Every couple of years, Google ‘lays the smackdown’ on segments of the Internet that it deems can use a bit of housecleaning, or at least some fine-tuning. Sometimes its actions may rub site owners the wrong way, but by and large, Google’s motives are generally pure: a cleaner, more orderly and helpful Internet. These actions are generally called Google algorithm updates, the most famous are known as Panda and Penguin.
One segment that has received attention over the years has been web directories. For more than a decade, Google has been trying to rein in lower-quality, spammy directories that sometimes aren’t much more than a crowded list of links on a simple page.
While Google’s intention to not index some directories hasn’t led to a ban on all online directories, it has encouraged page owners and businesses to try harder to create more original content.
It’s interesting to see the Internet community’s take on the topic of “the end of lists as we know them” over the last 10 years.
In 2007, MOZ.com, a top technology and marketing blog, offered a list of suggestions for webmasters and page owners wanting to avoid being rejected by Google.
Examples of bad directories at that time could include ones that anyone can join, ones that don’t have a particular subject or theme, or ones that require payment for a higher listing.
The Discussion and Role of Web Directories has Continued to Evolve.
In early 2013, Google once again threatened to stop indexing lower-quality directory sites. LinkWorxSEO, a technology blog, advocated a wait-and-see approach to these increased enforcement efforts, theorizing that Google has good reasons for the rule changes beyond wanting to weed out the poorer quality directory sites. The post theorized that it was also a semi-sneaky effort to drive people to use Google AdWords.
As modern SEO enthusiasts know, these efforts haven’t killed directories, or the Web as some foretold. Directories are still around; they may just look a little different than they did five-plus years ago. For instance, the burden now seems to be more on the person submitting links to other sites to determine whether it’s a legit site or not, rather than a page owner.
Best of the Web is a good example of a directory site that has successfully adapted to all of the changing search rules over the years. Rather than one big list on one page that goes on and on, there’s now multiple links to different subject categories. Plus, the site is overseen by humans and is manually edited. Which is another difference from some past directory sites which offered little in the way of monitoring the quality of submitted links. DMOZ is another simple but effective directory that has survived many of the Google Algorithm updates.
It’s clear that improvements to the rules for directory sites are still being made, but some in the community are asking if directories are still a good way to go for solid link building and SEO anymore. The short answer seems to be “sometimes.”
The SEOBook blog suggests that businesses need to be much more discriminating in which directories they join.
What To Look for In A Web Directory:
- how often they are crawled (if it’s less than every 6 months, find another one)
- the general quality of the entries (even if a page has a lot of entries, some of them may be nearly blank, which can actually hurt SEO and reader interest.
- age (older sites like DMOZ are good because they’re always being worked on, but some old sites may have the original page that hasn’t been updated for years and may include links that have been broken for years.)
- how relevant it is to your own site (similar themes to your site topic can have interested audiences more likely to visit your site, vs. general sites that may or may not lead to visitors).
This blog issues a variety of reasons why traditional directories aren’t as valid as they used to be – not just because of Google’s improved screening efforts but less interest from other users in simply sharing a link with any other directory just because.
However, it concludes that the top website directories are still the ones that try to be specialized, for niche audiences or certain business categories, rather the general ones that try to be something for everyone and usually end up being nothing at all but a large list of links on a page.
Jeff Shjarback, MBA is a Digital Marketing Consultant, Writer and Blogger that enjoys blogging about online marketing, small business, lead generation, economics, innovation & emerging technology, future trend analysis and business philosophy. To learn more about Jeff, you can visit his Google Author Profile.