained newer directory might be an excellent choice, as a directory to submit your site to, even though it may not give you the immediate advantages of a link in a more established directory. Often, a newer, upcoming web directory will charge very little for a lifetime submission, as a way of adding necessary content, and your link will still be there in a couple of years when it becomes more valuable.

You might also lose your money, but if the fees are low that won't be so big of a deal. I paid to submit a couple of sites to a new directory only a couple of months ago. It looked like the directory administrator was doing a pretty good job of it, so I thought I'd help build his directory, and get a couple of reasonably priced back links in the process. Less than thirty days later, the directory was down and it still hasn't come back online.

I wouldn't pay very much for a listing in a new directory, however. My rule of thumb for new directory submissions is, if that amount of money blew out of my window while I was driving down the road, would I go back for it? If not, I didn't lose much.

General or niche directories?


General directories include a wide range of category topics, often including a regional section that lists sites according geographical location. A takes a lot of work, and usually a great deal of time, to create a comprehensive general directory of sites. Many new general directories are created by administrators who may originally intend to develop something useful, but find that they lack the time or the resources; consequently, these directories either close or turn to crap. The directories that I have reviewed on this domain are general directories, so you can see that some of them do make it, but it takes years rather than months.

Depending on the scope of the topic, a niche directory may be created by only one person, and still be a useful resource, as a directory and, if your site's topic fits the niche, it might be a good choice for you.

Either a general or a niche directory might be a good choice for you, as long as they are well developed and maintained.

Things to look for in a web directory


While it isn't necessary to do an exhaustive review of a web directory before submitting your site, you should be prepared to do some homework if you are going to spend your time and your money wisely.

Quality and quantity

Take a few moments to page through the categories and subcategories of the directory, paying attention to site titles, descriptions, and placement, as well as the general quality of the directory. Step back for a moment, and view it as just another website. Is it a good one?

Has the directory administrator taken the time to design an attractive directory? Are there extra pages, such as an about page, terms of service, submission guidelines, contact information, and peripheral content? If so, this may be an indication that the directory administrator cares about the quality of his or her product. As a side-product, these amenities will make the directory more search engine friendly.

Submission guidelines

Check to see that the directory has published submission guidelines and, if so, whether they are reasonably demanding. Later, as you browse the directory, you can determine whether the directory staff is enforcing these guidelines.

Site titles

In a properly maintained directory, titles should reflect the actual title of the site. There's no need to actually click into the sites, but site titles should look orderly, rather than stupid, and they shouldn't be loaded with keywords.

Site descriptions

While I personally prefer full, grammatically correct, sentences, the de facto industry standard is sentence fragments, and some very good directories do not use full sentences in site descriptions. However, site descriptions should be reasonably descriptive, which is why they are called descriptions, and should also not appear heavily key-worded or spammy. Spelling also counts.

Please bear in mind that bad descriptions can be found in every directory but, in a good directory, they will be the exception, not the rule. What you are trying to determine here is whether the directory holds site submissions to quality standards, or whether they simply accept site titles and descriptions however they are submitted.

Site placement

Are sites placed in appropriate categories? Many site submitters will submit their site to categories that are higher on the tree than would be appropriate for its content, hoping for higher PageRank. In a well maintained directory, they will not be accepted into inappropriate categories. Again, a few misplaced sites is not a big deal.

Category descriptions

Well-written, uniquely authored category descriptions are a sign of good quality in a web directory. Some reputable web directories do not use category descriptions at all, or may have category descriptions that are skimpy, so this isn't a deal breaker. I think it's a mistake to leave out something that could add valuable content to each category of a directory, however.

Empty categories

A well-maintained web directory won't have a lot of empty categories, although even the best directories may have a few. There should be at least one site in each category, and most good directories will have at least three.

Subcategorization

Unless you want your site to be placed on page seven of a subcategory, you should look for directories that create subcategories whenever the number of sites in any one category grows too large. If the most appropriate category for your site is one that includes several pages of sites, that directory might not be the best choice.

