There's been a lot of changes in search engine pricing and policies. It's almost like starting over from scratch in planning your campaigns. One of the best ways to start your search engine marketing (SEM) campaign is to get listed in the major directories first. Because a directory listing will make your site visible to the spider engines that are crawling for free listings.

Directories are similar to search engines, but their listings are accepted or rejected by human editors, and their content is organized by categories. The major Web directories are Yahoo!, ODP (Open Directory Project), and LookSmart.

I recommend starting with ODP first, which is free, and it helps you get seeded in crawler engines such as AOL Search, Google, HotBot, Lycos, and Netscape. If you've had delays with your ODP listings, try the new ODP Public Forum for communication with editors.

A Yahoo! business listing is essential for any serious business. And while some people complained when Yahoo! changed its $299 pricing from a one-time fee to a yearly fee, it now appears to be a bargain.

A LookSmart listing is an option to be considered based on ROI. LookSmart recently changed its pricing model to pay-per-click (PPC). So it depends on a number of business factors whether or not submission is warranted. Like all PPC programs, you must determine whether your conversion ratio warrants the cost. LookSmart used to be the best option for getting listed in MSN, but now Inktomi is another viable option.

Doing It the Old-Fashioned Way

Your submission will be reviewed by a human editor. The most important criteria for acceptance are the quality and uniqueness of your site, your category selection, and the copywriting on your title and description. Selection of the most appropriate category is critical. Ranking depends on algorithm factors, which vary, but always include relevancy and link popularity.

Before you start, check to see if you're already listed. If not, submit your homepage URL through the form on the directory's "add URL" page. All information is entered directly into the online form. However, it's essential to be prepared with your strategic key phrases researched and selected, and your title and description written to perfection.

Schmooze the Editors

Since a human editor will determine acceptance, think of the submission process as a relationship rather than an auto submission. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the submission guidelines before you input data. Follow the instructions to the letter. Be polite and personal when communicating because it can affect your listing copy and acceptance into the database.

Directory editors can change your copy and keywords as they see fit, so be objective and parsimonious when writing your description. Ensure that it accurately reflects the content on your site. Avoid hype, but use smart, factual marketing copy.

Selecting a Category

Selecting the right category requires both research and insight. Do a search on the directory for your strategic keyword phrases to see what categories come up. Analyze these from a customer viewpoint to identify the most appropriate category for your site.

Ask yourself if this is how others would categorize your business. Select the category that best describes your site, not the one that sounds more exciting. If you fit into a subcategory, choose that over the top-level category or you risk possible rejection. If you've got a local site, submit to the proper geographical region.

Once you've selected your category, submit from that category by clicking on the "suggest a site" or "submit URL" link. This begins the submission process.

Mastering the Art of SEM Copywriting

Title: Write your title first. Sometimes you don't have much choice if the directory specifies the title must be your company name. On Yahoo!, you want to place your strategic keyword phrase at the beginning of your title -- the sooner, the better. This is a good general rule for any title and description you write.

Description: This copy is very important because it is displayed along with your URL in search query returns. If you get a top listing, it has branding value as well. Spend some time copywriting to perfection because it's a hassle to change later, and it may cost you money.

Don't make your description too long. Don't use hype, all caps, exclamation marks, or unusual punctuation. Write in the third person, eliminating pronouns (sells wiglets, rather than we sell wiglets). Be concise and factual.

Start your description with two important keywords and limit it to 15-20 words even though more are allowed (usually 25). This lessens the likelihood of editing. Your description should be a compelling, single sentence describing your site to advantage so users will click on it. Ensure that the words in your description are also present on your Web pages to avoid copy changes by editors. Example below.

Sand and Sagebrush Women's Western Casualwear

Features women's cotton and jean clothing. Our trendy jackets, pants, skirts, blouses and boots are perfect for today's casual living.

Once you've mastered the above process, your directory submissions should be successful. Each directory has a unique procedure for accepting submissions and ranking Web sites. A couple of tips below:

  • When writing your title and description for Yahoo!, emphasize your top five keywords.

  • Yahoo!'s ranking algorithm currently includes the following criteria: your category path, company name, URL, site description, and link popularity.

In sum, the basics of selecting your most appropriate category and writing your best title and description will put you on the road to success.

Directory Resources

How to add a site to the Open Directory:

How to Suggest Your Site (at Yahoo!):

Finding an Appropriate Category (at Yahoo!):

LookListings (medium to large companies):

LookListings Small Business:
May 31, 2002

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

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Search Engine Guide > Paul Bruemmer > Smart Search Engine Campaigns Begin With Directory Listings