Recently a client of mine expressed reservation about submitting to search engine directories as a way to increase link popularity. They were concerned that a directory listing would look like a paid link to Google and that their listing would be seen as spam. That got me to thinking about all the misinformation on the Internet today about link building in general and paid links. So I thought a blog post on the subject might help some people who were confused about this issue.
One common thing I see all the time in SEO forums from people who disagree with Google’s stance on paid links is, why is a directory listing not a paid link given that Google doesn’t approve of paid listings. And the answer is simple. If you buy a link from a Web site, there is no trusted editorial review of the link for relevancy. In other words, the money you accepted was for the purposes of publishing a link. With a high quality directory, the money you pay is not for a listing, it is for an editor to take the time to see if the quality of your site is high enough to be included in the directory and whether it is relevant to the specified topic. You may think I am splitting hairs here but the difference is significant. The value of the directory for Google is that there has been a human review of the site. Directories which accept all submissions, regardless of quality, will at some point carry less weight if any. The discretionary nature of a good directory, is the reason that Google counts directory links in its algorithm.
If you have any doubts that it is ok to submit your site to high quality Web directories, here is a quote from Google Webmaster Guidelines that may help to put your mind at ease:
“Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!, as well as to other industry-specific expert sites.”
So there it is straight from the horse’s mouth. But obviously there are A LOT of directories out there. How do you know which ones to choose and which ones to avoid? Here is a checklist of items I have put together to help you weed out the directories of lesser value:
1) Make sure the directory has an editorial oversight process and that not all sites are accepted.
2) Make sure that the site’s categories only contain high quality relevant sites. If there is a Viagra site in the Las Vegas section of the directory, move on.
3) Make sure that the site isn’t link spamming in the footer. If everypage of the directory has links to “online gambling”, “tax return software”, etc., you know that the purpose of this directory is to link spam.
4) Make sure that the page where your listing will be is indexed in the search engines, especially Google. Having a link doesn’t help your SEO if the engines can’t see it. Checking to see if the page has Page Rank is a decent first step, but I would also make sure it’s cached in Google and Yahoo and I would also look to see that sites already listed on the page show it as a link in Yahoo Site Explorer.
5) Make sure your listing doesn’t appear on a page with over 100 other links. I know the 100 link thing isn’t totally accurate and that it is more based on the size of the document in terms of what gets indexed and what doesn’t, but after 100 links, your not getting that much Page Rank and the amount of user traffic from the link will probably be non existant. The same is true usually if your found on page 3 or more of a given category. Try to submit to categories that have less competition. There are always exceptions based on how important or thematically relevant a directory might be, but as a general rule, stay out of crowded pages and try to stay as close to the top level as you can.
6) Submit to directories that might actually provide targeted traffic and give you an ROI from your submission fee (ie, “industry-specific expert sites”).
7) Make sure that directories ony comprose a small portion of your backlink profile. In other words, don’t overdo it. If you are relying on directory submissions alone to get you into the top 10 for competitive keywords, you are going to be disappointed. Directory submissions are the foundation and easiest way to start a link building campaign, but they are only the beginning.
8) Make sure that the directories don’t have rel=nofollow on the links or that the pages have not been blocked from search. A prime example of this is www.thomasnet.com which is a very big and famous directory of industrial manufacturers. At some point, they have added a no index, no follow meta tag to all their pages. So the links to manufacturers from this site will not count in Google’s link scoring even though they show up as links in Yahoo Site Explorer.
A good way to test that quickly is to install this firefox extenstion:
SEO Firefox Plugin
This will allow your browser to automatically highlight links that have rel=nofollow.
Here are some of my favorite all purpose directories:
I hope this helps some people find their way through the sometimes confusing subject of directory submissions. And hopefully save you a little money from purchasing unwisely 😉
Have a great week.