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Directory Links: Are They Always Bad?

As recently as 2007, directory links were used far and wide by all types of SEO and online marketing professionals. This included the type of directories that were either paid or existed only as a source to provide backlinks. After Google applied penalties to the unscrupulous directories – and sometimes those who they linked to – site owners and even SEO professionals became leery about submitting their precious URLs to any directory at all.

Directories are all risky inbound link sources, right? Nothing has changed since Matt Cutts told us himself about watching out for scammer directories, right?

I too, had been under the impression that 99% of inbound directory links were useless; not worth the Google-penalty risk – and, granted, many, many are just that. But apparently, to-directory-link-or-not-directory-link has been an especially bewildering thing for website and e-commerce owners, who have less experience or information about SEO best practices.

And that’s where a recent trend has once again made a 10-year-old SEO linking method a relevant conversation. Site owners are actually hurting their SERPs and rankings because they’re taking an ax to every single directory link. I don’t know if there was an industry-wide link audit that revealed a ton of low-quality directory inbound links, or if some other reason exists for a sudden surge of chopping ALL inbound links. These site owners apparently do not understand that an inbound link from Yahoo Directory can significantly boost your SERPs – and likewise, significantly make it plummet if removed.

Why? What’s the difference from one directory to the next? Aren’t all directories the same in Google’s eyes?

Heck, no.

Matt Cutts himself partially addresses the “directory links” conversation.

As Cutts informs us in this Q&A video, not all directories are created equal. Regardless of whether a directory link is paid or not, it is the relevance and quality that determines its validity as a backlink source. In other words, if the link is unnatural, it violates Google policies. If it’s natural, makes sense, and is relevant to the average website visitor – you’re good to go.

So if the question that is causing so many owners to fudge up their rankings is “what’s the difference between a Google-approved directory link and a bad one?” – the following factors and/or questions can be used to determine that.

1. Keyword-Anchored Links

If you arrive at a directory, and you see a bunch of keyword-anchored links listed, this is a red flag. Regardless of whether your link is listed as a URL, title page or brand name, the site as a whole has a good chance of being penalized by Google, including the sites whose backlinks it contains.

2. The Directory Accepts All Links and/or Says “Submit your URL”

Some of these directories will even stress how important link-building is for SEO, and claim that adding a backlink to your site will improve traffic and online visibility as well. Why even submit a URL to these sites? The little traffic they receive is simply from other website owners who are only there to submit their URL, and their SERPs are so far down in Google results that no one will ever find them organically. The screenshot below tells you just how many reviews/ratings/votes each URL has received from this directory.


3. Are All of Its (allegedly many pages) Indexed?

Sites that are soon to be de-indexed or have their domain expire are sometimes bought up by people who make money by charging users for backlinks, and then abandoning the site. There are countless directories that have expired, and therefore useless, such as this expired and/or banned directory list from Moz.

In addition to that, the directory’s indexed pages should be equivalent to the number of listings/inner pages it represents. If there are 2000 different pages on the site for various URLs and listings, there should be at least that many Google results with the query site:www.directoryxyz.com – which is how you search a site’s indexed pages.

4. The Directory Either has an Irrelevant Name or One Obviously for Creating Links

Examples for irrelevant directory names are often not even words – or acronyms- like Ahszkj.com, or fx-j.com, which have both been banned. If you see a directory whose web address is “webspreadyourURL.net” or “Upyourlinkjuice.com” – it may as well say “come-list-your-URL-here-if-you-want-Google-to-hate-you.com.”

5. It Boasts About Human-Edited Listings, Pagerank or being an Editorial-Based Directory

There are exceptions to this, so it is not always true that if a directory says it has human editors that the opposite is true – but not even in its meta descriptions for its directory results does Yahoo Directory mention esteemed human-edited listings or incredibly fascinating editorial.

So What Directories Are OK?

One of them was just mentioned in the last bullet point. But there are less-than-well-known directories that are also safe for submitting your URL to for backlinks. Essentially, what applies to any type of inbound link to your site applies to a directory link as well. Such as:

  • Is the directory relevant to your site? Is your website a ballet shoes and costumes e-store with links from a dog food e-store directory?
  • Does the directory edit and review URL submissions? Does it have more than an 80% acceptance rate?
  • Is it edited and admin-ed by people, or by an auto-bot?
  • Does it have real content, or is it purely a link-exchange system?

These are all questions that can help discern the validity of a directory. A few examples of respectable directories include Jayde.com, Dmoz.org, sunstream.com, lii.org.

Whether paid or unpaid, an unnatural link is an unnatural link, and that includes directories. Because the same rule applies to both, there is no reason to fear all directories. Every directory on the web is not cursed by Panda, Penguin and Pay-day Loan. On the contrary, a link from the Yahoo Directory or DMoz – both of which have a PageRank of 8 – can be a tremendous boost. There is still usefulness to the dinosaur-ish directory link – just as long as it’s the right kind.

