Once upon a time, a crucial component of any comprehensive SEO campaign was a barrage of relatively generic inbound links from so-called link directories that manually indexed sites around the web.
At first, this worked and everyone was joyously skipping around, paying $10 here and $250 there to magically boost the rankings of their sites.
Soon though, the sun began to set and darkness fell – the concept of webspam increasingly found its way into the day to day language of Google and SEOs… eventually leaving us where we are today: at the mercy of a Penguin.
A Quick History of the Link Directory
In days gone by, free and paid link directories like DMoz and Business.com had a significant impact on Google’s SERPs.
Just a few years ago, link directories were definitely in vogue among professional SEOs for building up a website’s profile and ranking in the SERPs.
Sadly, where there’s money there will be someone looking for an easy ride, and creating a link directory that accepts any site willing to pay became a relatively easy way of making some cash.
Today, places like the Yahoo! Directory and Best of the Web continue to pass on authority to their indexed sites, but they’re fading in overall effectiveness when compared to other methods of promotion.
The reason for this is simple: ease of manipulation. Google is in a place where it doesn’t want to let you have an easy time – it believes that links should be earned, not bought, and directories (even quadruple human edited industry specific ones) often have an element of money changing hands.
General vs Niche Link Directories
Of course, not all link directories are the same, and understanding the difference between the various types is vastly important. For the more knowledgeable SEO, this is doing the proverbial and ‘teaching you to suck eggs’, but I’ll go ahead and state the obvious. Bad directories:
- Are almost universally counterproductive.
- Will list anybody that hands over the cash.
- Often have names like ‘Amazing SEO Linking Directory 4U’.
- Contain links to sites selling fake Viagra.
- Degrade our industry as a whole (more on that later).
A niche directory, on the other hand, has editorial oversight. Human-powered selection of links to include and a focus on providing the best information possible to people searching for information on a given topic. Vertical, niche-based directories are an example of web indexes that still work to some extent.
When evaluating a directory, the question I tend to ask myself is “will this site send me traffic?”. If the answer’s ‘no’, move on. Sadly, not everyone takes the same view.
Damage Control: Removing Bad Links Can Be Costly
I had an “incident” earlier last week when helping out a friend who runs an e-commerce site. His previous SEO company had used blog networks, spammy comments, and pretty much any other tactic that didn’t involve doing actual work.
When contacting these sites asking for the links to be removed a reply came in asking for cash. This is part of an alarming trend that’s cropped up recently, involving link directories and blog networks actually charging site owners to remove links to their domains.
In a world where our industry is filled with ‘professionals’ who spend their whole time writing reports on how many directory and article submissions they’ve completed as opposed to talking about real life links, all of this goes together to epitomize what’s wrong with SEO.
Directory owners looking to make fast money are propped up by SEOs looking for an easy route. All this leads to is site owners who pay an outlandish amount of money to have their site optimized, end up getting nothing for it, and either give up or move onto someone else in the hope that they’ll get what they pay for.
If you’re what I like to call an S.E.No, I implore you to stop and think for a minute. That site that you’re (not) working on is owned by someone who is probably relying on organic traffic to drive their business and pay their bills.
By taking shortcuts you’re actively going out and destroying what they’ve worked for. Stop it. Please. It makes everyone’s life more difficult, including mine as I have to work twice as hard cleaning up your mess before being able to do the more interesting things like creating infographics, videos, and writing for leading industry sites.
As an aside, my reply to the payment request involved a strong, but politely worded email, mentioning things like Google spam reports and DMCA takedown requests. We all know that neither of these are likely to have any impact on the site in question but it was enough to do the job, which is proof that you need to be ready to play hardball (even if it’s really one that’s made of polystyrene!).
The Crux of the Matter
Google’s stance on this is clear. According to their Webmaster Guidelines, “Links intended to manipulate PageRank” fall under the guise of a linking scheme. We all knew this before, but what Penguin does is aggressively attack weak, low quality links and this is only going to become more prominent in the coming weeks and months.
While decent directories have a chance of holding firm, lower quality ones don’t… which in my opinion is a great thing for our industry.
You shouldn’t completely discount link directories as a tactic – they can still have a positive impact, but they should be a supporting part of a campaign and not the basis of it. Google has already begun to purge free link directories from their indexes, so it’s now vastly important that you think about the quality, not quantity, of directory submissions.
In essence: stop being lazy – it’ll be better for everyone in the long run if you do.