Are Web Directories Still Considered an Effective SEO Technique
Traditional web directories are a relic of the past.
No longer do you need to browse clunky, archaic lists of internet websites. We have an infinitely more sophisticated tool in Google.
Google, and other search engines, effectively replace the need for a directory. Users can and will find exactly what they need with the mere use of a keyword.
Yet, many marketers still plug web directories into a helpful SEO strategy.
This raises the question: Are web directories harmful or are they still considered an effective SEO technique?
We’re going to help you get to the bottom of this conundrum.
What is a Web Directory?
A web directory is a virtual catalog of websites that are categorized by industry or location.
The traditional web directory is a product of an early internet age. If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you were not an active user of the world wide web during this period. If you’re only accustomed to searching for a business through Google or Bing, then the time of directories is almost irrelevant to you.
Listing a business online was not a given as it is now. Only a select hundred or thousand essential brands could be found with a computer. The search engine did not exist, and users would comb through the listings to find a company.
Think of this as thumbing through the Yellow Pages, another relic of a time long past.
Why These Web Directories No Longer Exist?
As the internet slowly became more accessible, these directories began to fill up.
Eventually, each category’s number of entries would expand far beyond any usable threshold. Users do not have time to click on a broad industry and spend hours browsing anything that might be related to their query.
This outdated process would demand new solutions. The public needed a way to simply enter a query relevant to their needs. The internet could then provide only the results that best match that initial input.
What we are describing is known as a search engine.
One of the first search engines to ever exist is known as Archie. You can still find a usable form of this here. Though other tools like JumpStation and Excite would exist, it wouldn’t be until 1994 that Yahoo would appear – the first engine you likely recognize.
Many more players entered the scene including WebCrawler, Lycos, AskJeeves, and several others. The history of the search engine is hefty, but everything would change in 1998 when Google launched.
All of these companies would contribute to the search algorithms we rely on now.
The Case Against Web Directories
Based on what we know now in the future, phasing out web directories seems like an inevitable event. There would seemingly be no reason to utilize these archaic tools when you could get better results with less work almost instantly.
This is where the art of search engine optimization enters the scene.
These web directories still held value to businesses. It would still host and advertise your business along with your NAP details (name, address, and phone number).
As we know now, third-party mentions of your business on other domains can have positive impacts on your brand’s domain authority. This is particularly true if the third-party domain links back to your site, otherwise known as a backlink.
Initially, this worked well for online brands. Unfortunately, it worked too well. It would invite black-hat SEOs to flood as many directories as possible with backlinks.
Many directories would attempt to negate this by charging for a listing. However, the cost of entry was so low that brands would still be happy to pay the fee in exchange for the benefits of improved search rankings.
This resulted in a massive influx of spam within these directories. The sites that were once useful, albeit a bit archaic, now were completely unreliable.
Because Google actively penalizes untrustworthy, unreliable links, these types of directories can now actively harm your SEO.
How Web Directories Can Still Help SEO?
Before we get too carried away, we need to keep in mind why Google dislikes those outdated directories.
While Google constantly updates its search ranking algorithm, it will always rely on these core principles:
- The meaning of the content
- How relevant the content is regarding the search query
- Quality (trustworthiness, authority, reliability)
- Usability (how accessible the content is for all device types)
- Context factors (how content differs based on user location)
You can dive deeper into the specific guidelines here.
The problem with the older web directory model is that they no longer satisfy these conditions.
The content is no longer relevant, of quality, or usable due to the flood of unreliable data caused by black hatters. Just as with any low-quality domain, having a backlink on that site will likely earn you an SEO penalty.
Some marketers will make a sweeping statement telling you to avoid directories altogether for this reason. Even Gary Illyes of Google stated years ago that “directories are very often not the right way to build links.”
Very often does not mean always. He essentially goes on to tell us to be a bit more mindful in our approach. This is a good rule when it comes to SEO, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
We do still have modern directory sites that meet Google’s quality rating guidelines. Let’s take a look at the few platforms you may still want to consider depending on your business goals.
