Make Money With Directory Links (Even In 2013)

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Directory links are bad. Directory links are spammy. Directory links don’t work in 2013.

Hold on a minute. Let me plead for the defense.

Let me make something clear from the start – getting a link from XYZ Directory is obviously not nearly as valuable than one from the New York Times, but directory links still have their place and can be extremely effective if built in the right way.

I have used the following strategy as a link building pillar to acquire and maintain #1 positions for many highly lucrative search terms, resulting in a ton of money for my clients and ROI’s of over 1000%.

Niche Directories

Go ahead and throw out the general web directories. They can burn at the bottom of the internet for all I care. These are the spam farms that are never visited by real people and purely exist in order to publish a large amount of links about any and every subject that ever existed. My strategy exists exclusively in the world of niche directories. Here are the things to look for in a niche directory:

Specific Messaging Targeted to Your Business Sector

I’ll get the obvious one out of the way first. Upon loading the site, you should immediately see images and text related to your industry.

Community Component

Usually a good niche directory will host a forum, an events section, or a whitepapers resource page (or all of the above). This is a sign that the site owners are interested in building a community of real visitors and gaining real industry clout. An added benefit is that the directories with user resources will typically send more referral traffic than directories without.

Respectable Website Authority KPI’s

“But Ryan,” you’re saying. “What about the metrics? What about the numbers? What about the stuff that really matters?” You care about sites that will send serious link equity your way. It’s a good idea to filter your directory prospects to those that have a Domain Authority of at least 50 or greater (the good ones always do). Also, if you can predict which page on the site you will gain a link from, you’ll want that page to hold its own in Page Authority (>25). If the Page Authority is lower than that, it either means the site itself isn’t very popular or the page is buried way deep on the site. Neither of these are good.

Healthy Link Profiles

On a similar note, you’re going to want to take a quick look at the directory’s link profile. Do a quick export of their profile, sort by lowest page authority and look through it to make sure they’re not being dirty in building links. If you’re building links on sites that can easily be identified as spammy by the search engines, then you’re asking for a penalty. An easy way to avoid most of these spammy directories is to follow the following piece of advice.

No Reciprocals!

I’ll keep this one short. Just don’t do it. Any directory that requires or even asks for a reciprocal link gets filtered out of my prospect database. There’s two reasons for this.

  1. It could possibly be the spammiest tactic of all time.
  2. It’s an indicator that the directory probably has a terribly dirty link profile, as the websites that will comply with reciprocal linking are the ones that will be dirty themselves. This means you’re putting your own website at risk of penalty-worthy links.

Company Listing Page & Second Tier Link Building

The best directories will give you your own company page. Also, if the directory has a community component as described earlier, it will most likely automatically populate with your community contributions.

This is a great opportunity in second tier link building if you’ve submitted articles or whitepapers to this directory. Let’s assume you’ve been listed on a niche directory that focuses on a piece of your core service set. Whenever you’re crafting a guest post or otherwise writing elsewhere on the internet about that service you offer, throw in a shout out to your directory page with: “Check out our (fill service) content here at (directory name).”

Those links will funnel authority to your directory page and consequently to your company website.

Connect with the Site Owner

Make a Phone Call

I’ve had my best experiences with this tactic when I picked up the phone and called the owner or marketing coordinator of a directory. This is important because it gives that person the opportunity to walk you through how to gain the most exposure on the site. It’s in both parties’ interest and it can be really effective without taking a ton of your time.

Owners (Many Times) Own Multiple Directories

These owners typically own more than one directory site, a lot of times in the same space. I’ve gotten up to 5 new listings through the same contact. The beautiful part of this is that in many instances the directories don’t seem affiliated online, and your competitors most likely don’t know about the additional opportunities.

Referral Conversions

While the main purpose of these links is to gain authority and rankings, I don’t want to downplay a significant benefit that has revenue-driving components. If you followed the guidance above about finding directories with healthy link profiles and respectable Domain/Page Authority, then it means you have identified referral sources that most likely rank for the terms your customers are using to search. If you obtain prominent placement on these types of sites, then they will send you customers. It’s really that simple.


Unlike the traditional strategy of ‘general web directory submissions,’ this tactic has worked really well through algorithm changes and I expect it to continue to do well going forward. Only time will tell, but as far as link building goes a lot of this falls into “real company” marketing, which will always be sustainable and successful.

If you have any questions or commentary, please let me know in the comments.

Ryan McLaughlin
Ryan McLaughlin is the principal consultant and founder of RIISE, an SEO and digital marketing firm based in Austin, TX.
Ryan McLaughlin
Ryan McLaughlin

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  • Bernadette Coleman @advicegroup

    Great article! This was right on target. Would you share your directory list?

    • Ryan McLaughlin @recalibrate

      Hi Bernadette –

      Thanks for the kind words. Instead of sharing a list, which would be super unhelpful because every strategy needs to be targeted to its industry, I would instead want to collaborate on queries and other ways of finding the directories.

