I first wrote this post in March of 2008. I was browsing some old files and happened upon this one, and realized that it is still very valid today. Keep in mind that this is a re-post, and feel free to comment should you agree or disagree on any of the finer points.
This is a tricky subject. I really don’t like to cover it because I feel that sometimes the point is lost in translation, but I would rather explain it here the best I can as opposed to my clients/potential clients catching something online I don’t agree with. So today, I’m going to discuss identifying a quality directory.
Before we get into the meat of it, let’s talk about the idea of directories, and the role they play in link building/SEO all together. It’s a small role. Even today I make use of directories to build a little awareness of a site. In some cases, I can even find quality directories that will indeed pass link juice and, more importantly, traffic. However, as a whole, directories should not be the main resource for link building. Why not?
The grand majority of the directories I look at are of very low, if any quality, they don’t pass link credit and they don’t drive traffic. Some are even so poor as to make me wonder if an inclusion would count against a site. If the only link you have going to your site is that of a poor directory, your site is likely to feel a negative impact.
But if we make use of quality directories to suplement to your link-building efforts, success will indeed be attained. Well, how do we find these good directories? I’ll tell you. We will start with some general information, and work our way to detailed points of interest.
The very first thing I look at is the site itself. Do a quick spot check on the domain name’s history. You can use domain tools to do so. We are looking for the creation date, and the expiration date. An aged directory is a good sign, and an expiration date in the distant future shows us that the owner is serious about keeping the directory and making it work. It is thought that Google considers these facts as well.
Check to see if the directory is indexed in the search engine(s). Also, try to get a look at how many pages are indexed. You can do this by using the ‘site:’ operator like so:
If we only see 1 or just a few pages, ask yourself why. If we see a ton of them, it’s a good sign.
Does it rank for it’s own name? How about a few terms the site seems to target? How about the title tag? If the directory is failing at any of these, I’m already knocking a lot of points off. Try a variety of searches in the three big guys (Google, Yahoo! and Bing).
For bonus, if the directory pops up with a couple of searches, and carries with it a few sitelinks, then you know you’re on to something good. For an example, Google search: best of the web directory and you’ll see one of the better directories listed, along with their sitelinks.
Check the sub pages of the directory, and see if the URLs are SEO-friendly. If they aren’t, why not? Yes, Google is getting pretty good at crawling these (actually, very good), but with so many directory builders out there, friendly URLs are so easy to implement. If the directory owner can’t take the few moments it takes to implement this, then they probably aren’t too serious.
I don’t care to discuss this topic either, as the PageRank bar is so misunderstood. In reality, the PR number itself is rather useless, but the tool serves a purpose. If you get to the homepage, and the PR is low, or grayed out, then it’s a sign of negativity. I don’t like to make final calls on this one, but take it into account.
A grayed out bar (not a score of 0, but completely grayed out) means the directory is either way too new, or has been penalized/banned for some reason. Again, take this with a grain of salt. When BOTW opened their blog directory, I’m sure it didn’t have the PR it does now. But you can bet that it’s a quality directory.
Internal PR Flow
In line with the last point, how does the PR flow? If the homepage has a high PR, but every other page is at 0, what gives? It probably means that they spent their time submitting their directory to a bunch of directories to get a little PR, and it’s not being linked to naturually. This is why we don’t give much weight to that little green bar of uselessness. I like to see a good PR on the homepage, and decent PR on a lot of sub/sub sub pages.
External PR Flow
I don’t like to target directories for rankings solely, but why not consider it while we are there? Check some of the sites in the directory. Check the source code. Are the links accompanied with a rel=”nofollow”? If so, we better find that this director is very relevant to our industry, and is going to pass traffic.
This one is 2-fold. First, we want to know more about the link count/quality the directory in question has. You can do this in Google with a “link:” operator, but you won’t get a lot of information that way. Instead, just use Yahoo!’s version, and get a quick idea.
Try to resist discting this too much. Remember, directories are a passing thought, not an acceptable time consumer.
Hey, if we are here, we might as well do some link tests for some of the sites in the directory in question. Pick a few sites listed in the directory, and use Yahoo! again to get a link idea. Try to find the directory. If it’s there, it’s a good sign.
Some directories will link to anyone. This includes pornographic sites, enlargement pills (you know the kind), and any number of family-unfriendly sites. We really don’t want to put our site in that same neighborhood. Besides, it’s a good sign that a listing in this directory will do little for your site anyway (unless your site is family-unfriendly, of course).
When I wrote this post originally 2 years ago, I had to edit it due to a comment by Greg Hartnett of BOTW:
Simply having a link to a “family un-friendly” site doesn’t necessarily have a negative impact on a directory. You want to make sure that the categories are split up appropriately.
The question is: How are those sites being categorized? Are they broken down in a logical and intuitive fashion, or are all types of sites lumped together? If ti’s the former, there shouldn’t be a problem. However, if it’s the latter, then you’d be better off passing. You wouldn’t want your travel site in a category listed next to an enlargement site, but having your travel site in a category with other travel sites in a directory that also contains categories for Adult listings shouldn’t pose any concern. -Greg
The better of the points to consider. General directories have something going against them. There are a ton of them. If the directory will take any type of site, it’s less likely to pass traffic to you. Always opt for niche directories whenever possible. This will increase the chance that it will actually rank, and the chance that someone will navigate to your site specifically.
And the most important of the bunch. Does the directory review the sites it lists? If not; if any site can submit and get a listing, then it’s quality is way down. Directories have been getting a beating from Google lately, and the ones that will take any link are the usual victims. Sites like BOTW cost a pretty penny just to get your site reviewed, not to mention listed. This payment is to cover the cost it takes a human to take a look at the site and determine whether or not it gets listed in the database. Having a fee and human editors ensures that only sites of higher quality will make it in.
This isn’t something you can measure, but use your instincts. Does it seem like the directory owner strives to provide a real service, or are they just throwing AdSense everywhere? Does it seem like a lot of time is put into the directory, or is it just a get-rich-quick idea someone had?
The best metric for directory quality is it’s own history. If you manage a lot of sites, knowing what a directory did for you for one site will help you determine whether or not you give the time for another submission. check your stats. Have you gotten any hits from the site (did these hits convert)? Have you noticed the directory in your Google Webmaster tools? Did you notice increased rankings once a site was included in the directory (this is pretty difficult to measure, but keep your eye out)?
And That’s It
Nope. That’s not it. All of these points rolled into one will not determine once and for all the quality of a directory. Unfortunately, very little will. Only Google really knows if the directory is helping your site or not. But with these things in mind, we can increase our chances of submitting to good directories, and save the time spent on poor ones.
A Little Bonus
So now that you’ve read this aged post I wanted to add a little bonus to make things easier. I didn’t edit the original text because I think it’s important to see how things can be done manually, but there have been a lot of great tools developed over the last couple of years that can help you determine the quality/authority of a site.
One such tool (or many of the tools) is that of SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer. They also have a suite of other tools that help us a great deal (we literally use them every day). This should make checking on back links and quality a little easier. Still not just one step, but a great way to save a little time.