What Is a web directory?

Web or link directories are online lists or indexes of websites. Their value for SEO and link building has become more nuanced, though they can have value in other ways too when used correctly.

Link Directories: What They Are and How They Impact SEO

Web directories are to the World Wide Web what phonebooks are to smart phones. Some time ago, they both were instrumental in quickly providing the public with the contact information of people and businesses; now, there are alternative methods of obtaining this information — namely, online search.

Web or link directories are online lists or indexes of websites. People and businesses enter their contact information and websites to the directory, and the directory provides links to these websites so that searchers may better find them in a catalog database.

Today, link directories often are dismissed as a viable SEO link building strategy, but there may be some instances when you would want to submit your website to them. To fully understand what web directories are and if you should utilize them in your SEO strategy, as well as to understand what separates them from search engines and if they still hold any SEO value, a dive into the history of link directories is necessary.

History of Web Directories

Before search engines, web directories ruled the internet. The earliest directory emerged in 1991, when Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web Virtual Library (WWWVL). Since then, they have risen and fallen as the primary way to search the internet and find websites.

Why Were they Created?

As the internet grew and an increasing number of websites were being created, there had to be a way for people to access a database of all of these websites — instead of simply remembering a handful of domain names. 

Yahoo! created what they called a web directory to provide the most popular websites that were worthy of being listed. As the number of websites grew, they were categorized into niches to help people find what they needed. Since Yahoo!, which ended in 2014, there have been a variety of directories — most notably DMOZ, ending in 2017. 

Link directories were eventually monetized to sell ad space or boost results for a price. Over time, directories began to be gamed, links became spammy, and directories became problematic — as it was all about link quantity, not quality.

The Decline of Link Directories

Eventually, the number of websites became too great for directories to handle. Searchers found it progressively more difficult to navigate through various categories and sift through the bad websites for the good ones (which were not ranked and mixed together at the time) just to find the site they were looking for. Finally, the search engine was introduced to the internet, and web directories began to take a back seat. With web crawlers evaluating the nature of your links, it is not enough to just have a link to your website. Strong, strategic content is needed for quality links and ranking.

Web Directory vs. Search Engine

The rise of the search engine was essentially the fall of web directories. Though not as complex as they are today, search engines work via algorithms — dependent on keywords and able to provide a ranking order for website return. Rather than probing through a directory, searchers were now able to type a keyword into a search bar and have the best website(s) presented to them associated with that keyword. Search engines were just a better way of handling the mass array of websites and quickly displaying them in an order from “best” to “worst.”

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Do Link Directories Still Have SEO Value?

While being somewhat outdated and easily manipulated, web directories still may influence ranking factors (to a much more limited extent than previously). Site owners and SEOs must first understand the issues with submitting their website to a linked directory, as well as what type of website they are submitting to, to ultimately ascertain if it is worth their effort.

Problems With Directories

The major fault with web directories is that anyone can submit their website to them — essentially gaining a link for any and each directory they like. Additionally, some directories charge a fee for submission, so owners are basically able to pay for links.

Search engines recognize that directory links are easy links. As such, there is little link equity passed from directories that point to your site. Additionally, search engines frown upon paid links. In most instances, including directories in your link building campaign is hardly worth your time and effort and may even end up hurting some websites.

Local SEO Value

Perhaps the only realm of SEO that directories may help would at the local level. Directory links will still hold little weight for local websites, however, they may increase brand visibility and information about your local business or nonprofit

For example, Google My Business can list your local business website, and provide the public with your contact information — name, address, phone number. From here, people may inquire further about your business and visit your website, may physically attend your store, and/or may call you for further information. Link directories for local SEO are more about helping customers to discover your business, not about a link building campaign.

Should You Use a Web Directory for Link Building?

In many cases, web directories aren't worth your time. For local SEO, however, you may decide to submit — although you must be sure you are being represented in the correct niche. Indeed, there are good directories that can help any website if you submit properly. This means not spamming links and placing your link in relevant niches that will be useful to searchers.

If you already have links on directory websites, you may have considered disavowing them. While directory links won't help you very much, they also won't hurt you — unless they are spammy and/or paid for.

Examples of Web Directories That Are Still Useful

There are some viable web directories you may choose to submit to. These directories have significant traffic, and could therefore bring traffic to your website.

BOTW: Stands for Best of the Web. This directory displays local businesses of all kinds. It will disclose business information — location, hour, etc. — reviews, and even coupons.

AboutUs: This directory is for any website. Use About Us to create an account and page for your site. This page can include a title, meta description, images, YouTube videos, Google Maps, and social media profiles.

Spoke.com: A web directory mainly for businesses, but people and sites about various industry topics can be found on Spoke.com.  

Blogarama: As the name suggests, Blogarama is specifically for blogs and blog pages. Almost any niche of blog can be found through this directory.

Google My Business: This authoritative directory helps connect your business to Google Search and Maps. Companies can create a profile with images and information and let customers know how to reach you.