The Wheat from the Chaff

Some of the ways in which you can find a good web directory are discussed here, including links to some resources that may be helpful.

Robert, at Jasmine Directory, posted something the other day on his blog, which turned into a discussion in our forum, and which got me thinking; so I thought that, as long as I was going to waste my time thinking, I may as well make a blog post out of it and turn it into something constructive.

Historically, one of the best things about web directories were that, as a new website owner, they gave me a venue in which I could promote my site without having to buy books on search engine optimization or hiring an SEO company that would, as likely as not, rip me off.

There were some exceptions, but submission costs were generally reasonable, and I could figure out how to submit my own site to web directories. There have always been great directories, crappy directories, and everything in between, and it wasn't always possible to tell one from the other by the price they charged. Even today, some of the worst directories charge high prices, and some of the better directories are free.

Some of the crappy directories may have started out with good intentions, I suppose. By that, I mean that I can't believe that they necessarily opened for business with the idea of a crappy directory as their niche.

While I have submitted client's sites to the Yahoo! Directory, that kind of money has always been out of my league, as far as my own sites were concerned. But there was the Open Directory Project, which didn't cost anything, and several other reputable directories whose submission rates were in the $25 to $40 range, which is within the limits of my financial neighborhood. If I really wanted to have a site found online, I might occasionally splurge on one of the directories that charged in the neighborhood of a hundred or a hundred and fifty dollars, or so.

Once in a while, I'd get burned, spending $25 to submit my site to a directory that was no longer online a month later but, for the most part, it was easy enough to determine which directories were worthwhile, and which were not. Of course, it helped that I was an early editor with the Open Directory Project, since this helped me to learn my way around web directories.

Even for outsiders, though, I think that web directory submissions were once a fairly safe and effective means of promoting a web site.

Web directories are still an effective means of promoting a web site, but I am afraid that things may be a little more complicated today. Inexpensive directory scripts and free templates have enabled people to put web directories up without devoting much in the way of time, effort, or money into the project. One result of this is that there are far more crappy web directories now than there are good ones. Another is that crappy web directories don't necessarily look crappy at first glance, while some of the good ones, quite frankly, do.

SEO companies, particularly the ones that are as likely to rip you off as not, have heralded the end of the web directory industry; which, of course, would leave you dependent upon them to market your new web site. It's interesting how that works. While their pronouncements were based on mostly nonsense, they were repeated and tweeted over and over again, until many people have accepted them as fact.

There was no truth to it, though. While they may be outnumbered by the crappy ones, there are still some very good web directories, ones whose listings are valuable, not only for the native traffic that they will provide, but for the benefits these listings will bring to your site in search engine optimization. Web directories should be the first place that a webmaster looks to once he has provided his site with content.

The question is, as a novice, how do you find these good web directories?

Google PageRank

Do you look for those directories that Google has given high PageRank? Well, first of all, unless you have installed the browser plugin that will tell you what the PageRank is for a site, you won't know which directories these are, and secondly, I wouldn't waste time installing the PageRank plugin because Google has deprecated its PageRank tool and, as far as I can determine, other than to penalize a site from time to time, there haven't been any updates to Google's PageRank since early this year. Another cause for concern is that some of the worst web directories have attained high PageRank by buying hacked positions on reputable web sites.

Alexa Traffic Rank

Alexa Traffic Rank measures the number of people who are visiting a site, assigning each site with a number that is supposed to reflect its position as far as popularity goes. While there is some value in this tool, it only monitors people who have installed the Alexa plugin on their browser. Since the Alexa browser toolbar doesn't give the average Internet user a good reason to install it, and because it is flagged as spyware by many monitoring systems, pretty much the only people who have the Alexa browser installed are those who have an interest in manipulating the Alexa Traffic Rank statistics. There are even places online where you can pay ten dollars a month to have an automated system click into your site, over and over again, theoretically lowering your Alexa Traffic Rank number, since the lower the number the better, on Alexa. Still, since not too many people do this, a site's Alexa Traffic Rank number has some value, albeit marginal.

Moz Domain Authority

Moz offers an online tool that, available through its Open Site Explorer, that will give a Domain Authority and Page Authority number for web sites, providing a means of comparison. Additional metrics are available through Moz, but at a pretty hefty price. While this is the best of the three that I will discuss here, it is heavily weighted toward the age of a web site, so that web sites that have been online for a long time are almost certain to score higher than those that are newer. This is not a bad thing necessarily, when used to compare one web directory with another, because a directory that has been online for more than a decade is likely to still be online a year from now, whereas many new startups falter, and if you are paying for a lifetime listing, it is to your advantage to choose a directory that is likely to have a longer lifespan. Since I am sure that someone will be along to correct me otherwise, I should mention that Moz uses the number of back links that a directory has, more so than the actual number of years that a directory has been online, but ten years ago it was very easy to get back links, whereas today Google has scared a lot of people away from linking to other good resources online. The result is that older sites have more back links that newer sites, and this has little or nothing to do with quality.

Search Engines

While I am hesitant to place doubts in the minds of anyone who may have faith in the Google gods, the truth is that search engines often render pretty lousy results. If you search on "best web directories" or something of that sort, some of the results that will be returned in the first couple of pages will be crap.

When I search on "best web directories" on Bing, only one of the results on the first page are to anything that I have heard of before, and I've been around web directories since they were invented. Google does a bit better, as it includes a few of the lists that I'll be talking about in a moment, including one that was put together by Robert, who I mentioned in my opening statements. However, Google's results also include a lot of crap.

Search engine results vary from time to time, but they also tend to give priority to sites and pages that have been around for a long time, and if you're looking for a great web directory in 2013, you could do better than to rely on a list that was compiled in 2007.

