Web Directories

Can of Link Juice

A series of posts on web directories as they and search engines evolved.

Webmaster Web Directory One Year Later

It seems that every webmaster site has added a directory these days. A quality directory can serve as a way to get to know other webmasters, build links, and get content for your site. A little over a year ago, I added a directory of webmaster links at Clickfire. I started with several categories which I thought were important to webmasters like web design, scripts, web hosting, search engines, etc. and added more over time. I added a few links to sites I like, promoted it a bit, then sat back to see what kind of webmaster resource links visitors would submit. I’d typically sign in a few times per week to delete spam and approve the good submissions.

I just checked and saw that there are over 1100 links in the directory! That means that there are an extra 1100 search engine friendly pages linking to other pages on Clickfire (actually more including categories and comment pages). Traffic has increased and search rankings for the keywords that I target have improved with some exceptions. I’m probably giving way too much credit to the directory and ignoring the other stuff I’ve done to get traffic. There are actually so many link directories cropping up that there is speculation that Google has devalued their weight in rankings. But, I’d have to say that I’m glad I took the time to keep it going.

The neat thing about running a directory is that others actually add content to your site in the form of a link, title, and description of the features their site offers. You give them the exposure and link and you get content for your own visitors. Visitors help you do the work. You approve only the sites that you want included in your directory. There are several good directory scripts available on the Internet. Some of these scripts are free or have a functional, but scaled down free version. HotScripts.com is a great repository to find and compare such scripts. The Clickfire Webmaster Links Directory was created with a script called WSN Links. If you own or know of a great webmaster site, please send it through.

Are Web Directories Still Useful?

Before search, were directories. Intenet users instinctively know this, but a lot of us webmasters are still not so sure. Thanks to a few well coded and low priced directory scripts, there seems to be no shortage of new general web directories appearing. Most of them seem to mirror the taxonomy of DMOZ except they have only a fraction of the listings. There are even entire forums and blogs devoted to building and promoting web directories. From the user perspective, I think there is very little debate that directories resemble anything like the wave of the future.

To support my point, I’ll ask a question:

“When was the last time you opened your browser and visited a web directory to find anything?”

The exception might be niche directories, perhaps even directories with feeds or user generated content or some social media functionality.

Any objections? I rest my case.

Now, what about the usefulness of web directories for webmasters? What about the content building and organic search benefits? A quote from Nick Wilson of performancing.com stuck in my mind so much that I went back and Googled it up:

Many years ago, webmasters worked out that owning directories was a great way to give yourself links, get free content in way of submissions and great revenue by putting affiliate links dressed up as real listings on the pages. Google didn’t like this much, and nowadays, most directories are worthless in terms of link value because of this.

Google appears to have done some filtering of directories, souring the flavor of their link juice. You may have noticed some paid directories losing their PageRank altogether. A lot of these directories have PageRank on their main page, but when you drill down to a random category, the page is not cached by Google. Having your link on a page like that doesn’t excite many SEO’s. Subterranean billboard advertising probably wouldn’t be so great either.

Despite the improvements in search algorithms, I still see some value in running web directories, especially niche directories, if you can keep the content robust, unique and well edited and the listings of high quality. That’s not always easy. One of the most boring tasks a webmaster can perform is shuffling through the haystack of daily directory submissions to find the one guy’s a good needle.

Enough of me trying to answer the question. Let’s hear from the Google Webmaster Guidelines:

Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!, as well as to other industry-specific expert sites.

Yesterday’s Directory, Today’s Social Bookmarking Site

Directories vs Social Bookmarking in Google Trends

I am beginning to get an eerie feeling when I visit social bookmarking sites. The feeling is part nostalgia, part de ja vu, and part dread. It’s actually more than just a feeling. When SMO Bookmarking in Delicious, Magnolia or Mister Wong, I hear a voice that whispers: remember me… It’s sort of the same sense you get when you hear a new tune on the radio and recognize the guitar chord progression–“Hey that’s “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynard Skynard, but the band doesn’t even realize that they have subconsciously plagiarized those chords. They think they wrote the melody themselves!

Once upon a time, there only a few web directories. Moment of silence for Yahoo, DMOZ, Zeal (I miss Zeal), et. al. Then, over the years, we all know what happened. Directory scripts proliferated. Submission software blossomed. These and the other original directories that remain have all been spammed into commercialization (paid directories), dormancy or death. I shut down submissions to my own directories quite a while back. Then Google deprecated web directories in search results.

