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The Rise of the Directory

The Rise of the Directory

This article seeks to explore the relevancy and usefulness of directories for search engine optimization purposes.

Brian Turner 

The article is split into the following areas:

Florida, Hilltop, and Directories

On November 12th 2003, what seemed like an otherwise minor and innocuous update began on Google. Everybody in the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) community was completely unprepared for the major upset that was about to happen. What changed was the face of Google forever.

Within two weeks the story had even made world press agencies such as Reuters and the BBC. You may even have heard of the name of the update: it was called "Florida".

What Florida did was to abandon the normal way that Google evaluates websites. The consensus within the SEO community is that a number of changes were rolled out together - perhaps creating results unpredictable even to Google.

Although it is certain that Google changed the way it deals with the semantics of queries, any other possible changes remain speculative.

However, one clear possibility believed applied was some form of algorithm change that was related to Google's Hilltop paper. Hilltop contained a number of features in its patent, such as:

  • Devaluation of links by C class IP
  • Determination of "authority" sites
  • Relevancy determined by an "expert set"

Directories as Expert documents

One specific area that interests this article is that Hilltop determines relevancy, based on cross-referencing with a pre-determined set of "expert documents".

That means off-topic links are on their way out of usefulness. That means "expert" pages need to be found.

Luckily, Google has publicly published papers on expert systems. One in particular is called "Hilltop". And Hilltop very clearly states what an "expert" page is:

Experts in our definition are directories of links pointing to many non-affiliated sites. This is an indication that these pages were created for the purpose of directing users to resources, and hence we regard their opinion as valuable. Additionally, in computing the level of relevance, we require a match between the query and the text on the expert page which qualifies the hyperlink being considered. This ensures that hyperlinks being considered are on the query topic. For further accuracy, we require that at least 2 non-affiliated experts point to the returned page with relevant qualifying text describing their linkage.

How the term "directory" is quantified by Google is, of course, a matter of conjecture. But what it almost certainly means that good directories in themselves can have a specific intrinsic value in an expert system. In short, directory listings can theoretically provide a special relevance in an expert system, such as the Hilltop-derived system.

Welcome to the rise of directories

How directories may help ranking

Once upon a time directories were of limited importance: they generated little human traffic for starters. And the PageRank of individual pages often seemed so low that the arduous and often expensive submissions process could seem like too much effort and expense.

Not any more.

Even though the Hilltop algorithm almost certainly is unlikely to have been implemented in its original form, there are features of it that are almost certainly being used to help deliver better relevancy in Google's rankings - not least, because specific features were re-issued in a later Google patent named New Score (LocalRank).

So how can directories help?

  • Wide IP spread
    Listings in a wide range of directories will offer a good spread of IP ranges being linked from. This is good for the simple purpose of connectivity, which is one feature that any major search engine will take into account for ranking purposes.
  • Keyword anchor text
    Search engines use anchor text - the text in links - to evaluate the meaning of pages being linked to. Where allowed, a keyword or two in your directory link will help significantly.
  • On-topic linking
    With various semantic processes in development, on-topic linkage remains a key concern of link building. Directory listings are usually structured into a thematic hierarchy - so that links pertaining to a specific topic will be linked together. This makes many directories ideal repositories of "expert pages".
  • Authority linkage
    Good human-edited directories build up a good reputation, and will accrue a good number of links over a period of time. This means that directories can become contenders to be regarded as "authority" sites, which means that links from such sites can be given added weight.

Directories: Important notes

Will Google give the same respect to every directory? Almost certainly not. But where is the dividing line drawn? That's Google's secret.

You should look to ensure that you start submitting your links to a wide range of directories, but bear the following important points in mind:

  • Quality directories
    Human edited directories, rather than ones than will automatically accept submissions, are the most likely to be quality. However, it is not a hard and fast rule. Some directories are very selective at what they will list. Others are not.  A directory that will admit any listing is nothing but a free for all (FFA) site. Whilst links from such places may or may not be given any particular value, their content pages are almost certainly not going to qualify as an either authoritative or expert. Which means that the link may be of little worth.
  • Spider friendly pages
    Not all directories are spider-friendly. After all, what do most web developers know about SEO? Many know nothing, and develop scripts where the page URL's are filled with numerous variables that can choke search engine spiders.
  • Spider friendly links
    Even worse, a HUGE number of directories redirect listed URL's through a tracking script, which renders the links as invisible to search engines, and so your site will see no linkage benefit from such listings. Don't submit to such sites, unless you're convinced you'll get profitable traffic from them.
  • Quality directories
    Anyone can - and does - set up directories online. You want to look for the ones regarded as being of a decent quality. After all, search engines such as Google may just agree with you. Don't waste your time with FFA (Free For All) directories that will list anything - they are likely filled with doorway sites, redirects, and other bad neighborhoods that could see such a directory purposefully overlooked by search engines, once rumbled.
  • Take your time
    It's unlikely you can submit to all directories all at once (unless you intend to spent a lot of time and money doing so! So take your time - once you have identified which are the most important directories, then submit at a rate that suits you. Telling yourself to submit to one directory every day - or every week - is a perfectly good way to to good about it. Especially because, no matter what lists you use, there are almost certainly new directories for you to discover and submit to.

Ultimately, the most important point to mark out is that directory listings may be beneficial for search engine rankings - but you shouldn't seek to rely on just this aspect in a commercial SEO environment. Directory listings are simply one weapon in the SEO armory - don't neglect your other options.

For a list of the best recommended internet directories, try this list: Best Internet Directories.


About The Author

Platinax Internet

Brian Turner is a UK based SEO professional.

Rating: 5.00 (4 votes)
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