Lists

The Internet includes several lists of top web directories. Like the web directories themselves, not all of these lists are reliable or current.

Some lists are put together by people who have a network of, let's say, six crappy directories, all of which find themselves onto their list of the top ten directories. Others are posted by paid bloggers with financial agendas. Still others may have been useful when they were first published online a decade ago, but are of little use today.

I think it's fair to say that no list is going to be one hundred percent reliable because a degree of subjectivity goes into compiling a list of the best directories on the Internet. Everyone, including myself, has biases or things that they are looking for in a web directory that may not be shared by others in the industry, or outside of it, for that matter.

I'd like to call out some of the ones that I am familiar with, and which I believe to have some validity, which doesn't mean that I agree with them entirely, or they with me.

Robert Gombos, creator of Jasmine Directory, has posted a few articles on the subject, and has a couple of lists of his own. These include "Best Web Directories that Google Trust," in which he lists fourteen directories, all of which are, in my opinion, reputable web directories. This article also includes some tips for submitting a site to a directory. He also includes a "Comparison Between the Strongest Web Directories," which is very interesting, as it is sortable by a variety of metrics. He also flags directories who are applying the nofollow tag to their listings, which may be a concern to potential site submitters. Lastly, he includes a list of the "Top 10 Web Directories for Submitting Websites," which was last updated on July 27, 2012.

Info.VileSilencer.com published "The Ultimate List of Strongest Directories for 2013," on June 7, 2013, updated on October 3. While I would not include some of the directories that he names here, I would agree that most of them are reputable web directories. He includes a lengthy explanation as to the metrics and criteria that he applied toward assembling his exhaustive list of fifty directories. His metrics are heavily weighted in favor of age; in fact, directories younger than seven years are not even considered for inclusion, so you might want to keep that in mind, since there are some fine directories that have come around since 2006. His list is also sortable, by the way.

Jeffrey Behrendt, of Aviva Directory, has maintained a regularly updated list of directories, entitled "What are the Strongest Directories?" since 2006. The order in which recommended directories are listed is strictly by Moz Domain Authority. At the higher levels, I believe that he has included most, if not all, of the reputable directories. At the lower levels, a degree of subjectivity went into selecting which directories to include. His list also includes submission pricing information.

WebDirectoryList.com has a list of the top fifteen directories, entitled "Strongest Web Directories Post Panda/Penguin," which ranks directories according to a number of factors that are defined below the list, and which includes Google PageRank, Alexa Traffic Rank, content quality, design and user experience, directory back links, add-ons and affiliate programs, pricing structure, and Moz Domain Authority. Although I wouldn't include all of these directories in my own list of the best fifteen directories, eight of them have appeared in my Top Ten at one time or another.

Dana Tan SEO published a blog post on March 6, 2012, which was updated on February 15, 2013, and entitled "High PageRank Web Directory Listings," in which names her choice for the top 100 directories for site submission, sorted by Google PageRank. PageRank has its problems, as I've mentioned earlier, and there are a lot of directories in this list that I've never heard of and cannot vouch for, but I'll include it here for consideration, and because you might find something worthwhile here. Of the lists that I have mentioned, this is the least reliable, in my opinion. For one thing, it's based on Google PageRank, which is an old, now deprecated, metric. For another, several good directories with higher PageRank are missing from this list. Although she is using a metric for the order in which she places her recommended sites, the decision as to which directories were to be considered is a matter of subjectivity, although I suppose this is true of every list.

One thing that concerns me about her list, not that she was necessarily aware of it, is that the directory she places in the number two spot (direktory.org), with a PageRank of eight (seven now), was one that I had never heard of before. I thought it odd that a directory I'd never heard of would have attained so high a PageRank, so I looked further. It first appears in the Internet Archive on July 21, 2012, so it's just over a year old. Please understand that there is no way that a directory can attain so high a PageRank in just over a year, and come by it honestly, so I continued looking and, sure enough, it appears on a list of sites that had attained high PageRank by buying back links hacked onto reputable sites. High PageRank in a new site should send up a flag, but that's the problem with rating a directory based only on PageRank. When a directory comes by its PageRank unethically, it can lose it more quickly than it has been attained. Interestingly, it is beginning to look like everyone's number one choice - the Yahoo! Directory - may have been penalized by Google, as only its main page has PageRank. If that is the case, I would have to question Google's own ethics for going after a directory like the Yahoo! Directory, which happens also be a competitor of Google, while leaving direktory.org with its PageRank, but that's another matter.

Lastly, there are my own directory reviews and "Top Ten" lists. While my evaluations are focused on the user experience, reviewing directories from the perspective of a potential directory user, it is my belief that a directory that is built and maintained with the needs of the directory user in mind is one that will also do well as far as search engine optimization is concerned. The fact that many of the directories that have been in my top ten lists also appeared in the lists that I've named above bears that out, I think.

Directory Industry Standards

One thing that Robert, and others, have been discussing, in his blog posts and within various directory forums, is the need for industry standards, to provide site submitters and others with a set of basic guidelines that could be used to differentiate a good directory from a bad one, and which could serve to guide new directory operators in building reputable web directories. If this effort should ever grow legs, it is one that I would be wholly in support of.

Until this can become a reality, all that I can do is to assure you that good web directories are good SEO, and to encourage you to promote your sites through web directories, but to be smart, and spend a little bit of time researching the directory that you're thinking of submitting to.

In a future blog post, probably tomorrow or the next day, I will discuss some of the things that you can look for in making that determination. You'll find that you can learn to determine which directories might be best for you, and to recognize the ones to stay away from.
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