Link Directories: A Value Extraction Guide

by on October 6, 2010 | posted in Link Valuation

SEO IS DEAD. Thankfully, we still have link directories. And Turducken. It’s almost Thanksgiving! Time to give thanks for turkey, pumpkin pie, and link juice.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, the most awesome amazing thing about link directories is that they take forever to get crawled, so if you start now, you might have an extra few dollars by Thanksgiving to spend on Turkey thanks to value getting passed. Look forward to it!

We know SEO is a long-term process, though, so don’t start tearing up at that news. Take this information and squeeze every bit of link juice out of these directories as you can. It’s a wild wild SERP out there, and the ones most willing to fight and die for an extra spot in the SERPs are the ones that are going to earn it.

Link Directories – Good With Extra Mustard

The value of link directories are often debated. Some people think they pass value, others don’t. Let me tell you about those others – they don’t know what they’re doing. Link directories pass value, but what makes their value somewhat debated is that you must undergo rigorous link evaluation to ensure they’re worth anything – those that don’t are throwing their money and time to the wind. Those who do this wrong end up thinking link directories aren’t worth their weight in sugar-free linkjuice – while those who do it right laugh their way to a bank that’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you simply find a PR4 link directory, submit and expect that it’s going to pass value to you, I’m sorry. Your link evaluation fundamentals lack the rigor necessary to rank consistently in competitive SERPs. But there’s hope – if you’re reading this and you’re reading other stuff and you’re literate and aren’t being taking care of by traveling nurses, you’re well on your way.

Link Directory Prospecting

This is by far the most difficult part of link directories. There are a LOT of link directories on the internet. But only a select few can pass value to your website – so choose wisely. Pick incorrectly and you will end up passing no value or worse, throw your website in a link neighborhood you wouldn’t want it growing up in.

The reason link directories rarely pass value is the dichotomy between their site structure and inability to draw links. They’re built on the ability to host 30,000 pages, but when they have the value of a PageRank 2 website, they can’t possibly pull that off. What that means is most of the value is in the shallow levels of the website structure. The shallows can mean multiple things – those pages that haven’t been stuffed with other websites and paginated twenty levels deep – or subdirectories that have the luck of being linked to from the homepage.

Each directory will have different categorical structure and similarly, will also seemingly link at random from the homepage. So perhaps your video games website will have value on one directory because it happens to have that subcategory linked to on the homepage – but otherwise, perhaps it won’t have value on another because you can’t get to the page you’ll be linked on until you’re six to ten clicks from where you began.

Finding Link Directories

A great way to not have to worry too much about this procedure is through link searches. If Google returns the page your website will show up on in the SERPs, you’ve won half the page evaluation battle. So, here are some search queries to utilize so you can track down some value-passing link directories:

General Queries

  • KEYWORD directory
  • intitle: directory “KEYWORD”
  • inurl:directory “KEYWORD”
  • directory * KEYWORD
  • KEYWORD * directory

Locating Competitors Listed in Link Directories

  • COMPETITORNAME1 directory
  • COMPETITORNAME2 directory

Locating Through Vertical Keyword Anchor Text Strings

You can utilize your entire keyword list to find directories that link to competitors using targeted anchor text of keywords you want to rank for. Be careful, though – directories that allow any anchor text are more likely to be spam riddled.

  • “VERTICAL KW 1” directory
  • “VERTICAL KW2” directory
  • “VERTICAL KW1” “VERTICAL KW2” directory

Vertical Categorical Structure Queries

Most link directories will have the same categorical structure – and if their webmaster has ANY clue what they’re doing, they have breadcrumbs in place on every page. This means that you can pull the breadcrumb string and Google will return any other directories that use the same format. In example,

  • “Home Moving and Relocating”
  • inurl: /Home/Moving_and_Relocating

So find whatever constant structure your kind of website tends to be placed on and do a search for it. This is my favorite kind of query – you’ll get two or three pages of excellent, relevant results. And plus, it offers another way to evaluate directories – a pretty straightforward way to compare website page strength due to almost identical URL characteristics.

Top Directories

The next list you want to spiral through are that of “top directories”, or otherwise, those that are generally regarded as top directories by traditional metrics like “reputation” and “PageRank”.

You’ve seen these, but for the sake of completeness (and offering more links to directories I have websites on) – I offer another offering of generally reputable link directories. You should spiral down the list and, given adherence to specifics detailed in the link valuation guide and the directory-specific evaluatory techniques to come, submit as you see fit.