About the author


Adrienne Erin

Adrienne Erin writes twice weekly for SiteProNews about online marketing strategies that help businesses succeed. Follow @adrienneerin on Twitter or visit her blog Miss Rx to see more of her work or get in touch.


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  • Great informative article. It’s better to choose niche based directories for your website while doing directory submissions.

  • John makes a good comment is there a list of reliable directory’s that Google do not think of as spammy? this would help everyone avoid the pitfalls of the “Google wrath” I am sure that any help to improve the overall quality of the world wide web would be welcomed with open arms.

    • It’s better to choose niche based directories for your website while doing directory submissions. This is a very grey area. Very interesting article. However, I think that it’s about general directories.

      I am the owner of a niche directory and I know how much work it is to maintain high quality and gain authority.

  • Thank you Erin to provide us the smart ways to identify the quality of directories for inbound links.

    Also we must check the domain authority, visibility and moz trust of directory for inbound links

    • Good site! I really love how it is nice on my eyes it is. I am wondering how I could be notified when a new post has been made.

  • As one who has a business in the online world and also website using SEO practices right way and according to the wisdom that has been issued by Google which must always be obeyed and followed with the correct

  • I think this is something that has to be built up over time and will differ for each industry that you’re targeting. No shortcuts really.

  • There is no proof on internet the keyword based links on directory sites are counting as spam. I suggest 50% links should be created by brand name and 50% by keyword or phrase name.

  • A great little article indeed. I use various directories for my SEO and have never had a problem. I always choose human edited directories, ones which don’t accept MFA, scraper sites etc. One that springs to mind is Yellmy.com – A good selection of categories with a good support service. As for the list of good directories, I really don’t think there is one which details the GOOD human edited ones. Maybe we should resource one? 🙂

  • The way Google has been acting in recent times if a list were supplied it would be out of date in a week. They change their mind more than my wife!

  • Good article, very complete. Thank you for the link to Moz – I did not know about that expired directory list.

  • Hello Adrienne Erin ,

    I always prefer human edited & niche directories having some decent social presence & domain authority as well.

    First I check these things using the MOZ bar, then I submit. YES, not all directories are bad for submission. You just need to be careful which directories you submit to.

  • Comoestamos.com has a 3 PR, has been online since year 2000 and is edited manually. It also has a good support service.

  • Directories are a normal part of any business advertising strategy, it would be unusual if a business was not listed in directories.

    A business in Birmingham, for example, would be expected to be in all manner of Birmingham centred business directories.

    The spam directories are usually easy to identify using a little common sense and these, as the author said, should be avoided like the plague.

  • A nice article and widely discussed issue about directory back links. In my experience back links from regional directories always help. For example, if you are in U.S. try to get back links from U.S. directories. An excellent article by
    Adrienne Erin. Thank you

  • Sorry to say, this article is pretty much nonsense. At first glance spammy scammy directories look like any legitimate directory. Their meta welcome description copied off successful directories. Votes are not an indicator if the directory requires you to open an account and login to vote. When considering whether to submit to a directory there are several criteria to check if it’s a good neighborhood to locate in.

    First see if the name title matches the domain. If the title is, Enter your title here or New Directory, etc. forgetaboutit. If the directory boasts about a PR ranking, google PR checker and submit the domain to see if it is real or fake. Primary proof is in the quality of the listings and editing. Click on New Links or New Listings and see what the recent listings look like. If they look like listings you’d want your site listing to be among, great. If they are word salad jumbles of unreadable garbage, there is no editing going on, forgetaboutit. Lastly see how many listings are in the queue, you may have to wait years to be listed or pay a small amount to jump the queue for a express review if within the budget. Caution is required for new directories with high PR as this is often borrowed or faked and won’t last long.

    In my opinion it is safe to submit to any aged quality directory with PR1 and up ranking that is clearly editing and not overcharging, and new directories getting off to a good start you can get listed on for free or a nominal fee for review not to be confused with buying links.

    • I agree. This is another spammy article talking about spammy links. The irony of it all.

    • You can definitely see your skills within the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. At all times follow your heart.

  • I don’t think that they are bad or harmful .In my opinion it is a wastage of time to submit a link to a directory because now after google updates and hard SEO it becomes Dead.

  • I don’t think directory links are useful nowadays. I would rather go for quality guest blogging.

  • Nice article. useful information on linkbuilding via directories. Thanks for the share.

  • I concur with not all directory links are bad but in this environment, examine every directory for quality as mentioned before placing your link.

    The important thing is to write quality content on your website and people will naturally want to link to you. This will build up your backlinks overtime which will only improve your ranking.

