7 Costly Mistakes Webmasters Make About Web Directories

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The common refrain in webmaster circles is that directories are dead and are not worth submitting to any more. But directories do offer a number of benefits and so should be considered an essential part of the marketing mix for any serious website. Some of the benefits they offer are: co-citation, anchor text, targeted traffic, and deep links.

So why do webmasters commonly believe directories are dead? This is because they make a number of mistakes in submitting to directories that end up costing them many of the benefits they could get. These costly mistakes are:

(1) Costly Mistake #1 – Submitting to 300+ free directories. This will probably do nothing to help your website’s rankings and may even hurt it. In Google, a few quality links will outweigh the benefits of many spammy links. I’ve put together a list of directories ranked by SEOmoz’s page strength tool which gives a good starting point for determining what the best directories

(2) Costly Mistake #2 – Worrying about price rather than value. A common question I hear asked is: “which directories can I submit to for under $20?” However, the Google algorithm relies heavily on the authority of the websites linking to you. Using this logic, you would never submit to Yahoo! directory, which is probably the easiest way to get an authority link to your website. You will get the most value out of web directory submissions by submitting to the best ones, rather than the cheapest ones.

(3) Costly Mistake #3 – Believing that directories don’t pack much link juice. This is false. The fact is that there are many directories out there with a tremendous quality and quantity of backlinks. I’ve compiled a list of directories ranked by number of backlinks. As you can see, many directories have more than half a million backlinks and quite a few more have more than a quarter of a million backlinks.

(4) Costly Mistake #4 – Assuming that web directories are not part of the “active web.” There tends to be a bias among bloggers that blogs are more active than more static websites, such as directories. However, if you look at the Alexa data for directories, you will find that a lot of them have significant traffic. While Alexa is an imperfect measure, it’s the best we’ve got and also tends to be more accurate for high traffic sites.

(5) Costly Mistake #5 – Not varying anchor text and descriptions. From what I’ve seen, a lot of submitters seem to use the same anchor text and description for all of their directory submissions. My editors spend a large amount of time re-writing this. A good way to set up a red flag with Google is suddenly to gain a lot of links to your site with the exact same anchor text and the exact same surrounding text. Ideally, all of your directory submissions should use unique wording. At the very least, have several versions of anchor text and descriptions that you use when submitting to directories.

(6) Costly Mistake #6 – Not writing a powerful description of your website. Although directories frown on hyped up descriptions, to get people to click on your link,you should take the trouble to write something that motivates people to find out more about your website. John Scott provides a good example.

(7) Costly Mistake #7 – Believing that Google frowns on directory submissions. This is false. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines specifically state: “Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!, as well as to other industry-specific expert sites.” As well, Matt Cutts has specifically stated that there is nothing wrong with submitting to quality directories.

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  • Mike The Internet Guy

    In regards to ‘Costly Mistake #1’ has anyone seen evidence (case study maybe) where excessive directory links has hurt a site. Preferably the case study would show these submissions were done over time and adhering to the advice in ‘Costly Mistake #5’

    Good advice overall for directory submissions.

  • Jeff

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I don’t think that submitting to a lot of directories will actually hurt a site with a strong backlink profile. More at risk are newer sites. This is especially the case with a brand new site that is just launching – common advice you see is to submit to lots of free directories, which I think is hurtful.

    Anecdotally, I’ve seen sites many sites where webmasters started this way and have not been able to rank well.

    The theory behind it is well explained here:

    The only case study I’ve seen is here:

    In this case study, there was a test of 5 paid directories versus 700 free directories. The site with just free directories actually seemed to be penalized.

  • Mike The Internet Guy

    Excellent Jeff,
    I’ll check out those links.

  • MikeB

    There are a lot of directories using data from dmoz, we all know that. But many of these are shitty sites with no authority, or worse. So you end up with 300+ links from nasty sites.

    Do you think submitting to dmoz is still a good thing to do?

  • Kent Schnepp

    Jeff, thanks for the link to the list of directories. You have some great points here, especially #7.

  • Loren Baker, Editor

    From what I’ve gathered from Google & Yahoo reps at different conferences, incoming directory links from sites using public DMOZ information cannot hurt you. They may not help you, but will not hurt you.