1. Google My Business
This one should be a no-brainer as it is the property of Google.
Google My Business allows you to create a free business profile complete with a map listing. Rather than listing all businesses in an old-school category format, Google generates relevant results based on your current location.
For example, if you search “brewery,” you’ll find a list of local businesses as your results. Specifically, the top of the page highlights the top 3 businesses based on a combination of quality, customer ratings, and profile optimization.
Achieving a spot in this local 3-pack is the dream for any SEO. It’s the ultimate form of free, organic exposure. Customers can find everything they need to know about a company. They can even call, email, or visit your site with just one click.
To make the most of this listing, you want to keep your GMB profile up to date as part of your regular SEO strategy.
In addition to completing the available profile fields, be sure to update your listing regularly. If there is a permanent or temporary change to business hours, let customers know. If you receive a negative review or complaint, take advantage of the opportunity to respond to your audience and let them know you’re active.
You can start the process of building your GMB profile here.
2. Yelp, Bing Places, and Other Modern Business Listings
Many directories still see a variable amount of use that still may prove worthwhile.
Yelp, for example, saw 33 million unique views from users last year. This resulted in roughly 244 million cumulative reviews.
This speaks to the power that these types of web directories still have for brands and users. There are two major factors influencing this:
- The ease of finding relevant results based on location and interest
- Access to trustworthy user reviews
Point two is particularly relevant, as 90% of people look for customer reviews and testimonials before choosing to do business with someone. By listing your business where people search, you allow users to leave and read reviews as necessary. This can help drive additional business to your store provided that your ratings satisfy the user.
While these web directories may not be a core source of engagement or even boost your rankings by much, they still play an important factor. It’s a low-cost way of gaining additional visibility through a trusted third-party source.
3. Social Media Listings
Some social media platforms allow for business profile creation and listings. Particularly, both Facebook and Instagram offer this feature.
Using the search bar at the top of the page, users can not only look for friends but can search for businesses in specific locations. Your company can be one of the results that appear provided you are in the proximity of their search location.
Social media listings provide the dual benefit of not just listing your brand, but allowing you to participate in the conversation. Facebook business pages are far more robust than a typical listing, allowing you to post, create groups, and communicate privately.
4. Industry-Specific Listings
Finally, specific company industries have their set listings to help users.
These are not dissimilar from traditional listings, but naturally, segment the audience by showing only the businesses relevant to their interests.
Thanks to the past couple of years, sites like UberEats and DoorDash have particularly benefited the restaurant industry. Not only can consumers instantly find companies nearby, but they can also make a purchase instantly without ever leaving the directory.
Other industry-specific directories include:
- Lawyers – https://lawyers.findlaw.com/
- Doctors – https://doctor.webmd.com/
- Veterinarians – http://www.findalocalvet.com/
It’s worth researching to determine if there is a trustworthy, active directory available for your industry. If the site appears outdated or unreliable, we recommend that you do not list your site there to avoid the risk of an SEO penalty.
Conclusion – Directories Can Help, but Context is Important
Directory listings alone will likely not move the needle much when it comes to your overall search rankings.
Googlebot is savvy, and we can always trust it to determine what is a worthwhile link and which is worthy of a penalty. Simply spamming your business profile on as many websites as possible is not only outdated but is harmful to your SEO and the user experience.
Instead, we now have modern takes on directories that better satisfy user needs. We can now list a business, optimize the profile, and trust the search engines to deliver results to the most relevant users.
While a web directory is not a replacement for a quality backlink, it still helps local businesses in numerous ways. To get the most out of these directory sites, be sure to:
- Keep your listing optimized and up-to-date
- Make sure information is consistent across your website and all listings
- Ask customers to leave reviews (and publicly respond to negative ones)
- Post updated photos when relevant
Finally, be mindful of which listings you choose to use. If you’re ever in doubt, think like Googlebot. Make your listing accessible to the most relevant audience, and avoid listing your brand in places that are untrustworthy or unrelated to your offerings.