Social bookmarking sites have cool features that traditional web directories never really incorporated. There are many differences. These are two very high level differences I see:

  • Community – I like seeing what my friends are bookmarking. I like adding friends to my profile.
  • Organization – I am all but done with browser bookmarking. It’s unwieldy. Delicious will probably be around longer than my current PC hard-drive that I didn’t back up. I like tagging. I like checking out the highest rated sites.

Now, here we are in the Web 2.0 era with AJAXy social bookmarking sites showing off their frontends: clean rounded corners, gradient reflective logos, speech bubbles, rss icons like freshly waxed aerodynamic sports cars. And, unlike in the directory days, they are offering you more than a link. They offer a network of friends. They offer friends’ links to scour, bookmark and improve your Internet life. They give users a reason to come back (other than to submit another link, haha). But, look underneath the surface. Do you see what I see?

  • Submit/Add Link = Save/Post
  • Categories = Tags
  • Comments = Notes
  • Recent = Newest Links
  • Auto Submit = Import XML File

Do you get the same eerie feeling?

Good Bye Web Directory

…Hello News Content

I’ve been wanting to make this post for a while to explain my thinking on web directories and what happened to the Clickfire webmaster directory. Like many webmaster resources sites in the Web 1.0 days, a big part of Clickfire became the webmaster resources directory. It was a nice way to promote the sites and tools of fellow webmasters while expanding Clickfire with user generated content. The mission statement:

The Clickfire Webmaster Directory is our collection of over 1000 webmaster resources, submit directories, graphics sites, IT certification links, scripts and software download links, promotion resources and web design and search engine optimization resources. Our goal is to provide a high quality webmaster directory for Clickfire visitors. We actively seek professional, content-rich webmaster resource sites that offer helpful products or services to webmasters, web designers, marketers and web hosts, and especially sites that offer free and helpful resources. If you have a webmaster resource that sounds like the above, please add it to our webmaster directory. If approved, the link will appear soon. A big thanks to all fellow webmasters who have linked to Clickfire!

But, during the last several years, a lot has happened with directories in organic search, a lot that ain’t good. I won’t go into the whys, but I’ll just say what you already know; the future of the web is not directories.

During this time the Clickfire directory script I was using crashed. For long time, I 302 redirected the directory to the main page. I decided to rethink the whole directory thing. Does a ten year old Web site really need something as archaic as a web directory? Did I want it? Directory owners were starting to charge. How could I keep it free? I loathe the idea of charging our visitors for anything. Do directories even matter anymore? Why am I doing this? I ended up installing some iteration of PHP Link Directory. I never made it live. As time went on, I lost interest in the whole directory model and became more interested in other things like blogging and social media. I realized it was over.

Observations
One thing about owning a web directory is that you get to see a lot of broken dreams. There were over 1500 listings at one time. After a thorough pruning the number dropped to around 1100. So many people build sites, submit and promote them and boom… next thing you know they are 404. I wondered what had happened to make them stop running their site they once promoted, if some tragic event had taken place in their lives. Were they sick? A car accident? Dead? Were they working in a brick and mortar somewhere? Maybe they just moved on.

Another thing is that many people abuse directories through SPAM or deception. Most submissions I received completely ignored the guidelines I’d worked to develop. Autosubmitters were filling my directory full of submissions, mostly with new sites trying to get those first links. If I didn’t check my submissions for a week, I might have to spend 20 minutes going through junk to find that one submitter who followed the rules and contributed quality content.

What Now?
I’ve been thinking about the value of publishing news for quite some time. For publishers, news is like a product. News carries value for every niche. Everyone consumes news every day. On a personal level, I realized that reading news about the topics I enjoy has been an important part of my life since childhood. I still remember stories from the newspaper, television and radio that stuck with me as I grew up. I love news.

I’ve decided to develop Clickfire News as resource for anyone to submit news of interest to Internet surfers and Webmasters. So, instead of plugging in your site’s link with a title and description, now you have to come up with an interesting news story about your site or product. It will take a bit more time and thought but the end result is that you get link attribution back to your site from within a valuable news story.

If you were listed in the old Clickfire webmaster resources directory, submit a news story about your company or site. If it’s decent, we’ll gladly publish it on our news area.

