Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Link Builder's Guide To Directory Submission

SEO involves a lot of tasks and one of those tasks is link building, getting other websites to make quality links to your target website. There are only a few sources of quality incoming links, and internet directories are one of those sources.

What many SEO engineers don't realise is that directory owners are also actively involved in SEO, the successful ones have been around for several years and understand exactly what they are doing. They are fully aware that their directory is at least in part an SEO machine. I'm one of "Them", I own and run over a dozen directories, listed at, that accept public site submissions; my oldest directory has been running since late 2006, my newest ones have been running just over a week.

You and the directory owner both want to get quality links into their directory and as long as both sides play by the rules, you are allies and not adversaries. This article is to explain the real rules and why those rules exist.

There's a few types of directories:
  • Free submission directories. The directory owner lists sites they feel like listing while you give nothing back to them. The primary example is the Open Directory project. I used to be an editor there until I burned out, they have a huge team of volunteer editors and can't keep up with submissions. There's bound to be exceptions, but if a big project like DMOZ can't keep up, small privately run directories have almost no hope of keeping up with the spam submissions and probably don't last very long.
  • Reciprocal link directories. The directory owner lists sites they feel like listing and you give them a link back. They still get spammed, but not quite as much and because there's something in it for the directory owner they have a chance of surviving.
  • Paid directories. You give the directory owner money and they hold their nose and list your site, in effect these are the same as the paid links which Google publicly describe as a no-no. I've not had any direct experience with this type of directory but I find it difficult to see how a pure paid directory they can retain any sort of quality to survive long term. On the other hand the Yellow pages and the Yahoo directory are effectively paid directories yet they've survived for a long time.
  • Hybrid directories. A mixture of any two or three of the above. Usually a paid directory that also has reciprocal links. The reciprocal links will allow it to retain a degree of quality. Most of the successful paid directories I'm aware of are actually hybrid paid / reciprocal.

There are also private link directories. The directory owner lists sites they find that they feel are useful. You usually can't submit to these and they aren't relevant to this article. As well as my public submission directories, I've got a few of these, in my case it's just that I'm familiar with the software so it's the easiest way for me to put up a list of links.

My reciprocal link internet directories have never been exclusively just reciprocal links as I make a point of including worthwhile sites I find on my own. Doing so reminds me of where I started from back in 2006/2007 before I got nearly spammed out of existence by submissions from dodgy Russian, Ukrainian, Chinese and Indian sites, but I do depend on the incoming reciprocal links. SEO companies promoting their client websites are the source of many of the outgoing links I give and are also a source of aggravation to me. A few SEO people are absolute rogues and I delete their submissions on sight, but most of them are reasonable people who see my directories as a source of free links for their clients without considering what I want for my side of the equation and why I want it. Not long ago I was asked by a guy who runs a linking service what I got out of the reciprocal links and my immediate response was “Quality incoming links” …. in other words I was really after the same thing that he was. Thinking about it afterwards it occurred to me that he had never considered why this useful resource existed.

Sure there are differences between what I do with the traffic I get from my links and what the SEO company's typical customer does with them: I run ads on my directories to cover the costs of running them and his clients sell goods or services from theirs. I also create links from my directories to Tessa's sites and my other sites … but that's just an extension of the reciprocal linking, as I also have a more-or-less equivalent number of incoming links from my other sites to my directories.

One useful model of the process is:
  • People want their sites to be listed in my directories because
  • My directories have search engine recognition (including page rank) which improves the importance of their sites but
  • My sites only have search engine recognition because other sites link to them so
  • I want people to link their sites to mine and
  • I offer outgoing links to encourage them to link to me

That loop's the SEO sugar which is why I initially opened the directories up to public submission, but over the last 4 ½ years they have grown beyond this.

Once you exclude Chinese / Indian / Russian / Ukrainian spammers, over ½ the visitors leave via a link to a listed site, a small % click an ad and presumably the others either close their browser window or hit the back button. That over ½ the visitors follow a link out means that my directories are providing some sort of useful service beyond what the search engines do -- this bit I don't fully understand, but I can see people doing this in the logs so I know it happens. When they go to Tessa's bakery site or one of our other sites I even get confirmation in the logs that they really have followed a link.
The ads mean that the directories are more-or-less fiscally neutral. Ad revenue covers registration of the domains and most of my hosting costs. The SEO is why I don't want to move too far from being a reciprocal directory. The useful service is why I'm happy to list some best-of-breed sites alongside the reciprocal ones.

There is always going to be a certain amount of conflict between link builders and me as we have different aims. We both want to create quality links to our respective sites. The SEO people want to create those links to their clients with certain keywords. I want to build directories with readable descriptions of the site that will look OK when found in search engines, because I want traffic to the directories. Properly managed and with a little goodwill on both sides that conflict can be minimised.

Don't assume that because a directory has a simple default template that the directory owner doesn't care about it. In my blogs I want people to read what I've written, read other articles and hopefully think about what I've written. On a product site the owner wants you to go to a product page and buy it. For my directories the product is links and “buying it” means following an outgoing link so I want people who arrive on my site to leave, naturally I like it if they leave via an ad, but I'm also happy if they find what they want and leave via a link, I get very little benefit from people wandering around my site … except in rare cases they should find what they are looking for in the page brought up by their initial search.

There are a number of things that you can do to help you get a quality link from my directories, most of this advice will also apply to other people's directories.
  • Have a look at how sites are described in the directory and try to emulate that style. Follow the submission guidelines, usually given on the submission page. For my directories if you give me the description of the site as the title and strings of capitalised keywords as the description and I'll either toss the site or rewrite from scratch. Rewriting from scratch has a high probability of losing your most important keywords, not out of malice but because I don't know which of the 20 keywords that were run together were the important ones. Give me reasonable text consisting of actual English sentences and I'll mostly preserve it … I may edit a little to fit in my site, for example changing 1st person to 3rd person, ensuring I don't have duplicated content or occasionally for brevity but keywords embedded in that text are largely preserved.
  • Make sure your site is appropriate for the directory you are submitting to. Each of my directories has a stated purpose. For example Search New Zealand is for New Zealand sites, Sports Directory is for sporting related sites, my new directories Creche Directory and Pasifika Directory are for listing sites on childcare services and about Pacific peoples and culture in New Zealand respectively. All my directories are for sites in English. Submit a listing for a daycare service in Cyprus in the Creche Directory and it will probably get accepted, submit that same link to the Sports Directory and it will be rejected.
  • Submit your site to the correct category in the directory. It shows at a minimum that you've actually made some attempt to be on-topic for the directory.
  • Don't play games with the reciprocal link. It has to be on an indexed page. It should be on a page that's no more than 3 steps from the home page. I check, I assume enough of my competitors do that you'll find it hard to get listed in quality directories if you break this rule. Don't even think of having the outgoing link a “no follow” one or on a page blocked by robots.txt.
  • Always submit sites using the same name and email address. I soon come to recognise SEO engineers that play by the rules and will usually invest a little extra effort to help them fix any minor problems with their submissions.

It's worth building a spreadsheet or small database of directories you find useful. Note the rules of the site in it, it will save you time next time you go there:
  • If you've already got the guidelines recorded in your own words it saves you researching them again, and
  • If the site you're submitting isn't right for for the directory just skip it this time, it saves us both time, you submitting and me clicking the delete button.

Finally remember what I said at the top of this article: You and the directory owner both want to get quality links into the directory, provided both sides play by the rules, you are allies not adversaries.

No comments: