Advertising, Internet, Marketing

Where Are Web Directories Heading To?

web-directoryWeb directories, especially in the last two years, have been the subject of some pretty intense polemics, both in SEO circles and webmaster ones, but also those of web directory owners.

There are several reasons for this, but two of the most important ones are:

  1. Google has a strict policy concerning paid links, and rightfully so;
  2. Matt Cutts expressed a while ago the way in which Google sees web directories:


What are web directories, actually?

Web directories are (or at least should be) ordered catalogs through layered categories and subcategories and their purpose is to list and sort varied resources in an objective manner, without favoring in any way whatsoever any of said resources.

Industry has blossomed through time with thousands upon thousands of directories appearing, and as many disappearing as fast, while others took their place. What's certain is that a few trustworthy directories are still in existence. And when I say trustworthy, I'm referring to the information a potential visitor might find in a specific directory.

Why aren't directories what they once used to be?

The industry model of web directories has shifted from suggesting a website towards consideration to paying a sum of money for (guaranteed) listing. The difference between the two is enormous:

First of all, a user (common user, webmaster, etc.) suggests towards inclusion a certain resource. It's the decision of those who administer the directory if the suggested source is valuable enough to be included in their directories. Practically, an editor should open a website, visit a few pages, make sure it has a logic structure, etc. - in a nutshell, make sure that the resource is valuable to other visitors.

Secondly (and these, unfortunately, represent 99,99% of directories) everyone can submit almost any kind of website, with any title and description, because it will be accepted. I highly doubt that someone, if there's a human factor involved in all of this, opens one of these "Best SEO Company | Premium SEO", "Personal Injury Attorney Colorado | Colorado Lawyer" sites. Once the price was paid, the listing appears in the category chosen by the one who sent the resource. These directories are basically trash. I'm saying this because you can't really trust what is listed and it's absolutely annoying and disturbing to see in the SEO category 10-20 "Best SEO Company | Guaranteed Results" and that each description is salesly. It's like walking into a library and search for something useful, and instead getting only promotional materials for wonder-pans and fitness devices which will let you lose 8 kilos in 5 days.

At the same time, we need to understand that this also is a way to make money online. We cannot condemn directory owners or webmasters who, in their desperate attempt to promote their website and gain another backlink, will do anything in their power to achieve this. But this mechanism comes against the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

As Matt Cutts put it in the video above, Google has some problems with the web directories which fit into the second category described above.

How hard is it for a directory owner to apply editorial guidelines?

In a typical case, a webmaster sends his website to a top-level directory category (because those have PR, being linked directly to the homepage). It doesn't matter that there are subcategories which better describe the niche of his website - he'll send it at top-level categories just because they have a certain PR. And to further complicate things, he'll suggest a title based on keywords.

This is where things get even more twisted:

  1. A free-for-all directory doesn't have any source of income. It's less likely that someone will perform voluntary work just to create a better, cleaner internet environment. However, we all need money. DMOZ and its rebuff is a relevant example in this case.
  2. A directory which perceives a review fee (which should not represent, under any circumstance, the guarantee that a website will be accepted or not) should specify that it's actually a compensation for the editor's effort to manually add resources, check the added resources and decide whether it would be included in the database. Ideally, he will move the suggested website in the right category, he'll adjust the title and description, etc.

Sometimes webmasters will want refund for the review fee, due to the fact that their page appeared on a page without PR and cause it doesn't hold value for them. But Rome wasn't built in a day.

I remember a funny experience. About two years ago, I accepted a website in a directory. Two months later, the directory owner got a dispute notice from PayPal. The owner of the website didn't see his site on the first results page in a Google query based on a certain keyword and wanted his money back. Unfortunately, a lot of webmasters think in these terms.

I can somewhat understand those who have directories and don't think long-term; the fault in these cases, if we can call it that, is a collateral one. To maintain a high quality directory isn't as easy as it sounds, because it involves certain expenses and efforts. People need to understand that a review fee is just a review fee and nothing more. You basically pay for someone to analyze your website in an objective manner. It's like paying an assessor to evaluate your home before you sell it.

How is a web directory evaluated?

Even though there are tens of "best" web directory lists, the best evaluation can be done by…well, the webmaster - the one who suggests a resource for listing. I'm saying this because there's not even one list that's constantly updated - a lot of them containing directories which aren't even online anymore, sanctioned directories and spam directories. In my opinion, these would be the factors which would need to be weighed in:

  • Aim for niche directories
  • Editorial discretion quality: I consider that being listed in a directory that accepts every website does more harm than good - or, in the best case, it doesn't have any kind of effect.
  • Quality content: Some directories, aside from listings, have some articles as well; guides, tutorials, tools, detailed descriptions of categories, etc.
  • Domain age: if a directory prides itself on the fact that it's been up since 1998, be sure to check the validity of the claim through Way Back Machine; check what was on that domain a few years ago and use common sense - a 15 year old directory cannot have only 100 listings.

I don't think that PR is a trustworthy indicator in the case of directories - that's why I'd suggest that this shouldn't be considered a valid criterion. If, however, you're into this aspect, check if the PR flows to the inner pages - I'd stay away from directories whose homepages have a 5-6 PR and the inner pages, including main categories, have a N/A PR.

Here is a list of top 10 directories as of 2013:

  1. DMOZ
  2. Yahoo Directory
  3. BOTW
  4. DirJournal
  5. Aviva Directory
  6. Alive Directory
  7. Jasmine Directory
  8. Ezilon
  9. Joeant
  10. Findelio

Yet still…

In 2005, Jim Boykin said:

“And in Matt's perfect world of the web, no one would need SEO's as everyone would just create great content, and people would link naturally, and Google would sort it all out with the best results on top……yea right.”

It's still available today. Regardless of who says what - the naturalness of backlink building has been denatured. No, I'm not suggesting web directories are or should be backlinking tools - not by a long shot - but what I'm trying to point out is that in this whole war we call SEO, quality counts and not only that, but it's almost reached a point where it can be considered art.

Basically, in my opinion, any backlink we get by doing something else than writing quality content (so others will find it interesting enough to cite it) is, by some extent, not natural. Begging for a link is like begging for money.


I don't think that the web directory industry is dead. Obviously, I'm not referring to SPAM directories, but those few which still fall into the definition of a web directory - either perceiving a review fee or not. As long as a human being opens up your website, browses through it and, if he finds a worthwhile website, then lists it - I think it's worth it and it's a privilege being listed in that directory.

Quality has been, is and will always be above quantity, even if the road is sinuous and it's treated with considerable effort.

If you have any questions, please ask below!