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February 25, 2013

Google Tolls the Death Knell for Web Directories

Throughout 2012, Google made great strides in trimming the garbage from search results, as it moved towards rewarding good content. Truly excellent outcomes, lots of hearty applause!

However, the latest heavy-handed, brutish attack on web directories and those who choose to use to them is both petty and spiteful. It’s unworthy of Google, and is bound to have far-reaching consequences. It’s also totally unnecessary, as an equitable outcome could have been achieved by quietly ignoring any perceived low-value links to websites. Deliberately devaluing websites because of links that Google arbitrarily decides are of low value is overkill. It takes no account of several aspects:

  • The intrinsic value of the punished website’s content
  • The fact that website owners cannot control who links to them
  • The existence of an incoming link should not automatically be judged as manipulative

I’ve been working on websites since the year before Google appeared on the scene – when Alta Vista, Lycos and Northern Light were the Big 3 search engines. Like many website owners, I’ve alway thought of web directories as a safe place to promote my online businesses… It has always seemed inconceivable that your website could be punished by a Search Engine because it was listed on a Directory!

Conversely, I’ve always studiously avoided link rings, forum signature spam, blog rings, free-for-all links, 3-way link schemes – you get the picture… Directories have always seemed sacrosanct, a safe haven…

In my view, January 22nd 2013 marked a huge step towards destroying the very fabric and integrity of the web, eliminating competition and stifling our online freedoms and preferences!

Google Forbids Listings on Directories?

Around the globe, small businesses struggle to compete at every level. Website owners try valiantly to find a competitive edge, and lots of listings in little niche directories can deliver incremental visitor increases. Since the web began life a few short years ago, the traditional method of raising a website’s online profile has ALWAYS been submissions to search engines and directories.

But now, Google says NO – we don’t like it when you do that! Cease and desist or we’ll slash your rankings and traffic as punishment. That’s a gross over-reaction to a trivial problem that smacks more of a vindictive dictator than a responsible internet citizen… Hell, even Fidel Castro has better manners than that… Vladimir Putin, I’m not so sure…

Deliberately Dealing Death to Directories?

Those struggling to get a niche web directory off the ground have just been dealt a hammer blow by a bloody-minded, malevolent internet giant. No informed website owner in their right mind would now submit their website to a new directory, because Google is clearly and unequivocally taking the sword to websites that do so. That’s a bit rich, considering that a few short years ago, Google itself used a cloned version of the Open Directory for its own purposes. What’s sauce for the goose is apparently not sauce for the gander in 2013…

Niche directories have always provided local and personalized richness and color to the web by virtue of the fact that they are usually human-edited. Almost all of them set out on a road to solicit members and subscribers, with the hope of an eventual popularity that might one day be translated into an income. Historically, like all small business start-ups, few succeed.

Attacks on paid links have seemed like a potentially serious threat to directories that charge fees… Wary website owners have shied away from paying for a submission / link to their sites, with a consequent negative impact on the financial viability of web directories.

Google’s January Penguin update has just ensured that the majority of existing directories will be overwhelmed with requests for subscription cancellations and link removals. As word spread about Google’s vicious attacks on websites that have incoming links from directories, submissions are sure to dry up. Starting a new directory would be madness, doomed to failure…

Penguin 2013 seems intent on progressive elimination of directories per se! Is it a coincidence that this savage but effective way to eliminate a huge block of competition for search traffic leaves the author of the attack as the most likely beneficiary?

The Collateral Damage – Negative SEO

It also opens the door to a flood of “negative SEO” attacks – the fastest way to topple your competition now is to submit their site to several hundred budding little directories and watch their rankings plummet. Oh, that won’t happen, said a Google spokes-person… Famous last words? Negative SEO is already clearly and unequivocally rampant AND effective!

Good Internet Citizens

In my view, a healthy internet is of vital global importance for all sorts of reasons. It requires healthy competition, a rich diversity and active participation by as many little businesses as possible.

The Last Word

I’m sure a lot of people would like to see companies like Google leading by example, and encouraging competition and nurturing diversity. Stomping out directories, and those who submit to them, is a gross over-reaction to a tiny little problem. That’s always been the problem with hunting mice from an elephant – innocent bystanders always get trampled!

I would not be surprised to see a class action lawsuit brought against Google this year, by an association of web directories seeking compensatory damages for what are clearly anti-competitive actions.


Ben Kemp is a WordPress SEO Consultant with more than 25 years of experience in the IT industry, including 15 years as an SEO professional. Clients throughout New Zealand, Australia, the UK & the USA use his comprehensive Annual WordPress Maintenance plan that addresses most of the issues covered in this article. The SEO Guy (nz) Email: bjk@TheSEOguy.co.nz Web: www.TheSEOguy.co.nz

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