Update – Fellow Atlanta SEO blogger, Brian Ussery noticed that Google has removed the following directory submission phrase from the Google Webmaster Guidelines:

“Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!, as well as to other industry-specific expert sites.”

Emory Rowland

Emory Rowland is editor and keeper of the flame at Clickfire. He's a fanatical blogger, entrepreneur and builder of Internet things from way back. Emory's love for social media and success with organic search led him to start a SEO consulting venture. Apart from the Internet, he could be considered by many as pretty worthless. More...

15 comments

  1. Andrew

    From a user perspective I still see some value in directories of local content, in fact I don’t think there is enough of it. Local content is, at least in the UK, very much under utilised at the moment so it can be useful to use the local directory instead of search. Very often the search results are stuffed full of sites with pages offering services to thousands of towns that they have no chance of visiting no matter what the job they were offered. This can make finding genuine local content more difficult; although, I will concede that Google are doing a good job of trying to correct that.

  2. Devon Young

    The last time I used a web directory was in 2002….possibly sometime in early ’03, but unlikely. I remember a month or two ago when there was some news about DMOZ having a hardware failure and some of its content lost for a while and some people were upset about it. I remember thinking “Huh? That’s still around and still a web directory? Why? And people knew it was still there?” ….web directories are just not as useful as search engines. They waste my time as a user, because I have to do the searching and that takes a lot longer than if I type a few keywords into Google and let it do the searching for me in a fraction of the time. That’s what it comes down to for me.

  3. That’s fascinating… learn something new every day. As I’m sure you know, most SEO discussion is focused on getting links … not providing them. And yet here you’ve found a way to create and add content to your site for free. And you’re giving away the tip… Nice one!

  4. Anandi Hristina

    they only wanna do your dir. Anandi Hristina.

  5. This is a great ad. I just started two directories. w4directory.com and aokdirectory.com I hope I can get lots of quality links. So far the links are mixed. I also think that a directory offers the advertser more than just a search engine. My sites offer free no follow ads and free receprical. I also offer regular ads and feature ads. The feature ads appear stand out from the other ads. I hope everyone checks out my directories.

  6. The web directory is indeed dead. I abandoned a failed directory project last year myself. The web has changed and we don’t need directories to find things any more.

    Shall we blame Google for that…? :)

  7. Emory Rowland

    @chickenstar, generally I would just reinforce what is being said here that whether Web directories or any other kind of artificially manufacturing traffic tool, the bet is it won’t attract as much search engine traffic over the long term as the rich and engaging content we could all be creating.

  8. how sad to think about it. can you give us some tips on hoe to improve the traffic of oursite? thank you.

  9. Ash

    I still have two web directories. I actually purchased them and now kind of regret it. Yes, I get several hundred submissions per day but I can’t seem to sell any featured links on these directories because nobody actually uses these directories to find anything! These directories sole purpose is for webmasters to try and improve their SERP and PR on Google. After the quick submission, users don’t come back.

    Great article.

  10. Emory Rowland

    James, I guess we should really be thanking Google for making our lives easier :)

  11. DM

    Yeah, I think focusing on Blogging is a much better conversion and traffic tool than link directories. There comes a time to end everything. Good luck and great post!

  12. Thanks for the useful article!
    I agree, no user nowadays go to a directory which is stuffed with mere links. If you consider registering in a directory to increase the traffic to your website, then you should consider registering to the directories that have a high PR, those would be DMOZ, Google Directory and Yahoo! Directory. If you consider registering in directories in order to get links to your site to boost your Page Rank, then forget it. Again only above mentioned 3 directories would be somehow useful, because most link directories are considered to be spammers.
    This leaves us the niche directories, which I consider to be pretty useful, if they contain appropriate content and are well-structured.

  13. Directories can be a great webmaster and link building source if they have alot of unique content in link listing descriptions. If you own a directory, dont be lazy but sometimes populate it yourself with links you know that are of good quality and write your own lengthy, well written descriptions to go along with your other submissions, that’s how you set your directory apart from all the other directories. If you do that, then you have a higher chance of increasing your keyword rankings in the search engines as well as your Google PageRank.

  14. “Subterranean billboard advertising probably wouldn’t be so great either.” – unless your target is the mole people Emory…ever think about that??? could be a good niche

    • Emory Rowland

      Greg, of course there are always exceptions… I think you’ve unearthed one :)

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