    Being listed in 300+ small directories with the same descriptions & titles which do not use DMOZ as a base however, could be a whole different story. That’s why it’s good to choose the major directories and mix up your information and anchor text.

    Being listed in DMOZ however, can help you 🙂

    As can Yahoo!, BOTW and some of the other major directories.

  • Pascal

    Hi Jeff,

    A big thank you for putting so much work in an insightful article.

    In the UK we have a few well known directories that have the code/instruction ‘no follow’ against a business web address when you look at the source code.

    To your knowledge would this essentially cancel out the value of the link back ? Should businesses keep away from such directories? Thanks


  • CReed

    Great article, thanks for the insights. It seems that most webmasters submit blindly to web directories and are unaware of the benefit of simply varying their anchor text and descriptions. Why waste the time submitting to directories when you’re contributing to the probability that the listing/link will be ignored as a result of it being duplicated hundreds of times over.

  • Jeff

    Hi Pascal,

    I’m not familiar with the dirctories you mention. However, ultimately if the directory drives traffic to your site, then it is worth getting listed. You say that these directories are well known in the UK, so they may have decent traffic.

    In the long term, I question how Google will treat these directories. One major part of what a directory does is to vouch editorially for the websites listed in it. If all the listings in a directory are nofollowed, that’s like telling Google that you don’t trust your own listings.

  • Ramanean


    I would not agree with your first four points.

    a)Submitting to free directories will affect search engine results.(Google)

    This is absolutely wrong as the Search Engine looks links from the directories only as back links and they do not look from another point of view suppose out of 1000 Free directories if a site is listed in 700 Free directories it indicates that a site is of good quality than a site which has been listed in only 300 free directories.

    Also this indicates that site owner is very much interested in the development of site as he is submitting to the directories.

    b)Submitting to Yahoo Directory
    Instead of submitting to a Single Yahoo directory if a site is submitted to some free directories some directories may reject a site for lack of quality content.This will allow webmasters to realise their mistakes and correct it accordingly

    c)Directories should be only classified on basis of quality and not on quantity of back links.
    The quantity of back links only indicate the traffic the directory is receiving and not the quality.Quality of the directory is mainly associated with listings in the directory.

    d)Alexa data is not dependable.It is best illustrated by this example.

    Your site :www.avivadirectory.com has a higher rank than http://www.alivedirectory.com

    I bet that Alive directory has more visitors than yours.

    This is simply illustrated by the amount of backlinks difference between the two.

    Alexa rank would be higher for those site that have Alexa thumbnail on it!

  • Marko Petkovic

    Hi Jeff,
    Great article and great tips.
    I have one question. Can submitting a site to all directory with same anchor text hurt website if anchor text is official site name? Official site name could be brand name, but could be keywords stuffed name. Will Google recognize this as spamming with intention to rank for your official name or we are safe in this case?

  • Jeff

    Hi Ramanean,

    Thanks for your comments.

    You’re somewhat mis-characterizing what I said. Using your lettering:

    (a) Google is quite good at scrubbing link quality. Getting more bad quality backlinks isn’t going to help a site rank. The forums are full of people saying I have xxx,xxx backlinks and don’t rank, yet my competitor only has xx,xxx backlinks and cleans up in the SERPs.

    The point I made simply is that is that you should be submitting to the best quality directories possible. Submitting to a lot of low quality directories is not going to help in Google, and John Scott’s experiment shows that it might hurt.

    (b) I’m not sure that I understand your comments about Yahoo! directory. The concern seems to be that you are risking the submission fee, as your site may get rejected and there is no refund in that case.

    I’m not sure how to answer that except to say that if your site is not good enough to get accepted in Yahoo! directory, you probably should be spending your time and money on improving your site rather than submitting to directories.

    (c) I never said that directories should be judged by the number of backlinks. I simply indicated that, contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of directories out there with a lot of backlinks.

    I further indicated that SEOMoz’s page strength tool is a good *starting point* for evaluating the quality of a directory.

    I do agree that editorial integrity and having editors who scour the web to add quality listings to a directory is important in judging the quality of a directory.

    (d) I specifically stated that Alexa is not accurate, but that it’s the best tool we’ve got. My point was simply that contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of high traffic directories out there.

  • Jeff

    Hi Marko,

    I’m not entirely sure.

