Link Directory Genocide

In the wake of a lawsuit an online company named KinderStart filed against Google for dropping its placement in the search engine results pages (SERPs), one has to wonder just what these people are thinking; they’re suing a now-giant corporate web presence like Google when, ultimately, it is not really Google’s fault that the website has fallen off so drastically.  One only has to search through the site in question to see that it is nothing more than a complex link directory.

If you aren’t up to date on the news,  read this report on it.

It is my professional opinion that the link directory has been dying a slow and painful death for many, many months now, as if it was inoculated with some terrible and terminal disease.  Actually, I’ve been saying it for about a year, and like my opinion of reality TV shows, enough is enough!  I understand that I might anger a few with this article, but because I feel strongly enough about what I am going to say, I am willing to risk angering some in order to hopefully enlighten others.

First of all, one has to initially wonder what made the link directory such a hot commodity in the first place.  It was my honest opinion that the issues of link trading were vastly different than they are right now at this moment in time, and at one point the link directory was an important aspect of the Web.  Gone are the days where one webmaster emailed another and said, “Hey, give me a link on your site, and I’ll give you a link on mine.”  But then someone figured out that this was just taking way too long, and decided to automate the entire process, and spawned the dreaded link farms.

It didn’t take search engines like Google and Yahoo to figure out the main reason behind link farms was to inflate their link numbers and propel them to the top of the SERPs, so this practice was curbed pretty quickly.  It soon became necessary for folks to then find another way around the link farm.  But in the process of this, people forgot why they were doing it in the first place.

Let me pause here in my rhetoric to assure you that I don’t think all link directories are semblances of link farms, as I do not; nor do I believe that all link directories are evil creatures that deserve to die.  However, the few of you out there that created link directories to give the web surfer many options to find what they are looking for are, unfortunately, unnecessary anymore.  Let’s look at a few reasons why.

First, we have better search technology.  Link directories were originally formulated online in order to give people a better way of finding what they needed on the web.  But given that the technology of search algorithms has greatly improved, and is still improving nearly daily, it is no small thing that the directory would become one of the casualties of better search engines.

Second, people are far better at surfing the web than they used to be.  Web users are more educated about the usefulness of the internet search engine, and most people with internet access use them. People who said they would never use the internet are now not only emailing their grandchildren in Nova Scotia, but are participating in discussion boards and chat rooms and playing Mah Jongg online; it is those same people that have found the usefulness of search engines delivering exactly what they need to find.

Third, it is getting easier for people to find what they need online through a search engine, because dial up connections are the fastest they’ve ever been, and with more and more people moving to broadband internet, people get to spend more time searching and less time waiting.

Perhaps you are following me up to this point and can see where my logic comes from; perhaps you can even understand that the link directory is fading away as a natural result of not being necessary anymore.  So why am I calling it “Link Directory Genocide” if it seems to just be dying of natural causes?

While genocide is technically “the systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group,” I apply it to the link directory loosely because, well, it is being euthanized, so to speak.  I certainly do not wish to offend anyone, so bear with me during my analogy.

In the last Google update, many link directories got hit hard; hard enough where any traffic was essentially…well, killed off.  In fact, it is my strong belief that Google terminated many of these non-essential directories in the SERPs with the latest filter purposely.  For the most part, directories contain no content, many contain only a myriad of links for sites that in turn link to more sites, and basically take the visitor on a wild goose chase.  Certainly, this is not what was intended for the Internet.  And, unfortunately, link directories as an entire culture are going to find themselves wiped out and at the bottom of the dung-heap before too long.  So why is Google fed up enough with the link directories to want to exterminate them?

Let’s try to think of this in perspective as Google perhaps may very well view it.  The Internet is like a great big road map, with links being the roads, and websites being the towns, cities, landmarks, and great historical places to visit.  Let’s say you decide you want to learn about the “women of World War II”, and you ask Google for directions by doing a search, because you want to be taken down the best road that will take you directly to the place these women reside so that you may hear their story.  You click on a link that has been returned in the SERPs; you may find this link like a set of directions, and set out to find these heroic women you want to know so much about.

