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