  • Unfortunately, this post is virtually rubbish. In the beginning spammy scammy internet directories look like any legit directory site. Their own meta allowed information ripped away profitable internet directories. Votes will not be a great indication should the directory site requires that you available a free account and sign in to political election. When considering whether to publish to a directory site there are numerous criteria to evaluate in the event that it’s an excellent town to get in.
    Primary discover should the title subject matches this website. When the subject is, Type in the subject here or perhaps New Listing, and many others. forgetaboutit. When the directory site provides of a PR rank, search engines PR checker and publish this website to view if at all authentic or perhaps phony. Key proof is the quality of this bookings and croping and editing. Click on New Hyperlinks or perhaps New Bookings and pay attention to what exactly this current bookings look like. Should they look like bookings you’d need your website listing to become among, good. Should they are usually concept salad jumbles of unreadable garbage, there’s no croping and editing taking, forgetaboutit. Finally see how many bookings come in this line, you may have to wait many years to become stated or perhaps fork out a small total leap this line for the communicate assessment in the event that in the price range. Extreme caution is required pertaining to completely new internet directories using higher PR while this can be took out or perhaps faked and won’t very last long.
    I believe it is protected to publish to any older top quality directory site using PR1 or higher rank that is definitely croping and editing rather than overcharging, and completely new internet directories getting off to an excellent start you will get stated about without cost or maybe a nominal price pertaining to assessment not to ever be puzzled using buying inbound links.

  • Hello!
    Very interesting article. However, I think that it’s about general directories.
    I am the owner of a niche directory and I know how much work it is to maintain high quality and gain authority.
    Except for a few examples, I think the future belongs to high quality, authority and well-maintained niche directories.
    Am I right?

  • This is a very grey area. Google have pretty much stated 100 times that submitting to directories is not good for SEO – especially as their algorithm gets smarter. I think soon this will be a thing of the past and spammers will get caught out.

  • Makes sense that directories that are nothing but hundreds if not thousands of advertising links would be considered spammy by Google and goes against Google’s rules about having good quality content. I would never risk getting penalized by Google for having backlinks on these sites directed to my website. Better to write articles on Blogs and have anchor text links back to your website.

    By the way I give this article a rating of 10 out of 10…excellent information and keep up the good work. My white hat SEO is off to you for providing great information to help people. 🙂

  • Nice article. I’ve found directory listings or citations critical when it’s a bricks and mortar business. Not only for exposure but for seo – and they are pretty important for Google’s Maps, or seven pack, or blended pack, or whatever the hell they are called.

    Marcus Rockey

  • I think the title of this article sums it up quite well. Are they always bad? No. Can some of them be bad? Yes. So really it is trying to find the ones that carry the weight to be useful and that ones that are relevant, either to your local area or your chosen niche. To echo a previous comment, I find that for the 7 pack listing they are really important and not to be overlooked.

    Thanks for the informative article.

  • In today’s scenario are directory links bad? Google has changed its algo. I still think directory links are good if the PR of Directory is greater than 5 and they have rules for submission of a site.

  • I had a “training session” with a representative from Google. He was a genuine employee of the search engine company.

    Not only did he suggest backlinks from local directories was a good thing – blog post comments on ‘Authority Sites’ were recommended!

  • It’s fair enough to say some links are ‘bad’ but there is a broad definition when it comes to Google and I think it unfair then to target one segment of the internet, ie web-directories. My directory is based on social sharing with the community for businesses to reach a wider audience and being careful to see to it that the link ‘juice’ is passed to websites within my directory rates around 0.83, which is high. This is because I take the trouble to create websites that are search engine friendly, this is a point more valid when it comes to getting any kind of link.

  • I can speak from first hand experience of using directories. Even now…November 2015 they can still be a very powerful tool for local SEO or getting a brand new site some much needed inbound links.

  • I like the valuable information you provide in your articles.

    I’ll bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly.
    I am quite sure I’ll learn plenty of new stuff right here!
    Good luck for the next!

  • Now that we are in 2016, do you think that article marketing is still an effective way to drive traffic like it used to be? Or do you think that social signals are now more important?

  • With the Google Farmer update, many article directories got penalised. Ezine Articles for example, lost a lot of rankings. What would you say are some of the more powerful / effective article directories these days?

  • Hello. This is a very useful article about directories. I prefer to use only related to my niche directories, but when we are talking about local SEO, this is sometimes not possible because in some countries there are just A FEW HIGH Domain Authority directories and we should get link from not so powerfuk ones. Thanks for your time to inform us to stay away from those directories. Keep posting 🙂

  • I have used directory backlinking for my site. I don’t think Google will punish you for using them. Directory backlinks have really not much power at all. But as far as doing damage to your website- I am not so sure about that.