Evaluating a Directory on the Macro Level

A website showing up in Google isn’t enough. Now it’s time to look at the directory on the whole before evaluating the page you’re looking at. Aaron Wall wrote a definitive post on SEOBook that is largely still relevant today. Many of things he goes over, and I agree with, are listed below.

  • Is it topically relevant? Topically relevant pages are more likely to pass more value. If you’re a company like GetVoiP.com, you don’t belong on a travel directory.
  • What’s the quality ratio? What’s the approval rate for the directory? Are they listing anyone who’s willing to chalk up a buck? If they’re simply an index of spam and anchor text, there’s a good chance Google is going to devalue them soon – if they aren’t already. This, to me, is the biggest reason why link directories become worthless – since there’s no editorial process, the directory is basically useless to Google – and as such, useless to you.
  • Do they sell outbound sitewide links? If the page you’re prospecting has a sitewide link to casinos or viagra or casino viagra, there’s some strong certainty that you’re looking for real estate property in the ghetto of the web.
  • Is it a link graveyard? Wall suggests that a directory with an assortment of dead links may devalue the power of a listing. I can’t cite this from experience, but as a quality guideline and best practice, it makes sense to follow.

Evaluating a Directory on the Micro Level

The biggest mistakes SEOs make is submitting cold to directories based on industry reputation and PageRank alone – without doing their homework to see if their given category page is worth the salt they took with a Patron shot over the weekend.

Every directory is designed differently, and each only has a given amount of spider respect based on the value it has in Google’s eyes. This, blended appropriately with site design, makes it so the most respected link directories are capable of completely inhaling your submission fee and keeping all the value to themselves.

So, how do we evaluate this? Once you determine the page you’re going to be listed on, it’s time to ensure that the page is indexed. Grab the URL and plug it into Google. If it’s nowhere to be found, you’re gone. No questions asked. Trying to appease the manual submission gods with another category page that might not fit your website just isn’t worth it – there are other directories in the sea.

If the category is indexed, make sure that you’re going to be listed on the first page. Many directories paginate their subcategories multiple levels deep – and very few are capable of indexing a subcategory past one level.

Sometimes, there are ways to get around this. Many directories offer “featured” listings – this means your link goes to the top of the list on the first page – subverting any problems with indexation. Also, certain directories list new websites at the front of the category rather than the back, or alphabetically, or some other way that might leave your site front and center on a page that’s indexed. If you can confidently confirm this, it’s probably worth submitting – if the directory has already passed macro evaluations.

Be wary, though. If a website is unable to index the 2nd category listing, there’s a good likelihood that the linkjuice is nearly evaporated at the bottom of the page. This is an indicator of the low strength of the category – so even if you can get a link through featured listing, it might not be worth it. If it’s some small amount, though, it might be worth it.

If you see the page is indexed, cache date is extremely important. Since these are viewed as generally static pages by the spiders, they rarely return. Since category pages are generally on the outskirts of a directory where link juice is at a premium, whether Google views the page as worth returning to is frequently up for debate. If the cache date is longer than a month, there’s cause for concern. I don’t remember seeing a cache date past two months in recent history – so, it’s likely that some point after that period, a page drops from the main index.

So, let’s run through the takeaways:

  • Make sure your specific category page is indexed.
  • As a general rule, try and get on the first page of a subcategory. If you’re multiple pages deep, there’s a strong chance you’re not getting passed any value.
  • Check the cache date – if it ventures over a month and a half, there’s reason to believe Google doesn’t like the page, or worse, will never return again.
  • If the page is paginated multiple levels – levels that aren’t passing value, check to see if you can get a “featured” listing that will get you high on a page that’s indexed.
  • Evaluate how websites are listed – if alphabetical or by date, there is some chance that a category that’s paginated multiple levels deep could still have your link appear on the first page.

You’ll notice that some directories try to improve indexation by including “recent submissions” and “top hits” pages. However, this kind of indexation is fleeting and should largely be ignored, as much of this value will often fade away – and this value isn’t that great in the first place.

So don’t worry about that, or even count it as a point of value – besides getting your link indexed quicker – worry about the listing page as a point of reference.

Link Directories

So, link directories. Yes, they still have value. Yes, they can be mined for little nuggets of link juice – but you’ve gotta dig. It’s not going to be easy. Every link directory is going to be a battle, and every link directory is going to do it’s best to make you not give it your money.

