Directory Enquiry: Is there still search value in online directories?

By Chris Lee

Most marketers will have received copious amounts of spam email in their time offering services which promise to get them top billing on Google for keywords, a great deal of this would be achieved through link building directory submission.

Online directories range from the well-reputed, paid-for services such as Yell to less well-known sites set up purely to generate links. Google’s attempts to reward quality sites in the form of algorithm updates such as Panda in April 2011, punished some sites, so is there any search engine optimisation (SEO) value in links from online directories in 2012 and should marketers ignore overtures to list on such sites? What’s the value of an online directory for SEO?

According to Matthias Bachor, director of marketing at search software provider Searchmetrics, Google’s efforts to crack down on links manufactured to do nothing more than increase rankings means link directories are no longer valuable for SEO.

“It’s worth remembering that very few directories actually get used by real people to find anything – mostly just the known entities such as Yahoo! and the like,” he told NMK. “If you are, say, in a niche industry then an industry directory for your niche might carry some link value. The quality and relevance of the site is what Google seems to be looking for. And often times a directory worth being on these days will have content beyond the mere directory. But generally there is not a great deal of ranking benefit in directories.” Predicable link building

Kelvin Newman, creative director of Brighton-based search marketing agency SiteVisibility, believes that, while no serious or successful SEO campaign has relied exclusively on directory submission for years, that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a place as part of good back link portfolio.

“They still provide a relatively predictable way to generate links but aren’t in isolation enough to break into the search results. But while you’re working on a killer content strategy they can be good way to get started on link building – but never in isolation and never to excess,” he argued.

Newman said that most directories only exist to provide SEOs with links. These are the directories that are best avoided.

“The first question is do you think the directory will send you traffic, is it a website that actually has visitors of its own or does it exist merely to provide SEOs with an easy link,” he told NMK. “If it’s the latter its current value is debatable and [over the] long term it’s only going to decrease.” Consider a directory’s reputation

Newman recommends marketers look for reputable websites specific to their industry or company which fulfil a directory function even if they don’t describe themselves in that way: Members’ pages of trade associations, lists of companies who’ve worked with local universities and so forth.

“Not only will being listed in these locations help with your reputation and send some traffic but also help your link equity,” he advised. “Directory links which do all three of these things are those with the most value.”

Searchmetrics’ Bachor agreed that due diligence is key.

“Do your research about a specific directory just as you would with any site for building links. The well-known, paid-for directories are safer, but some riskier free directories have led to penalties from Google,” he concluded.

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