Are Directory Links Still Worth Doing?

I was recently wandering around some Facebook groups and saw this:

”Do you guys think that general web directories are still good for building links, or should I go with niche directories, instead?”

Oh and this isn’t the only person asking. It seems the ever awesome Google Penguin has folks scrambling to sort out what is and isn’t safe.

So let’s go there, shall we?


A Link is Just a Link

So, the first thing I can tell you is that the answer is easy: it depends. Nice, huh? Thanks, it’s how I roll.

Over the years SEOs were always fond of saying, “Hey I’ll take it. A link is a link, right?” Apparently that’s probably a misguided thought process and potentially problematic these days. So if you haven’t already, cease and desist on that kind of thinking, OK?

Next, we can address what we do know.

While talking with a Googler whom you might know, I was able to get a sense of what problems they have with link manipulation. More often than not, the discussions were more about the type of site/page and the relevance of the link, than it was about the actual type of link.

For example, if you’re doing blogger outreach, you should be more concerned with the value of the target. You probably want to avoid a blog that does reviews where one post is about duct tape and the next is about coffee.

In our case, directories, consider the source. Is it a moderated list (often paid strangely)? Is it just one element of a larger site? Is it relevant (local, niche directories)? Does it actually get traffic? Yes, that does actually happen.

A link is certainly not just a link anymore (if it ever was the case) and hey, they even closed their own directory last year right? Just sayin’.

What Else Do We Know?

A while back it was reported that free directories were being de-indexed in Google en masse. While it turned out that this wasn’t truly the case, it highlights the general realization from SEOs that the time is at hand where this was no longer a viable method.

But just because a directory is indexed, does that mean it’s OK to get a link from it? Probably not.


I was collecting and researching various responses people had received to Google reconsideration requests and found something interesting. It seems that as they evolved (the canned responses) that they were now actually showing webmasters some examples of link types that highlighted inorganic links.

Sure enough, in more than a few examples, directories were a large percentage of what was shown. And again, directories that were in fact, still indexed.

One example included the following link types:

Link One 

Directory site; Homepage TBPR0
Indexation 2400
Backlinks; 560
Actual page; indexed – TBPR0

Link Two

Crap site (blog?); Homepage TBPR3
Indexation 720k
Backlinks; 27300
Actual page; not indexed – TBPR0

Link Three

Directory; Homepage TBPR2
Indexation 1530
Backlinks; 2590
Actual page; indexed – TBPR0

Link Four

Directory; Homepage TBPR3
Indexation 25k
Backlinks; 515
Actual page; not indexed – TBPR1

Link Five

Directory; Homepage TBPR0
Indexation 361k
Backlinks; 172
Actual page; not indexed – TBPR0

In this case, four out of the five links Google highlighted were indeed directories.

Yea Yea, So What’s The Deal?

If you didn’t already figure it out, it’s going to depend. I don’t have the answers, no one does. But I am personally extremely leery of them at this point and really wouldn’t recommend them to a client. At least not the mass submission programs of yesteryear. Get with the times.

Look at it in terms of where it makes sense:

  • Is it a site that you want to be promoted on? Is it a legitimate directory that might actually (say it ain’t so) send some traffic? Great. Go for it.
  • Does it look like a crap site that nobody likely ever visits? Then hey, you’re just manufacturing links for the sake of a link. It’s probably not a good idea.

Again though, this should be a discussion about more than just directories. Start thinking quality and relevance in everything you do.

Get beyond the links (good videos here and here with Bill Slawski). Think of non-link citations. Think of social graphs. Consider velocity and temporal graphs. Look at semantic and knowledge graphs. In short, get with the times.

If you really still need to be manufacturing crap links (or links in general) it is entirely likely that how you do SEO and how you perceive it, needs to change.

Negative SEO

Sorry Charlie

And before I go, may I say: get over it.

Many times I express my views on this there’s a bunch of flak. But one has to consider the source. Many times it is folks that either own directories, provide submission services, or both. Other times it is link builders that refuse to accept reality. You can certainly leave a comment on the post, but I won’t really care. Heck, some of my closest friends might fall into that category.

I simply have to be leery of a lot of common types of link building and believe more care should be taken (with client’s $$$). Again though, don’t try to think in terms of “types” of links as much as the actual quality and relevance of the site where it might appear.

Until next time… play safe.

Related reading

steps to deliver better technical seo to your clients
search reports for ecommerce to pull now for Q4 plan