Most people are familiar with the concept of search engines these days. In fact, most Internet users turn to search engines on an almost daily basis to help locate information on a specific topic. Internet directories on the other hand are often overlooked, misunderstood and underappreciated by searchers looking for just the right site and by site owners looking to improve their traffic.

Often mistaken for search engines, directories are actually collections of human reviewed web sites that have been arranged into topical categories. Popular directories like Yahoo!, Best of the Web and Skaffe can serve as excellent starting points for navigating the Internet. They can also serve as a valuable resource for small business owners looking for ways to drive more traffic to their web sites.

How Do Directories Benefit Humans?

Humans visit directories for a number of reasons. Directories tend to display high quality sites that have been pre-screened by a human editor. Editors check to make sure that a site is active, that a site contains unique content, that it is not under construction, and that visitors can actually find their way around it. Sites that crash browsers, contain no content, or are simply duplicates of other sites are rarely listed in directories, therefore, searchers can click on a listing and be assured that the Web site they visit will likely be of reasonable quality.

Directories are also useful for the structure they give to the Internet. While local search has come a long way in the last few years, searchers that are looking for a business or organization in their region still sometimes have a difficult time locating a site via a search engine. A directory on the other hand nearly always contains regional categories that can be easily browsed. A searcher looking for a real estate agent in their area of the country can locate multiple, relevant listings without having to sort through page after page of search engine results.

Users that are searching for a variety of sites on the same topic will also find directories helpful. In additional to regional categories, directories are organized topically. Using your favorite search engine to look for Web sites about classic TV shows may turn up thousands, or even tens of thousands of listings that you'll need to carefully sort through, visit and reject as you look for the site that has exactly what you need. Browsing a directory on the other hand, will provide you with a list of pre-screened, human selected Web sites that cover the exact topic you are looking for. Better yet, the descriptions assigned to the listings have been screened for accuracy and were written by editors, not marketers.

How Do Directories Impact Search Marketing?

Much the way humans do, search engines also view directories as valuable starting points, sending their spiders to the directories to get started on their journey through the Internet. By starting at a directory, a search engine is able to find high quality, hand selected sites to add to their database. The search engines then "follow" the links on those sites to find a second set of sites, and so on and so forth as they journey their way through the Internet.

Getting listed in a directory like Yahoo! or Best of the Web can be a great way to get your site "in front of" a search engine. In fact, when search marketers talk about the importance of building good incoming links to your site in order to help you get found by the search engines, many of them will tell you that the best places to start when building links are the popular directories. Submission usually takes only a few minutes and most directories will list you either for free or for a small fee.

Yes, you can get indexed and rank quite well without any directory listings, but directories listings can only help you when it comes to search engine marketing. That makes them well worth the time and effort it takes to make a few submissions.

Getting Your Site Listed in a Directory

So how do all of those Web sites find their way into directories? It usually happens in one of two ways. The most common way that editors find sites to review is by looking through a queue of submissions from Web site owners. Occasionally, editors that have reviewed all of the sites in their particular subject area may use a search engine to look for new Web sites that would be appropriate to list in their category and may include the sites that they find on their own.

Editors are typically responsible for a certain topical or regional category in a directory and review the sites that have been submitted to that area of the directory one at a time. An editor will visit a site, browse around the site to get an idea of the content, check to make sure the site is complete, and check to see that links or images are not missing or broken. An editor will also check to make sure the content of the site is unique. Additionally, editors will check to make certain that the category the site has been submitted to is the most appropriate category for it to be listed in. If it is not, the editor will send the Web site to a more appropriate category for review by the editors there.

Editors usually follow a set of guidelines that have been established by the directory they are editing. For instance, some directory guidelines allow for a site to be listed in every single category that it is relevant to, while other directories allow only one listing per site. Most directories have guidelines that forbid promotional descriptions or sales pitches and encourage editors to create neutral annotations that describe the content of the site rather than the product or services that the site may offer.

Directory editors traditionally list only the main page, or index page of a Web site. Occasionally, internal pages, or deep links are listed when the content they contain is of high quality and merits inclusion in an additional category, but this practice is the exception, rather than the rule. This helps keep the size of directory databases manageable.

By now you may be wondering just who these editors are and how they get the job of spending their entire day looking at Web sites. Well, that depends on the type of directory. Commercial directories like Yahoo! charge a Web site owners a fee to have their site reviewed and considered for inclusion in their directory. Yahoo! employs people that they call "surfers" to visit and review these Web sites as a full time job. There are also directories that are volunteer edited like DMOZ and Skaffe. These directories allow anyone to apply for a position as a volunteer editor through an application process. Applicants that are approved usually start out editing a small category in the directory and work their way up to larger categories as they demonstrate solid editing abilities.

When submitting your web site to a directory, it's important to take the time to find the submission guidelines for that directory and to read them carefully before you make your submission. If the guidelines say that you should only submit your site to one category, don't try submitting it to half a dozen. If the guidelines state that your site description can only contain 30 characters, then write a description that is 30 characters or less. The more closely you follow the directory's submission guidelines, the more likely you are to get your site listed.

Some Popular Directories

If you're looking to give directory searching a try, or are looking to submit your web site to some directories, you can start by checking out the list below.

Yahoo -

The Open Directory Project -

Best of the Web -

Skaffe -

WoW Website Directory - -

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April 24, 2006

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > SEM 101: What is a Directory?