      “industry name” + “directory”
      “industry name” + “company list”
      “industry name” + “community”

      The above are all good, and truth be told an entire new post could be written on these advanced queries and methods of finding sites.

      P.S. You’ll also want to check your competitors backlink profiles in order to gather several directory opportunities and quickly level the playing field.

  • Daniel Heywood

    Hi Ryan, some good points. i hope I’m right in saying directories are still ok in a backlink profile. I always aim for relevant directories that are approved by actual people. A few good directories are ok, I just avoid the ones that look spammy and cheap, the ones that have just have any old site in there, I don’t pay for the either, and you’re right on the reciprocal don’t go there.

    The best directories can be local ones – there’s always a few good quality local directories 🙂

    • Ryan McLaughlin @recalibrate

      I believe a directory strategy is what you make it. Even with link building out of the equation, I’ve helped businesses make a lot of money just from referrals because we were very targeted with the directory websites that we chose to participate in.

      They’ve gotten a bad rap from the trash directories out there, but it’s all about finding relevant and authoritative websites in your industry. Local is a great point, thanks for adding that to the conversation.

  • Johnw

    Hey Ryan! Good article but i was confused when i read the title first. I thought there is something about to make money through our directory. but after reading whole article it is about how to pick a good directory site which can benefit us.

    As same thing i am also doing while posting any link to the directory site. I take that sites which has domain authority 40 or greater.

    Thanks for sharing such nice article!

    • Ryan McLaughlin @recalibrate

      Hi John. I understand what you’re saying, and it’s why the word “Links” was so important. Domain Authority is a great way to prospect for links, but make sure you consider ones that might have less than 40 if they look legitimate. I may have sounded too definite in the article. It’s a great guideline 🙂

  • Aditya

    HI Ryan! This is nothing new to the seo community. I think every knowledgeable company or individual works the same way as you have mentioned above. However, I have never seen second tier link building opportunity in a directory website in the past. It would be gr8 if you can share some list to help SEJ community see that.

    Moreover i would rather spend my time in creating gr8 content for my clients which people would like to link and that has an opportunity to build unlimited links. Short terms tactics are over in SEO


    • Ryan McLaughlin @recalibrate

      Aditya – The point of the article was to defend a strategy that is dismissed by so many because of the reputation that online directories have in the SEO community. Your comment has validated the need for my side of the debate.

      First of all, there are plenty of second-tier link building opportunities ready for you if you spend 10-15 minutes looking for them. Just find any directory/community that allows you to submit whitepapers or articles. They will aggregate these on a “Company Page” for you that works like a profile. You can now reference that page in a context where it makes sense, “Check out our _______ resources here: link”. It should take you 15 minutes to find a few of these opportunities to start with, depending on the niche.

      Do you build “unlimited” links with “gr8 content”? Your mention of “short term tactics” indicates you don’t understand this article in the slightest. This is the other side of directory link building, the long term investment. You’ve mentioned content like it’s an argument against what I’ve said when it actually supports the strategy of building content within a community to increase the quality of your directory links/referral traffic.

      I’d ask you to reread the article in order to continue this conversation.

  • Rohit Palit

    Great post!

    Example of a site using directory links to rank for competitive terms (you’re gonna get surprised):

    Just check it’s link profile using a tool like Ahrefs.

    • Ryan McLaughlin @recalibrate

      Rohit – I definitely see what you’re saying. However, from an initial look, it seems like the directory links are from the spammy & general web directories I warn against.

      If I’m missing something please forward the links from legit directories.


      • Rohit Palit

        Looks the same to me as well. I wonder if those directory submissions of that particular URL were intentional (to rank for a lucrative keyword) or a spam attack.

      • Ryan McLaughlin

        @Rohit – As you probably know, many times popular sites get picked up in scrapers to fill up spam websites like these. It’s an unfortunately but very real fact of life.

  • Zac Johnson

    Great post, good to see someone break down the value in directory links when so many others bash them completely!

    • Ryan McLaughlin @recalibrate

      Thanks for the support Zac. I believe there’s many things within the SEO community that get bashed because of the cult nature of most information spread. I’m trying to attack that topic-by-topic 🙂

  • Thomas Smith

    Nice to see people still realise the potential gains of a QUALITY directory link or two. It all comes back down to quality… as per usual.

    Also, the title may be a little misleading. I can see the whole flow of “directories > visitors > customers/clients > money” but it looks too much like “directories > money”.

    • Ryan McLaughlin @recalibrate

      Thanks for the comment Thomas! Directories get slammed in an encompassing way, which I is what I wanted to fight with this article.

      I can see your point about the title. While technically (transitive property, and all) it gets the point across, some of it may have been sacrificed to keep it brief. I appreciate the feedback. I will say though, I’ve seen many businesses turn around even [somewhat] large B2B deals same-day with this strategy (referral traffic -> conversion).