You would be exceedingly frustrated and irritated, however, to find that the place to where you had been directed not only doesn’t have what you are looking for, but also has a completely new set of directions for you to follow, like getting a scrap of paper found during a scavenger hunt with nothing more than a clue.  This forces you to set out on the road again.  Imagine your dismay when you finally reach your destination again only to find a sign that tells you that you’ll have to take another exasperating new course to your destination.  It’s enough to make you throw your hands in the air in disgust and just give up and go home. 

This is how people feel when they search the web only to find a set of sites with nothing more than a bunch of links.  Then they have to scour around for the entirely new set of directions, which may in turn lead to a whole new site of nothing more than just more links.  In Google’s eyes, this makes a site not relevant to what the searcher had in mind when they clicked on that link in Google’s SERPs, even though   some might consider their collection a set of useful links.  And who will the searcher blame when he or she cannot find what they are looking for in the SERPs?  Why the person who gave them the original set of directions, of course.

It is those sites that have been getting the axe, burned at the stake and otherwise dispatched in the SERPs rather regularly, reminiscent of the Dark Ages, complete with morbid executions that seem nothing short of barbaric.  Perhaps Google hoped they would simply fade away in the face of newer and better search technology, and when that didn’t work, felt they had no choice but to take a far more aggressive stance.  I think that many of these link directories had been steadily losing ground for many months.  Some of those webmasters had enough sense to evaluate why their sites were on the decline, and change their sites into something redeeming that may be what searchers really want.  Those people are not to whom I am speaking.

It is to those KinderStarts of the Internet to whom I refer.  You cannot expect to forever keep your 10 million viewers and never update your site, or not provide content for your visitors and still expect to be a valuable resource for long.  If anyone is to blame, it is your selves.  So while I can argue that Google may be performing Link Directory Genocide, it is really you, O Link Bearer, who is actually committing Link Directory Suicide.  And the only crime here, ladies and gentlemen, is resting on your laurels in the Internet world.  It is almost shameful to blame Google for your own lack of foresight. 

“So now what should I do?” you ask.  Well, that’s a difficult question to answer, and it would certainly depend on what you intend to offer to your audience.  If you are truly about helping to collect information that will be valuable to surfers, then by all means do so, but make sure you add quality (and relevant) content to your pages, and not just a bunch of meaningless links.  Further, concentrate heavily on achieving high quality inbound links from reputable websites.  For those of you who have tried to get those precious links, then you know exactly how hard it is to do so.  No one ever said it would be easy, and anything worth achieving usually isn’t.

I want to pause once again to give you a word of advice: this article is not intended to scare you away from sharing outbound links, or to keep you away from linking to other websites.  After all, with the great roadmap of the internet, if you take away your ability to link to other relevant sites, then you remove the opportunity for a search engine spider to crawl among sites effectively.  Search engine spiders need to be able to not only easily crawl from page to page on one website, but also from one website to another.  (In another article, I will talk about why I feel being stingy with links may end up hurting you in the long run.)

I find it important to emphasize again and again how crucial it is to provide your website to people, and not try to please the search engines, or exist solely for the purpose of PageRank.  Ultimately, Google is as fickle as my cat, and no one knows what Google wants next or which way it will choose to swing the Reaper’s sickle.  You could spend your time running in circles, chasing your tail whenever Google makes a major change, or you can sit back, learn, and understand what Google really wants for the web: relevant sites with valuable content that will make people WANT to search for your site.  My advice is not to try to please Google, but rather to please your audience instead.  This is what divides the good marketers from those who haven’t a clue, and by catering to your audience you will keep your website away from the executioner’s axe.

These words may seem especially harsh to those who have great directories of great links to great sites, but there comes a time when the horse and buggy must be replaced by the automobile.  Times are a-changin’, and either we roll with the punches, or we will get left behind; battered, broken, and trampled on the mat.  My suggestion to you is to have valuable and unique content so that not only Google stays the execution, but so that your site visitors actually have something to read, and want to keep coming back to it.  After all, it is the content to be read that makes the Internet a useful tool at all.


For information about Jennifer Sullivan Cassidy’s professional search engine optimization services, please visit her site at First Class SEO.

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