A lot of opinions get thrown around the quality of web directories and the value of web directory submissions. The question still remains, especially after Google's updates rolled out, devaluing certain types of links (most of which originate from web directories that are associated with less than ethical means of link-exchange such as link farming). Every website is different and it follows that each has very specific needs especially when it comes to online marketing. It helps learning what exactly a web or link exchange directory can do for your site in order to weigh its value in your web marketing strategy:
A web directory is essentially a resource listing that organizes links to different member websites. These listings are intended to help internet users find websites that are relevant to specific niches. The websites or links included in these directories are mostly submitted manually, thus preventing the listing from being populated by low-quality links, although there are some exceptions. These resources are useful as an alternative to search sites and engines, only they help users find content that is relevant to a certain category, instead of content relevant to a given set of keywords as search engines do. Many web directories specialize in websites that focus on specific industries or niches, while others collaborate various categories to provide a more versatile listing and allow wider link exchanges.
During pre-Panda and Penguin times, web directories offered enormous benefits to websites in terms of improving search rankings and driving in relevant traffic to their pages. Many years before these algorithm changes, people relied on web directories to find relevant content as much as or even more than they did search engines. This is because web directories offered an efficient means of finding web content that is right on point and right within the specific niche that web users are looking for. Web directories are also excellent sources of highly relevant and anchored do-follow backlinks to websites, which are very useful for SEO. Depending on the type of website that you are building, optimizing, or marketing, web directories can offer great value for your link building-campaign as far as search engines are concerned.
However, the value of a link exchange directory has been greatly debated over especially since the advancement of Web 2.0. Since web directories were widely used to manipulate search rankings (through unnatural link-building practices, link farming, etc.), their value has greatly degraded as more and more websites did directory submission for the sole purpose of increasing their web rankings. As a result, backlinks coming from these directories now offer less value, even when search engines used to put great weight on them. As traffic coming from directories (even the most active ones) thinned, they also lost their popularity and became much smaller in size than 3 to 5 years ago.
Despite these facts, many webmasters still agree that web directories are worth using, as long as you have the right strategy and don't subscribe to low-quality, free-for-all directories, which are most likely engaged in blackhat practices. Here are some things to remember:
- Do a quality check. Only submit to directories that are of high quality, preferably those that rank high in SERPs themselves. It is also good to set standards on the types of directories that you subscribe or submit to. Take time to look at the quality of the websites that the directory accepts—do they limit the listing to quality sites or do they accept any website freely? This will give you a good view of the quality of links included in the directory. Free Relevant Links is a good place to start, as they limit their network to high quality, thoroughly reviewed websites.
- Think twice about paid listings. While some SEO experts say that paid listings are bad, others argue that they can be helpful to a degree. Search engines penalize users that buy links in order to inflate their rankings, although there are paid listings (legitimate, well-respected directories) that do follow Google's terms and offer good value for SEO.
- Pick your categories carefully. Directory listings are littered with hundreds to thousands of sites, which is why it is important to choose the categories that you submit to very carefully in order to focus your efforts. You will have a very difficult time reaching out to your target visitors or link partners if your site is barely noticeable in a crowd of other websites.