    Google seems to have filters for sites that have too many inbound links containing the exact same anchor text. That being said, I think that the filter is greatly relaxed for the official website name.

    So, you may well be able to get away with it. But if it’s a site you value, I probably wouldn’t try this out. This is particularly because, at least right now, Google seems to rank sites pretty easily for their own site names.

  • Darren McLaughlin

    Good to see someone telling it like it is. The professional webmasters still know the value of directories.

  • Gerd-E.

    Yes, it’s right. Especally #5 and #6 are mistakes, often done. There are good and powerful directories and there are directories, not so good.

  • mrcrowley

    I would like to add I started out on my directory about 2 months before the last pr update and submitted to hundreds of of free directories. As far as pr goes it did my site no good at all.

    Learning from this mistake this time round i have submitted to a range of paid directories and gotten sitewides. Now i am ranking well on most of my sites keywords.

    The point i am making is that submitting to hundreds of free directories when my site was starting out doesn’t seem to have caused much problem with getting my site to rank. For this reason i still submit to free directories frequently.

  • John

    Being a startup website that is now 10 months old I felt my input on this matter might be of a little help being it is all still fresh in my mind.

    After building about 30 pages I added my site to a PR5 directory and did nothing more just added pages. I had a PR1 after 2 months.

    I then added one more PR5 directory and submited to well over 600 free directories. After 5 months I had a PR2.

    I did nothing but add pages to the site and shortly I had a PR3. And that is where I am at the minute.

    About two weeks a go I got a listing in Yahoo directory and now my trafic has doubled. Google, Yahoo, MSN and ASK have all moved 50% or more of my pages from off the bottom of the listings to page 1. With a lot of my pages hitting number 1.

    I am guessing that I will have a step up in PR on the next update.

    So I don’t feel that the free listings have hurt at all. However I did not enter the listings using the same text and keywords or even linking to the same page. And putting the listing in the correct area on the directory is a must.

  • Pozycjonowanie

    I agree wih number 6 and 7 – this are costly mistake!

  • Mike

    A great article Jeff. Seems I came across it a lot later than when it was posted. You made some excellent points, the variation of anchor texts is a great one. Submit to directories to gain backlinks, but at the same time make them look natural by changing the descriptions and titles used.


  • Mike

    Also whilst #7 is true, only to a certain extent. Google hates paid links that are used to pass link juice to external sites, but they do allow webmasters to charge a review. Of course sponsored/featured links are different, not show on his opinion of that.

  • Mike

    Finally, to add another point…(i kept coming back as I thought of more!)

    Surely every relevant link is a good thing? If placed in the right category of a free directory, google won’t treat it as a bad thing will they? If that was true your competitors may do bad link building for you.

  • Jenna

    Interesting points, but i really wanna know if there are some more high authority directories out there like yahoo and dmoz…

  • Ann

    I do not belive in the future of web directories, Google kill them all……..

  • Poul

    I think Web Directories will pushed on a side for bigeer stuff like well organized cataloges(Ask)?
    Don’t know but Wiki is doing well and you can find everything using just one site

  • Odlewnia

    thanks you

  • Dermedic

    Very interising site!

  • Vectorpedia(Rick)

    Thanks for the excellent article on directories……I have recently used some of your tips

  • ahmad


  • Stats

    Directory submissions can work for very niche sites. I have a couple of sites that rely on links only from free directories. They’re ranking decently for their niche and if submissions are done well targeting a small niche, one can still get results. I use a submission service called Directory Maximizer to have my site submitted and I’ve seen decent results for highly targeted terms. It might not work for highly competitive search terms (haven’t tried it) but works for me and plus, as someone’s rightly said above, don’t think it will ever harm you.

  • Emma

    Fantastic advice, and I’ve learnt heaps from the comments thread as well!

  • Eugene

    Off topic. How to start my own directory for some niche?

  • Lee

    This is a really good unbiased article. There’s only one issue I have with it and that is the suggestion of using various anchor text. Whilst jeff is correct in that it will help your search rankings, it could pose a problem getting accepted by a lot of directories.

    My directory will ONLY accept the official business / website name for the anchor text and a lot of other reputable directories will also do the same.

    I suggest you check out some of the listings in the directory first to guage what is acceptable and what isn’t before submitting!

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  • Tcw

    Very useful post, I have recently used some of your tips