Directories, and in particular free directories, have long been used to drive Web site traffic, to boost search engine optimization, and to create link-building campaigns. But today most people find things via search instead of browsing directories.
So, is it still worth it to take the time to submit your site to directories? The answer is, maybe.
The advent of Google and its system of ranking sites based on the number of links (which serve in effect as votes) has spawned a cottage industry of directories whose primary function is to provide a way for sites to boost their popularity in search engines’ eyes. In this regard, directories are still useful, and submission to them is still a reasonably valuable endeavor.
Google is fully aware of this technique, and while it doesn’t appear to discount links from these sites completely, it does appear to give them significantly less weight than it does to links from other kinds of sites.
There are still plenty of specialized directories out there that carry useful information. Among these are directories for hand-picked regional sites, or do-it-yourself directories for people who, say, build their own canoes. If your business caters to highly specific demographics, such sites are most certainly worth your time and money.
Free directories often harvest e-mails on log-in or sign-up, which raises your risk of being spammed. Generally speaking, you should judiciously distribute your e-mail address and have at least one that you use as a spam catch basin. Unfortunately, many free directories are only free if you provide a reciprocal link, and although you might be tempted to provide one, understand that Google frowns upon such “spamdexing,” so you should be careful to avoid it.
Free directories are a dying breed, due largely to the fact that people are willing to pay for space under the assumption that it garners them more exposure, either directly or via search engine rankings. That said, free directories are still a great way for newly launched sites to offset the lag time that can occur between a site’s being indexed for the first time and its appearance in search results.
Recognizing their status as a marketable commodity, many directories have started charging for inclusion. Directories whose sole purpose is to sell “votes” are decidedly not worth your time and money.
In a survey of the traffic data from several sites, none of the combined total of 25,000 hits per day came from any of these paid directories. Surely, there are some people using these directories, and some sites are getting traffic from them, but compared to the traffic generated by Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and Ask.com, the levels are negligible at best.
To understand how to improve your rankings on these major search engines, read What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Keep in mind that Google ranks on quality and context over quantity, so use your judgment when shopping for a directory. If it looks spammy, it most likely is, and once your site has been tainted it will be hard for you to recover. Submit only to directories that you believe are useful and legitimate. In all likelihood, if a particular directory seems shady to you, it will probably seem shady to the search engines as well.
If you do decide to go this route, read Submitting Your Small Business Web Site to Search Engines for more good advice.