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Ever since Google began to penalize sites for thin content and shady link profiles after some strict updates (Panda and Penguin), some webmasters have steered away from link building using web directories. They have done this out of confusion about what is bad and what is good.

What is a Directory Submission and When is it a Bad Idea?

Directory submission is a process where you submit links pointing to your website on website directories under categories according to the industry. This can be done manually or by using automated software, however, automated software cannot guarantee that submissions are done in the right categories, nor can it determine a quality link directory. The same goes for cheap SEO services that offer submissions in bulk but have no clue which directories are worth linking to. Thus, not identifying quality directories and not completing website submissions manually can lead to a bad link profile.

Are Directory Submissions Still a Valid SEO Practice?

If done the right way any link building process can be worth the time and effort spent on it. Directory submissions are no exception to this rule and it is evident that some directory links, such as Yahoo or DMOZ, still do carry SEO importance. These links matter because they either cannot be easily obtained or because there is a high volume of traffic going through these sites. Directory links are still counted as valid, if obtained from quality directories.

How Can You Identify a Quality Website Directory?

First Impressions:

Sometimes all you need is one look at a website to see its quality. For example, look at the home page of two website directories below and judge for yourself which looks like a quality directory and which does not.

Example of a Quality Website Directory

Example of a Quality Website Directory

Example of a Low Quality Website Directory

Example of a Low Quality Website Directory

Check if the Directory is Listed in Google:

That said, not all directories can be judged by their looks. You need to check whether the directory is listed in Google search. If it is not listed it will probably not send website traffic to your site as it is either banned on search or de-indexed. In order to check this just enter the search operator 'site:' along with the site link. If it does not give you any search results, it means the site is banned, as shown in the screenshot below:

An Example of a Banned Directory Indexed Status in Google Search

An Example of a Banned Directory Indexed Status in Google Search

Also, if you are not able to locate the website on the first page of search for the home page's title, this means the website is penalized. For example, the title content of submitlinks.org is _Submit Links Directory. _Typically a search for this title would show the pertinent website on the top of the search results, but this is not the case, as seen in the screenshot below. This means the site in concern has been recently penalized by Google.

A Search for the Title Submit Links Directory

A Search for the Title Submit Links Directory

Although the site seems to be penalized it remains indexed, as evident in the screenshot below of a search for the site URL.

Google Search for submitlinks.org

Google Search for submitlinks.org

So, after you check the indexation of the site, you need to make sure the site is not penalized by entering the title of the home page. Linking to a penalized site is like hitting your leg with an axe; not a quality directory.

Relevant:

Relevant links are valued highly in the eyes of search engines and although there are niche directories to serve you in this regard, generic web directories also have categories based on various industries and professions. A quality directory will always have a list of industry-based categories.

Freshly Updated:

Quality web directories are updated often, so if the web directory page you are submitting your link to was last updated back in the 90's it may not be a quality website directory… Take a look at an example taken from a category page on the open directory project (ODP) – DMOZ directory.

The Last Update Shown on a Website Directory

The Last Update Shown on a Website Directory

Edited and Reviewed:

A good website directory will hire editors and reviewers to scan and filter submissions. Getting listed in a directory like this can take a long time but the link from such a directory is worth the effort. In order to see if your website directory has real, live human editors, check if there is a link that says "Hiring Editors" or any statement indicating that the submissions are manually reviewed, as shown in the samples below:

Sample Website Directory that Calls for Editors

Sample Website Directory that Calls for Editors

Sample Web Directory Claiming to Have Human Editors

Sample Web Directory Claiming to Have Human Editors

Preserved Link Juice

A quality web directory will have a high PageRank and may be nofollowed. Such links will not pass their link juice to your site but if the site is extremely popular, you could still submit your link to the directory to benefit from the traffic passing through the directory. As a general practice, before linking to a website directory check whether the site is not 'nofollow' by searching for the tag 'rel="no follow"' in its source code.

If a website directory has a lot of ads and text links, even if the links are not 'nofollow', they won't pass much juice to your site. Most of these sites that have ads and text links are of low quality, so can be safely avoided.

Clearly not all website directory links are bad. Your link profile must be diverse and website directory submissions alone do no good for a site's search ranking. Submit to sites that fall under the quality criteria mentioned above, if not all at least most of them. If you are confused about whether a paid directory link is valuable or if a free website directory link might be considered as spam, it really depends on the directory in question. Some free directories have existed for years now and with manual reviews in place have become valuable assets that pass high quality links to websites. Some paid directories can also be included in your list of submissions if they seem to pass traffic to a site i.e. if they have a good amount of visitor traffic of their own. Remember, gradually getting ten good-quality links from website directories is far better than getting 100 links in two days from wherever.

What is your experience of using website directories? Has it helped your SEO?