Content

As you page through the directory's categories and subcategories, try to gauge whether the directory's staff has been adding sites for content or whether the directory only lists sites that it is paid to list. Schools, churches, non-profit organizations, libraries, museums, and governmental agencies seldom submit their sites to web directories, so if you are finding these types of listings, there's a good chance that the directory employs editors who add content to the directory. Shopping centers and markets have probably been added by directory staff, as well. This is a good thing.

If the directory is a general directory, and contains a regional tree, check to see how much content is in its regional tree. Website owners and SEO firms seldom submit to regional categories so if the directory's regional tree is fairly well developed, this is a sign of quality and content control on the part of the directory staff.

While most directories, even the good ones, may include some poor quality listings, if you are seeing mostly Viagra and other pharmaceutical ads, look elsewhere. Try to determine whether the directory will list any site that is submitted, or whether they hold sites to quality standards. Are they simply selling links or offering placement in a directory?

Broken links

I don't expect you to check each of the links in a directory, but if a large percentage of the links in the directory are broken, or point to URLs that have been bought out by spammers or domainers, that is a sign that the directory has been neglected. Some directory administrators will continue to accept paid submissions even after they have quit actively maintaining their directory, and the result is what is known as a bad neighborhood.

Recent/Popular links

Many directories will highlight recently added listings on a separate page, or do the same for sites that are considered popular. Click into these pages and see what sort of listings the directory has recently added, as well as the type of listings that are thought to be popular. Are they of low quality, or have they been accepted with spammy site titles or descriptions?

Advertising


Some otherwise good directories have felt the need to include a Google Adsense advertisement in order to help pay the costs of maintaining the directory, but advertising detracts from the quality of a directory, so if you see a lot of third-party advertising on the directory pages, that's not a good sign.

Even worse, is when a directory accepts banner advertising, and particularly when they advertise other directories. When you come across this sort of thing, you might question whether the directory administrator is running a directory or whether the directory simply serves as a venue for advertising.

A Google Adsense block on a directory shouldn't be a deal breaker, but too much is too much, and if everything else is equal, the directory without advertising noise is the better choice.

Target audience


I would choose a directory that was marketed to directory users over one that is marketed to webmasters and search engine professionals. The question you should be trying to answer is whether the directory staff is building a directory or a place to sell back-links.

Since site submission fees may well be the only source of income for a web directory, I would expect that there would be some marketing to site submitters, but directories that emphasize their PageRank rather than the quality of their product are probably not reputable directories.

Submission options


Either within the submission guidelines or on the submission page itself, you will be presented with the directory's submission options. As you consider the options, try to determine whether these options serve to create a balanced directory or to sell back-links.

Interlinking directories

Most of the better directories are administered by someone who puts all of his or her efforts into building that one directory, but I have come across some good directories that are part of a network of directories. When they have the resources to maintain multiple directories and still do them well, this can work but, too often, divided attention leads to neglect.

However, when you come across an offer where you can buy a listing in one directory, along with twelve other directories, for one low price, the value of these listings is probably not high.

Pay for placement

While I wouldn't necessarily rule a directory out for this, directories that offer listings in upper-level categories as long as you are willing to pay extra are willing to sacrifice proper taxonomy for profit. If your site's content is such that an upper-level category is the most appropriate placement, then you shouldn't have to pay extra for it.

Other directories might allow you to list your site in multiple categories if you are willing to pay extra for it. Again, if your site's content is such that it should appropriately be placed in multiple categories, then you shouldn't have to pay extra. Conversely, it if isn't, then it shouldn't be placed in multiple categories, regardless of what you are willing to pay.

Pay for keywords

Some directories allow site submitters to add keywords to their title for an extra fee. When they do this, they are willing to sacrifice the quality of their directory for profit.

Guaranteed inclusion

When a directory promises that your site will be added to its listings, that is a sure indication that quality is not an issue, and that the directory serves only to sell links.

Free submissions

It is nice to get something for nothing, and some very good directories do not charge for submissions, but that doesn't mean that a free directory is necessarily the best choice. Not everyone can afford to be a philanthropist, so you might wonder where the money is coming from. While someone might be able to maintain a small niche directory as a one-person free operation, without any income from the project, it is questionable how long that person is going to keep it up, or whether he is going to be able to devote enough time to do it well.

