Once upon a time directories provided value to webmasters who were either looking to get new sites indexed or increase their site's link popularity or both. Now I am seeing a trend where directories are not
as helpful in these two areas as they once were. Add to that the rising costs of submission fees and it is easy to see why the small business owner should approach directory submissions very carefully.
I have always been a fan of directories and have used directory inclusion as a strategy to help build link popularity, especially for new sites. However, in the last eight months or so, I have seen many directory pages in which we have listings on become all but useless. They don't pass any link popularity and they drive zero traffic. If inclusion in the directory is free that is one thing, but if you are paying a fee, you better make sure that you are going to get some value out of your investment.
We did this most recently when our Business.com listing came up for renewal. My initial thinking was that we really didn't need the listing to help our site's link popularity as we have plenty of links coming in from all over the place. The link resides on a page that has a Google PageRank of 4 which is decent. However, there are 202 outbound links we are sharing that "link juice" with. What did make us decide to renew the listing at a cost of $149 annually was the fact that Business.com was actually sending us traffic from that page - not a huge amount of traffic, but traffic all the same.
Reasons Why Directories Hold No Value
Here are some of the main reasons why gaining inclusion in "certain" directories will not benefit you in any way.
Finding Value in Directories
Now, I am not saying that all directories are useless. What I am saying is that one should do due diligence to make sure they are getting some kind of value by listing their site in a directory, especially if they are paying for it. Here are some things to look for when deciding on whether to list your site in a specific directory or not.
1. Are Category Pages Indexed?
To be more specific, is the category page you wish to be listed in indexed in Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask? There is a neat little tool that we use to check as to whether an interior category page is indexed in Google. It is called Link Exchange Tool and is part of a set of SEO tools in a piece of software called SEO Administrator. Besides showing whether a page is indexed in Google or not, it also reveals the following - whether the link is present, the anchor text that is used in the link, the PageRank of the page, whether they are using the nofollow attribute or not and whether the page is being excluded via the robots.txt file.
If the category page that you wish to be listed in is not indexed in Google or other search engines, then the page has no power to improve your site's link popularity. Because Google does not know about it, it cannot recognize that it is linking to you.
2. How Many Sites Are You Sharing the Link Juice Wealth With?
In most cases, an interior directory category page will contain ten listings - maybe twenty at the most. In our Business.com example above, there are 203 links which means all the "link juice wealth" is being divided among all those sites. This is likened to one person winning a million dollar lottery as opposed to several people going in on a ticket. The one keeps all the winnings whereas in the second example, they have to divide the winnings up among themselves. Our decision to keep the Business.com link active was not based on the page's ability to help our link popularity but rather because we were getting some traffic.
3. Does the Directory Add the NOFOLLOW Attribute To Its Listings?
If you are submitting to a directory to help improve your site's link popularity and they are adding the nofollow attribute to outgoing links, it is not going to help you. Unless you are expecting to get some traffic from the directory, avoid it.
There is a Firefox extension called SearchStatus that will allow you to see whether links on a page are nofollowed or not. When activated, the "highlight nofollow links" option will do just that - highlight nofollowed links with a colored outline on the pages you are viewing.
4. Will the Directory Send You Any Traffic?
In my experience, most directories that are of a general nature do not send any significant amount of traffic. This is due to the fact that very few people actually use them. A couple of exceptions might be Business.com and Yahoo! Directory.
Now, I have seen niche directories send traffic. A couple examples of niche directories are The Arizona Builders' Zone whose niche is the Arizona construction and home improvement industry and AnthemLocal whose niche is businesses and resources in the community of Anthem, Arizona. Directories such as these can send decent amounts of traffic simply due to the fact that their category pages have such good visibility in the results pages of search engines. People search for a specific company or type of business, find a category page from a niche directory, and then visit the sites that are listed within that category. So, if you can find a directory that caters to your specific niche, by all means include it in your submission strategy.
The trick is trying to pre-determine if a directory is going to send you any traffic. Many times it is difficult to gauge prior to actually getting listed and then watching your log files for activity from that directory. You might look at the Alexa and Compete rankings for the directory to get some idea of how popular they are, but even then these two ranking systems are not completely accurate. They only provide a small indication of how popular a site is or not. The cases where you would really want to evaluate the value of a directory's ability to send you traffic is with those that require annual fees such as Business.com, Yahoo Directory, Best of the Web and others.
In summary, it is best to look before you leap. Mass submitting to directories adds little value these days to a search marketing campaign. Directory submission strategies have become more like mining for gold. Yes, there are some nuggets out there but you have to look hard for them. By applying the principles mentioned above, you'll have a better chance of getting value out of the directories you submit to.
David Wallace is CEO and founder of SearchRank, an original search engine optimization and marketing firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is experienced in search engine optimization and marketing, pay per click and pay for inclusion management, directory submissions and web site design usability. David is a frequent contributor to various search engine related forums, an active editor of popular directories such as GoGuides.org, Joe Ant and Zeal and has had several articles published on industry related sites. Since 1997, David along with his company have helped hundreds of businesses both large and small increase their search engine visibility and customer acquisitions.
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