Be rigorous, follow standard link evaluation procedure, and you’ll reap the riches of link directory value that many other SEOs ignore. It’s not link directories that generally cause the problems – it’s the poor link evaluation processes of the SEOs that hate them.

  • http://ericpratum.com Eric Pratum

    Most every post of yours I read, I find myself adding a large, new project to my to-do list. Luckily, you explain things so well that I don’t have to go too many other places to educate myself on this. Thanks, man. Your thoroughness & contribution to the SEO blogging world is much appreciated.

    • Ross Hudgens

      Thanks Eric – that really means a lot. One of my biggest worries is writing in a way that makes sense to me, but not others who don’t SEO 24-7-365. It’s a big relief to know that’s not a problem.

      • http://ericpratum.com Eric Pratum

        Welcome, and definitely not. I mean, I have to take notes or bookmark for sure ;-) but it’s intelligible to a non-SEO marketer like me.

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  • https://twitter.com/#!/jaybrock10 Jay Brock

    Ross,
    Thank you for this article. I have been having this debate with my team, and I am so glad that I now have this article to send them to help back me up. I believe directory links, while they should not be the only link building strategy employed, do have a place in any link building strategy/campaign. Thank you for a concise, step by step evaluation process for my team. You have conveyed much better than I have tried.

  • http://twitter.com/SEO303 Domenick

    Another great post Ross, appreciate the nice tidbits in there, good stuff as usual.

    • Ross Hudgens

      Thanks Domenick, hopefully this is sustainable. Not sure how many guides I have in me. :)

  • http://www.brenttermedia.com Brent

    I love when everyone claims seo is dead… it just means that they don’t know how to do it…. just like folks who spend 20 bucks on one campaign on adwords, don’t see a decent ctr because they didn’t do the proper research and declare that adwords is dead.. ppc, seo, etc.. they’re all dead. :)

    Your spot on about directories….either they forget that their link isn’t on the homepage and that they need to check the stats on their actual listing category page, or they think the way directory seo works is by auto-submitting to 50k of them. Both ways they end up with nothing (except a lot of spam email) and declare seo dead. Just like how they’ll then go and invest 20 dollars into a poorly researched adwords campaign, lose it all because they were bidding on generic high-priced keywords and then turn around and declare that adwords is also now on the list to be buried.

    I don’t really use directories much with the exception of maybe 5 or 6 generic ones (dmoz and similar), though every now and then the site that i’m working on will be in a topic that i’ll find some random (usually forgotten) directory with a solid rank. With tools like scrapebox and a few specific google searches it makes that whole process painless. You can just as easily do it by hand, imacro or via your programming language of choice (google is your friend, there are so many diff versions out there with full source code just waiting for you to use and abuse). I will say though that if it’s a brand new domain I’ll always pony up the $260 and get it submitted to the yahoo business directory. You’re approved within 48 hours typically (though the website says up to 7 days) and authority wise you can see the rankings boost pretty quickly (and it sticks). – https://ecom.yahoo.com/dir/submit/intro/

    great article
    -b

    • Ross Hudgens

      Yeah Brent – sometimes there are only 5 or 6 that are worthwhile for your niche – or the time spent invested looking for them. I might have some great long post about it, but it can still end up with only 1 or 2 more directories worth a damn for your website.

      I also auto-submit to Yahoo and Business – they are somewhat sustainable because we continuously link to them and their domain strength. I normally get some reassurance when I see my category pages having 5 or 6 PR too.

  • Ryan Campbell

    Good stuff. I’ve used directories in the past with mixed results but I like the process you have explained to better evaluate the directories value.

    • Ross Hudgens

      Thanks Ryan – let me know if I can ever help further.

  • http://www.nakulgoyal.com Nakul Goyal

    I completely agree. The value is in carefully selecting the links and getting good quality top level domains to link to you and have a nice and strong link profile. Doesn’t matter whether the links or follow or nofollow. Bookmarked. Good One Ross. I followed your article through somebody on my Facebook. I guess I will checkout your other articles :).

  • Bubba Paris

    I still get about a phone call a week for a business that I owned four years ago(doesn’t exist anymore) ; that was just a two week campaign, so directories, from a non-SEO prespective, work as their intended to.

    • http://www.rosshudgens.com Ross Hudgens

      Sounds like a local directory submission.. I talk more about national directories. For sure, local directories are worthwhile probably for MORE than linkjuice – real traffic too.

