Link building should be on the top of your list when you’re building your SEO strategy for a simple reason: Google said one of the most influential practices to improve your ranking is through link building.
The good news is that you can see a huge impact when you earn high quality backlinks. The bad news - links don’t simply show up. And those that come easy are typically low quality.
One of the best simple practices is working with link directories.
How Directories Help with Link Building
This is a hot debate that content marketers and SEO experts continue to fight over. Are directories really dead?
To fully understand this, you need some context first.
What Is a Link Directory?
To put it simply, a link directory is an online list or a catalog of websites. They typically list entries on businesses or people and include contact information. Usually, these listings are ordered by categories.
Link directories are built manually, and their editors and site owners review submissions to determine if your website fits their guidelines. These submissions can be either free of charge and paid, in the form of a one time payment or recurring installments.
One of the most recognizable and credible directories is Business.com. They share industry news, educational content, and directory listings.
So why aren't link directories one of the most prominent SEO best practices nowadays?
Google’s Penguin update in 2012 helped the SEO world immensely by targeting those who bought links or used other link schemes. This update greatly impacted those who were abusing link directories and hurt those spammy, low quality link directories.
That being said, a reputable, high quality link directory is still beneficial.
Where Do Link Directories Fit in an SEO Strategy?
You should not be basing your entire SEO strategy around using link directories. They are not the best investment of time and resources, but they do have a place in your strategy as a whole.
Under your strategy, link directories fall under the manual outreach umbrella. Manual outreach practices include emailing bloggers to ask for links and filling out directory submissions.
Your submission process will look something like this:
- Identify relevant, reputable directories - Make a list of directories that your target audience would use. Ensure your list of directories is well vetted -- Moz’s 2012 research found that a whopping 20% of directories were penalized or banned by Google.
- Choose the right subcategories - Each directory includes subcategories, so when you’re researching them, ensure you know which subcategories best align with your brand.
- Research guidelines - Each directory usually has a set of submissions guidelines, so do your homework. If you don’t follow the guidelines, you’re sending a bad message to the directory -- it shows you don’t care that much about being placed. Remember, you’re trying to show them that your listing will help the directory’s audience.
- Tailor your submissions - For each directory, write a tailored description of your site and include important information with your submission, like social media links.
- Submit - The best part -- you can finally enter your submission!
The Evil Side of Link Directories
Link prospecting is important because if you earn bad backlinks, you can diminish your credibility and hurt your SEO efforts.
You want to ensure you're teaming up with link directories that have high authority.
Watch out for these warning signs of low quality link directories:
- High acceptance rate - They list spammy, low quality websites, which suggests that they don't assess who they're listing.
- Overly general - The list of websites doesn't specify subject matter. While there are plenty of general link directories that are good, there are many bad directories that are overly generalized.
- Premium sponsorships - They're charging more for extra links or higher placements. This shows you they're more focused on maximizing profits than they are serving the searcher.
- Multiple linking opportunities - The adage "too good to be true" is accurate. If they're offering you a lot of linking options and giving you the choice of your anchor text, they are likely trying to game the system.
- Reciprocal links: If you're being coerced into linking back to the directory or to other sites they promote for financial incentives, they're likely a scam.
What to Look for In Good Link Directories
Yes, there are still link directories that can make a positive SEO impact for you. You need to throughly research before entering a submission.
Look for these signs of high quality link directories:
- Up to date - If they don't have old, outdated websites listed, it's a good sign that a team of humans is overseeing the operation.
- Relevant and organized - The purpose of link directories was originally to organize and collect websites before search engines. A well organized directory is another sign of the directory being run by people who are trying to deliver a positive user experience.
- End user focused - Look for evidence that the directory is targeting real people who are looking at directories for reference. If it seems like the directory is merely trying to make money from website owners, they are likely not high quality. Remember, the user experience is most important, not SEO.
- High standards - They should have a team of editors reviewing each submission carefully, with strict criteria. If they're accepting anyone who pays, your website will be lost in a sea of terrible, low authority websites.
- Purpose oriented - It should be clear how users benefit from the directory. This shows that the directory owners are trying to deliver value to users, not just supply link juice for the sake of SEO.
While link directories are not an SEO tactic worth investing a lot of time into, they can still provide value for you. Focus on finding directories that offer real value. These should actually connect you with your target audience.
Some of the best, most reputable link directories that exist in 2018 include the following:
- Jasmine Directory - Founded in 2009, this directory has some of the highest editorial standards around. They even label editor-picked listings to differentiate them from site owner submissions.
- Best of the Web (BOTW) - Founded back in 1994, this is one of the oldest directories around. They include specialized directories, including local, UK, and blog directories.
- AllBusinessNow - Founded in 2000, this directory is also human edited. They offer plenty of categories, including management and strategy, jobs, HR, healthcare, and retail.
- Hotfrog - Another general directory founded in 2006, this one offers one of the largest listings of businesses in the world.
Research industry-specific directories as well to find ones that your target audience would likely use. This way, searchers can find your site when they need you the most.