Is the web directory industry out of control? (many commentators think it has been for a while). Just look at all the new directories being announced by the SEO Kiddies at webmaster forums like Digitalpoint and on sites like Directory Critic. For example, every man and his dog is buying expired domains with Google PR (and without it), putting a directory script on it, then promoting it and maybe then try and sell it for a profit later (some even fake the PR as a scam). Who is all this benefiting? What do people actually want from a web directory?
Website owners want:
Those with web sites want to use directories as means of getting backlinks and for more traffic to their sites (but the traffic from web directories in negligible). They submit to free, reciprocal, paid and bidding directories. Even when it is a free directory, webmasters have some sort of expectation of a service and expect to be informed when their site gets listed. A number of well known and heavily promoted directories have been penalized by Google, and a few seem to have recovered. Almost all the internal categories of almost all directories are showing up in the Google toolbar with a PR of 0 despite having a good PR on the home page. Its not known if they are actually have a PR of 0 or are penalized or Google has just artificially lowered the external PR on the toolbar to slow down the insane growth of the directory submission industry. It is more than likely that Google are filtering many directory pages from passing much if any link juice. mozRank and mozTrust may be a better alternative to check the status of a web directory.
What website owners want is at odds with what the search engines want. A directory provides a self promotional link (submit and you get a link) whereas the search engines want to see a link gained editorially because it has worthwhile content. How do you think search engines should treat those directories that provide what webmasters want?
Web directory owners want:
At the end of the day, almost all directory owners are in it for the money. They put Adsense and other affiliate links on the site and sell featured links. Alternatively they use their directory to provide site wide links to their other money sites. How do you think the search engines should treat those directories who who are just set up to make a quick buck, and the directory does not contribute any useful content to the web due to the lack of deep and breadth of the content they provide? Many market their directory as SEO friendly (which should be a red flag for the search engines) and that they exist to help drive traffic to a website (do they seriously think we believe them when they claim that?).
Web user or surfers want:
This is who the web is for! This is the traffic we want! These are the customers (or in the case of forums, our potential members) we want! They want a useful and a comprehensive category of authoritative websites on a topic. This is compatible with what the search engines want. How many directories actually meet this? DMOZ and the Yahoo! Directory? … maybe BOTW?
Search engines want:
They want to give better search results to the user or searcher. Do all the web directories help them do this, or could they distort the search results towards those sites that want to get self-promotional or paid links. How do you think the search engines should treat those directories that are marketed as SEO friendly and only exist for the webmaster to get self promotional links to their sites by submitting?
Lets use the example of the H1N1 (swine flu) category at DMOZ. How many of the sites do you think that are listed in that category were actually submitted? None of them? It appears that the category lists the most recent and authoritative sites on the H1N1 virus. Now think for a moment what might be in the pool of submitted, yet unlisted, sites for that category – could the pool be filled with the made for Adsense (MFA) H1N1 sites; the build a niche site (BAN) eBay affiliates; or the Clickbank affiliate sites?. If you were DMOZ, would you list them? If you are a searcher looking for good information on H1N1 which set of sites do you want in your search results? The sites listed in the DMOZ category or the sites waiting in the pool of unreviewed sites (that probably will not be listed)? Which set of sites is going to give you the information that you are searching for? Now think for a moment how many of the other 1000’s of web directories would list the MFA, BAN and Clickbank sites on H1N1 and not list the sites in the DMOZ category (as they were not submitted)?
This H1N1 example is a perfect example of the sort of directory that the search engines want, so they could give the listed sites some sort of ranking boost to help them improve their search results for the user. It is also a perfect example of the sort of directory that webmasters do not want as they can’t get their site listed, as the search engines probably prefer the directories that are NOT dependent on submissions and lists the key sites in each category (they then post in webmaster forums whining about DMOZ not listing them! – see Understanding DMOZ). For example, can you imagine sites such as Nike, the Whitehouse, the World Health Organization submitting to all the free web directories? But then think about how useless a web directory is to the surfer (and search engines) if these sites are not listed under Running Shoes, Government or Health. It is debatable if this same standard applies across all DMOZ categories, but lets not get into that for now, but it serves to illustrate my point.
Is it still worth submitting to directories? I do, but do not spend a great deal of time on it and use a good and well priced directory submission service. I still do it, as my competitors are doing it and I do not want to miss out an any potential link juice. While, based on the above, I do not believe web directories give much link juice, they still may give some – this also may be more important for newer sites. I use the directory submission service as I prefer to use my time to go after the editorially given links from sites with high mozTrust. Niche directories are also probably worth it as they are more likely to be less dependent on sites that are submitted (eg forum directories).