  • http://www.netsprinter.com Lyena Solomon

    Thank you, Ross, for such informative post. I go through similar process with local directories. For the longest time there were so few useful ones, that the goal was to submit to all of them. Google Maps + Merchant Center are very helpful, but directories are still important. And today I learned a couple of tricks that I would definitely apply to my prioritization of directories. Thank you for sharing.

    • http://www.rosshudgens.com Ross Hudgens

      No problem Lyena, glad it could be of help.

  • http://bronsonharrington.com Bronson

    GReat post and thanks for highlighting the fact that if you actively seek out and scren potential directory listings, your’re better off in terms of link equity and cost – there are still many places to get great authentic links to help your authority building efforts.

    • http://www.rosshudgens.com Ross Hudgens

      Definitely! Just have to hunt!

  • http://seo.tolafamakinwa.net/ Tola

    Interesting post Ross.
    I’ve never really said no to directories but I have been wary of them. But with the tips you’ve listed out it would be interesting to have a play with some directories and see what happens. I especially like the idea of checking the cached date of specific pages, that gives you an idea straight away.

    Thanks!

    • http://www.rosshudgens.com Ross Hudgens

      Cache date is sometimes behind Google’s actual SERP results, so take it with a grain of salt. But it definitely has some evaluatory value.. hope it can be of use!

  • http://www.michaelcharalambous.com/ Michael Charalambous

    Although in many ways, what you’re saying is correct. I have to disagree with the fact that you’re page is useless if it hasnt been indexed. There is a simple solution – get a couple of crappy links (social bookmarks, article etc…) to the page of the directory, and it will soon inherit a PageRank roughly half of what the homepage is. If the domain homepage is a PageRank 6 your page even with poor links, is likely to become PageRank 2-4.

    It works, i’ve done it countless times ;)

    • http://www.rosshudgens.com Ross Hudgens

      I believe it gets your page indexed but I doubt it passes that much value. And if you’re paying to get a directory inclusion, I doubt you’re getting ROI by using said “link wheel” type strategy – because the page value can’t possibly be there. Just think about how link juice and etc flows on a site.. if a page didn’t have the value before, just because you barely give it the value now does not make it worthwhile.

      • http://www.michaelcharalambous.com/ Michael Charalambous

        Ahh but that’s not entirely true, i’ve trialed and tested this idea before on many occasions.

        Think away from what we “know” about how PageRank flows for a minute, because believeing it works a specific way puts up barriers and boundaries. PageRank is ALSO distributed to the most popular pages, on several of my websites the PageRank does not flow to the pages it “should”, instead it has gone to the pages which (ive noticed from my GA) has the most pageviews and best click through rate.

        Also, pages with internal links see a similar system.

        The outline here – Google wants the pages which USERS deem a valuable, useful and credibile source of information, therefore if a page has been “naturally” linked to from external sources, rankings will be improved as will PageRank be allocated to it. Of course, if the domain has no PageRank in the first place, this wont work. However, i have used it on many occasions for different reasons, and ir’s never failed me. In fact, i told my friend to implement this a short while ago and saw rankings improvements within a couple of weeks.

        Mike

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  • http://roclafamilia@gmail.com roclafamilia

    Helpful blog, bookmarked the website with hopes to read more!

  • http://www.GreenGoblin.com GreenGoblin

    Really nice information, thanks!

  • http://www.imagefreedom.com/ Stephanie Rosenbaum

    The general rule is the one with the most links “wins”. Many times though this is not the case. I have an SEO company and we don’t have half the number of links as our competitors, however we have better quality links and a diverse range of links. There are so many factors google considers. I agree with Michael when he says Google looks for pages that deem user value. Bounce factor is also an important factor optimizing your website to make it clear to your visitor, your here now this what you should do. What is your call to action? How can you turn visits into customers.

    Great post.

  • http://riwebgurus.com Mark Casey

    Appreciate the article/post Ross,

    I was just looking for some ideas for “General Search Queries” that I could use to find some local directories for a new client. It’s an old post but i believe still very relevant.

  • http://becomemade.net/ DavidCrowell

    I have a link directory. I have been around for a long time. I have an ok Googe Page Rank. Can someone tell me if they think my directory would be what is considered a good choice for add your link to

  • beealisemrlazyx

    Recently I was REALLY low on cash and debts were eating me from all sides! That was UNTIL I decided to make money on the internet! I went to surveymoneymaker dot net, and started filling in surveys for cash, and surely I’ve been far more able to pay my bills! I’m so glad, I did this! With all the financial stress these years, I really hope all of you will give it a chance. – rnpb

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