Now here's a debate that's probably a little bit overdue. Lyndon over at CornwallSEO.com asks if social media sites and link baiting tactics are going to spell the death of directories. The answer (in my mind) is no, but the debate is more complicated than that. In fact, I'd argue that even if your mind is already made up on the issue, there's some very valuable things to be learned from the debate.

Lyndon started it (and put together a nice little piece of link bait) on his blog last week when he wrote about the power of social bookmarking sites and asked if the link building capabilities of them made directory submission obsolete.

Directories are Dead. Not really but it seems to be in vogue to announce the demise of something or other. They’re not dead, it’s just something has come along that is more effective, more vibrant and more fun.

I like Social Media sites like Digg, Reddit, Netscape etc. It allows me to use my skill to get my entries noticed. Basically they are huge directory sites. Their category pages get crawled by Google, the archives are around to continue the traffic. I still get traffic from entries I submitted ages ago just from the keyword.

The interesting thing about Lyndon's argument is that he comes at it from a different way than most social media proponents do. There is no argument that the quality of traffic is higher or that getting your web site linked to from sites like Digg and Redditt are an actual marketing strategy. Instead, Lyndon suggests that by submitting your link to many of the second and third tier social bookmarking sites, you gain the typical directory benefits of getting your site in front of search engine spiders.

It's an interesting theory, one that I think has some merit.

On the other hand, these types of sites don't mean that directory submission is dead.

Far from it.

Why? Well, let's go back to my theory of how search engines work of off the Pinocchio effect.

You see, deep down, search engines want nothing more than to be real boys (or girls). That's right, it's that simple. As search engine engineers gain more and more ability to tailor the algorithms, their ultimate goal is to help the search engines make choices the way that people do.

Let's think about it this way...

Originally, search engines focused on mathematical formulas. What percentage of a page was a keyword or phrase? How many links does a site have? Where on the page does a keyword appear? What shows up in the Meta Tags? The problem with mathematical formulas is that they can be deciphered and they can be cheated. The proper keyword density could be reached even if every other word on the page was garbage. Links could be purchased or traded for with sites that had nothing to do with each other. In other words, you could meet all the criteria without having a very "good" site.

Search engines realized this and they've been working ever since to find better ways to make these judgement calls.

So putting that into play here, let's consider two key points.

1.) Directories include a human review. Yes, you can buy your way into many of them, but there's still a human being looking things over and hitting the switch to include the link in the directory. This human review is part of why search engines have long relied on directories as a source of finding new sites to crawl.

2.) Social bookmarking sites and social news sites may rely on human review for pushing a listing high up in the content, but there is no human review for submitting a link. That means that anyone can submit any link of any quality and it's going to get listed (and likely buried) in the massive database of content.

Now, as a human being, which of those two situations are you going to put more value on?

If it were me, I'd be sticking with the directories.

Now that said, I have to admit that I'm absolutely astonished at some of the responses to Lyndon's argument.

A few posters both in his comment section and over on the Digital Point forums are asking how SEOs are going to build links to their sites and get them to rank if they don't use directories.

In fact, one poster at DPF asks:

IF submissions dry up where and how are seos going to get any links to their sites?

Umm...the same way that most real search marketers I know build links...through quality link building campaigns.

Quite honestly, if the only link plan an SEO has is to submit to all the directories, I'd run the other way.

When did we enter a world in which the only non-Digg links are assumed to be either purchased or from directories? Have these people ever heard of Eric Ward or Debra Mastaler?

So let's lay this out once and for all.

Directories have real value. You should explore your options and pick at least a handful to submit your web site to.

Social news sites have real value. You should be aware of what they are and should submit qualified content to them.

Link building...non-paid link building has amazing value and you should be building the relationships and content that help you score those links for your site.

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Is Linkbaiting Making Directories Useless?

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.