A general web directory requires a great deal of resources, more than any one person will be able to do, even if he were able to spend all of his waking hours on the project, and not too many people will be able to do that without an income. Most of the better general web directories maintain a staff of paid editors who search the web for additional sites, handle site submissions, and maintain other aspects of the directory. I work full-time for a web directory that is not my own, and I am not the only employee, so there clearly has to be a revenue stream.

There are exceptions but, in order to conduct an effective SEO campaign through web directories, you should expect to pay submission fees. Since submission fees significantly reduce the volume of spam submissions that a directory has to deal with, several directories charge only a nominal fee, sometimes as low as a dollar or two, while other submission fees will vary, all the way up to three hundred dollars a year. Some directories will refund payments if the submission is not accepted into the directory, while others will not. In the better directories, you are not paying for a listing; rather, you are paying to have your submission reviewed for possible inclusion in the directory.

Reciprocal links

Many directories will offer to list a site for free, or at a reduced rate, if you are willing to add a reciprocal link. Often, they will demand that you add a link their directory on your index page, while the link that they are giving you will be several levels down from their index page. That's not reciprocal, and I wouldn't do it. For one thing, it's not fair to you and, for another, search engines tend to discount reciprocal links, or to give them lesser weight.

When a directory advertises free submissions, then demands a reciprocal link, I would question the ethics of the directory administrator, because it's not free - you are paying with a reciprocal link.

Search engine friendly


Although you will receive good, targeted traffic from some of the better web directories, and perhaps even more so from a niche directory, you will also want your listing to afford you some benefit in search engine optimization.

SEO-friendly pages

By default, many web directories will render dynamic pages, such as you might find on WordPress. Pages created with this type of navigational system are not efficiently crawled by search engine spiders. For this reason, most directories display static page links, but you will come across some that do not. There is some value in such links, but it is reduced.

Direct links

Do outgoing directory links point directly to the listed site address or does the directory use a system of redirected links? Visitors to the directory will still be able to find your site through a redirected link, but their SEO value is negligible to nonexistent.

Nofollow links

Hoping to ingratiate themselves with Google, but at the expense of site submitters, some directory administrators have taken to tagging outgoing directory links as "nofollow," which tells search engine spiders not to follow the link to your site.

In their documentation, some directories will tell you that they are doing this, generally wording it in such a way as to make it sound as if it is for your benefit, while others may not even let you know. In such a case, you may have to view the source on one of the directory's listing pages. I wouldn't pay one penny to submit a site of mine to a "nofollow" directory, and I'm not sure that I'd even waste my time submitting it for free.

There are certainly other things that you may want to look for, but I have run out of ideas for one night. Perhaps someone will offer additional suggestions in the comments below this blog post.

Web directories are a very good way to promote your website but, as you would with anything else that you buy, you should shop carefully. No one directory is likely to meet every criteria for a good directory, so you need to view the directory as a whole. Few of the criteria that I discussed above should be deal breakers by themselves but, when a directory is severely deficient in several areas, you might want to look elsewhere.

Many of the search engine optimization experts will tell you that a link in a bad directory will do harm to your site's position in search engine result pages, but I have seen no evidence of this. If most of your links are to bad directories, there may be some repercussions, but I would not expect that your site would be penalized for it. I believe that your greatest worry in submitting your site to a bad web directory will be that the link will not do you any good, rather than that it would do you harm. Otherwise, instead of submitting my own site to good, and often expensive, web directories, I would be investing my resources in submitting my competitor's sites to bad directories. After all, there are more bad directories than there are good ones, and they are usually cheaper.

Don't be overly afraid. If you make a mistake, and submit your site to a directory that turns out to be a bad one, it's not going to do you any harm, at least not beyond the cost of whatever you paid for the submission. You are far more likely to be ripped off by an SEO company than by a web directory.

Quite frankly, I frequently submit my sites to directories that violate several of the qualities that I have discussed above, because I believe that a link is more likely to help me than to hurt me, regardless of where it is. However, I wouldn't spend a lot of money to submit my site to a directory that I don't consider reputable, and I do so knowing that it is probably not going to do me a whole lot of good.
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