If you were writing a textbook on SEO linking circa 2001, you almost certainly would have included a chapter on web directories. They used to be the primary way of actively acquiring one-way inbound links, before content syndication, blogs, or the paid link market really took off.
Web Directories and SEO Links: What Went Wrong?
Fast forward a few years, and you’d have to rewrite the chapter on directories and web links. In fact, you would probably downgrade web directories from a chapter to a page or two. In the SEO world, nothing good ever lasts long, and so it is with web directories.
* Traffic. With Google more accurate than ever, there was no more reason to turn to a human-edited list of websites. A directory might get you one or two click-throughs a month–or none at all.
* Redirects. Once directory owners realized their link popularity was valuable, they started hording it. Overnight, many, if not most, directories switched their HTML links to search-engine-invisible redirects.
* Fees. Most directories started charging for inclusion, or at least, for inclusion with a link rather than a redirect. If the fees were reasonable, that would not be so bad. But why would you pay $35 for a link on a PR 3 page with dozens of other links and virtually no content, on a site with dwindling traffic?
* Corruption. In the SEO world, low-hanging fruit quickly goes rotten. Any volunteer-edited commercial category in a link directory runs a very real risk of being taken over by a corrupt SEO.
* Dubious link popularity. Given the notoriety of many directories for selling or inappropriately bestowing links, it’s not hard to imagine a search engine quality control engineer turning the link popularity juice off from these sites.
* “Welcome to our list.” If a directory doesn’t charge a fee to enter, it may ask for payment in the form of an email address. You’d better use your special Hotmail account for that one.
* Anchor text. Many directories do not allow for anchor text to be specified, delighting in providing as little SEO value as possible for the effort involved in submitting to them.
* Time. When link directories really were vital efforts to categorize the web, getting a link in them was as simple as having a good website and letting them know about it. Now that they’ve turned into tightly rationed supplies of link popularity, that kind of responsiveness is out the window.
* Idiosyncratic applications without any promise of timely follow-up.
* Application forms that often empty straight into a black hole:
* No way of checking on the status of submissions.
* Threats of scuttling submissions that are re-submitted when there is no response.
Web Directory Linking Alternatives for the 21st Century
* Reciprocal linking with a twist. If you network with other site owners, you can triangulate link trades so that they are not direct. Heck, if you really like each other, you may just link to each others’ sites for the sake of it! It’s worked for me with some high-PR links.
* Blogging. Blog early, blog often, and someone is bound to link to you. It’s the nature of blogging. The fastest way to get inbound links from your blog? Write about other blogs. The more controversial, the better. Post this article on a webmaster blog, and in the same post, reference the blog of someone who thinks link directories are still a good idea! In the blogosphere, arguments mean lots of links.
* Article directories. These are the closest things to link directories, from an SEO standpoint, to emerge in the 21st century. You submit an article to one of these sites (of which there are over 200). In your article you include a link to your site. Article directories are everything link directories used to be: responsive, fair, fast, no-fee, relevant, and quality sources of not only links but information. OK, most of their pages are PR0 and the rest tend to be PR 1-2. But with most article directories, you can choose your exact anchor text for the link–often more valuable than PageRank for non-competitive search phrases. Besides, if most of your links are on PR 4+ pages, how natural will that look?
In short, even if web link directories do still have some SEO value, they should no longer be your first stop for one-way inbound links. There are much better, and much less aggravating, linking methods.