Web directories have been around for some time now. In fact this is how the ever growing Yahoo! began life on the Internet, as one the biggest and best organized web directories at the time (and even now too). Web directories were the de facto method that many people used to find the information and websites they were looking for before the search engines because so big, powerful, and popular, and while the directories have been a lot less popular in comparison to fully fledged search engines in recent years, they are still the next best thing to searching and can have an important effect on increasing your search engine results pages (SERPs) ranking. While some webmasters may question the relevancy of directory listings in today’s web, suggesting that they receive very little direct traffic in the form of surfers coming from directories, you have to remember that the web is used by crawlers and indexing bots too, and they love well-organized directories!
Directories are not search engines; directories do not send out spiders that index individual pages and nothing is added to the directory autonomously. Directories rely on websites being submitted to them; then a team of actual people looks at the site to categorize it and check its quality and relevancy before adding it to the directory in the appropriate categories and sub-categories. Web pages in directories are not found using keywords (although some directory sites, like Yahoo! and DMOZ will let you search the directory and Yahoo! also proves directory listings at the top of its search results pages), but by drilling down through relevant categories until they find the category that the site resides in.
Because humans check the relevancy and informational “worth” of a site before adding it to the directory, search engines can rely on this process being carried out for them and that the sites have been described correctly. Directories don’t contain any of your site’s content; they won’t pick out information from META tags or page content or cache your pages. All they provide is a link to your site and sometimes a very brief description that you as the submitting webmaster would write. But it’s this link that can be used to improve your SERPs listing.
Link popularity is still very much a big part of SEO, especially in the early days after a site goes live, and using web directories is an excellent way to build link popularity and increase your site’s SERPs listing, provided you steer clear of link farms, or directories that prevent the indexing of their links for some reason. While everyday people will generally not use overly generalized web directories (but will still use specialist or niche directories if necessary) to find specific web sites, spiders will still regularly index them and the links they contain (unless they are blocked from doing this by the directory they happen to be indexing).
The more directories your site is listed in, the more inbound links your site will be seen as having, which in turn will improve your link popularity. Link popularity isn’t the only thing to consider for SEO. It’s not even the single most important thing to consider. But it is still a highly contributing factor and should not be overlooked.
One of the best known and biggest directories in existence is probably the Open Directory Project (ODP), sometimes (most times in fact) known as DMOZ. This directory has been around for years and now lists over four million organized and categorized web sites. DMOZ has also been around for a very long time (in web terms). This directory is maintained by a huge number of volunteer editors that add new URLs of submitted sites to the relevant categories.
Many other directories on the Internet take content from the ODP, including Google, so getting your site into it can reap huge benefits as your URL will be shared with many other directories, which means that your site will have many more inbound links and therefore greater link popularity. There have been concerns in the past about volunteer editors maliciously not adding your site to the directory if it is in direct competition with a site of their own, but this was some time ago now and generally, as long as you’re not a reseller, florist or have a site that is in some way illegal, you should now get into the directory once you’ve submitted your site.
There are other rules and guidelines of course, but the DMOZ site lists these in full, so familiarize yourself with the submission process prior to actual submission. As the directory is maintained by humans (it is one of the biggest, most distributed human edited databases in existence), getting your site listed can take anything from a couple of weeks to several months, and filtering through to the hundreds of other sites will take even longer. But don’t let that put you off.
Another way of ensuring that you get into the directory could be to become a volunteer editor yourself in order to add your own site. While this may initially seem like a desirable scheme, don’t forget that as a volunteer editor you will be required to spend time researching sites and adding them to the directory, so unless you’re serious about being part of the DMOZ project, don’t waste your SEO time doing something else. Also, if you just add your own sites to the directory and nothing else, your activities may well become known and any listings you’ve added may be removed. Directories, just like search engines, don’t like being deceived! As with any form of SEO, honesty is always the best policy.
Another of the bigger directories that you should submit to if you can is of course the Yahoo! Directory. Yahoo! doesn’t feed other directories, but because of the way its search results can tie in with its directory listings (especially in its paid services), inclusion in the directory is still advisable. Yahoo is one of the easiest major directories to get listed in, and it actually guarantees that you’ll be in the directory within seven days (provided you meet its submission criteria of course).
Remember that commercial sites do have to pay a yearly fee for the privilege of being in the Yahoo! Directory, to the tune of $299 ($600 if you’re submitting a site that offers adult content and/or services). Whether or not this is worth it really depends on the search engine for which you are optimizing. If it’s just your ranking in the Google SERPs then forget about it, but if you are especially keen on rising to the top of Yahoo!’s results pages it may be something to consider. One way around paying the fee may be to submit the URL of a non-commercial page of your site, but whether this will work will probably depend on the editor reviewing your submission.
When submitting to directories, your choice of description of your site can have a huge effect on whether you even get added to the directory at all. Try to describe your site and service as honestly and descriptively as possible. Directory submission is not advertising! Do not try to promote yourself in the directory submission form, just describe yourself.
As I already said, DMOZ particularly feeds into a huge number of other smaller directories, so going around the web trying to find as many directories as you can to submit to will be a waste of time because theoretically you will already have indirectly submitted to most of them. What you can do is look for niche directories that describe your site or service very well. If these do not take information from DMOZ, think about submitting to these smaller directories also. Don’t waste money paying to be listed though; money can be better used in pay-per-click or paid submission listings than on paid directory submission.
One thing that webmasters have been noticing recently is that when searching for particular things, sites like Wikipedia will often be higher in the SERPs that directory sites. You can make use of the popularity of the wiki by adding an article describing your site or service and providing a link back to your site. Like submitting directories, this will provide spiders and crawlers with another route to your site, reinforcing link popularity. Because of the popularity of Wikipedia, you may also get increased traffic to your site. Again, try not to make it look like an advert; an honest description will go much further in the eyes of anyone viewing the wiki article.
So as you can see, the small amount of time and money that you will spend submitting your site to be added to directories, and the fact that for non-commercial sites this is free, make directory listings perhaps the easiest form of increasing link popularity. It’s a bit like link trading, without the hassle of negotiating with other webmasters or worrying about adding links to other sites in return.