Before Google came along with its advanced and complex search algorithms, we had web directories, the most prominent of which was the Yahoo! Directory.

A web directory is not a search engine that displays results based on keywords, but a collection of links reviewed by human editors and approved for inclusion. The websites these link out to are categorized by the niche they belong to.

A business can submit their website for inclusion in a web directory, which are mostly general in nature but can be found to be niche-specific—such as directories for lawyers, dentists, or retail locations.

While the Yahoo! Directory has been taken down, DMOZ, a multilingual open-web directory, is going strong, and so is BOTW.

The relevance of web directories today and how they impact SEO

The main purpose of these directories is the same as that of a search engine: to help users find relevant information and to help businesses find the right audience.

Web directories have been used for SEO purposes pretty extensively, especially until a few years ago when it was a common practice for SEOs and businesses to focus on procuring a big number of links without worrying about the quality of them. Google itself encouraged this practice, before deciding it didn’t want it anymore.

Given that Google is the biggest search engine on Earth, SEO is now mostly about toeing Google’s line. And over the years, its algorithm has increasingly focused on bringing quality, reliable, and trustworthy results to users.

Each of the above attributes – quality, trustworthiness, and reliability – can be defined in a number of ways, especially given the evolving scenario which keeps getting impacted by newer factors. For example, we didn’t have to worry about “social signals” until just a few years ago. But now, these decidedly affect a business’s web ranking because good social performance reinforces people’s trust in a particular company, and that in turn helps it perform better in SERPs.

If a business has submitted its web link to a reputed directory, and if the directory itself delivers a good user experience, does well socially, and overall exhibits good website practices, the business will benefit from that listing.

Google encourages businesses to claim their local listings page

A Google listing is also a local listing. While Google itself is not a web directory, the principles it uses to rank businesses everywhere are similar. If your Google+ Local listing is up to date and contains all relevant information, as well as a considerable number of good user reviews to back it up, you would expect your business to show up prominently in Google search.

Whichever directory you submit to, focus on creating a user-friendly website and delivering services that will earn you positive social reviews.

Web directories are helpful for local SEO

Local businesses can especially benefit from a listing in relevant web directories. Building quality links to organically increase traffic and improve rankings is a slow process and often takes months of focused effort. What does a business do in the meantime?

Getting listed on Google+ Local as well as on quality local directories is the place to start. These directories exist because there still are people using them for reference. Regardless of the SEO status of your fledgling website, if the business is up and running and you want to be found, you must list on local web directories.

The goal of a website is to attract business, but a listing can do that for you, too, as well as the social media page. Maximize your chances of attracting business with the help of different avenues.

Important things to keep in mind:

  • Information should be up-to-date and consistent across directories. An inconsistency in this regard will reflect badly on the quality of the business listed. (And quality is a huge ranking factor with Google.)
  • Websites should be functional and user-friendly.
  • From Day One of starting your business, focus on collecting positive customer reviews. These are worth their weight in gold. Be tactful when faced with negative feedback.
  • Create a social presence and undertake social media marketing with a purpose. Don’t wait until you hit 10,000 followers. Let your professionalism indicate your intentions and the audience will follow.

Web directories: The good, bad, and ugly

Of course, not all web directories are good, and neither are all listings that they contain. There is a lot of spurious material on the web, despite Google’s best efforts.

How can one tell a good directory from a bad one?

Search Engine Watch produced a detailed write-up on this topic, which might be worth your time reading. But to sum it up, you should steer clear of:

  • Directories that are not edited by humans (i.e. provide automatic inclusion to any link. There is no one to review the quality of the link or verify the information presented. If anyone can submit a link and have it included, you don’t want to be there.)
  • Directories with poor domain authority
  • Directories that contain ‘unnatural’ looking links
  • Directories that boast of their page rank (they have obviously been set up to game Google)
  • Directories that allow keyword anchoring in links

What is your take on the matter? Have you considered submitting to a web directory? If not, what held you back, and if you did – how did it benefit you? Sometimes, having a digital marketing professional is the safest, fastest way to build a strong network of back links on highly reputable pages. Plus, marketing professionals have access to tools that indicate the performance and value of a link, and can provide an analysis of your competitor’s back links – even finding new opportunities to keep your website ahead of the game!

The more authoritative directories your company is listed in, the more Google recognizes the authority of your own site. So start building that network with the digital handshake – a back link.


Pete Peranzo

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