directories and google penguin

While 2012 may have officially been the Year of the Dragon as per the Chinese zodiac, for many SEO’s 2012 will be forever known as the Year of the Penguin. This was the year in which Google busted out its latest algorithm update, like it does, and SEO experts everywhere freaked out in response, like they do. Major changes included penalizing websites with shady link profiles, placing a greater emphasis on content marketing, and - notoriously - de-indexing hundreds of directories.

The good news is, the decent writers and white-hat SEOs among us had little to worry about. The bad news is, directories across the board garnered a terrible reputation. Confused, well-intentioned, and slightly frightened marketing souls everywhere wrote off all directories permanently.

The truth about directories post-Penguin, however, is a little more nuanced. At Clarity, directories are still a big part of our lead-generation strategy. I’m going to explain why.

Industry-Specific Directories are Still a Great Lead Source

While it’s true that many directories have (deservedly) fallen by the wayside, some of them still maintain a great deal of authority. DMoz.org, for example, is as strong as ever (Google owns it). Websites like Business.com, too, can still provide relevant traffic to your website. The key is to stop choosing directories based on their potential SEO value, and instead choose based on how much traffic that directory is likely to send your way.

How to Evaluate Prospective Directories

So, how do you know if a directory listing is right for your business? Use the following guidelines: 
  • Use websites like Compete.com and OpenSiteExplorer to check out the directory’s inbound link profile and traffic. A good directory will have inbound links from a variety of sources, at least a few of which you will probably recognize as authoritative. It will also have decent web traffic. If a lot of people are still visiting the directory, that probably means it’s still a great resource. 
  • Google it, silly. Google both the link and the exact match domain phrase. Does it show up in the results? If so, good. If not, drop it like it’s hot. 
  • Here’s a big one: does the directory look human-edited? Check for grammar, logical navigation, categories that make sense, and pertinent submission questions. If you feel like you’re talking to a robot, you’re not going to get anything out of the directory. Plus, that’s really lonely. 
  • Aim for leads, not SEO juice. This means targeting industry-specific rather than general directories, and paying more attention to traffic than page rank. Clarity is listed in a number of web design directories, and every month those directories send us dozens of people who fill out our RFQ form. In fact, directories are one of our biggest lead sources. 
  • Finally, be wary of anything that seems too easy. Free links aren’t always great, and if you’re able to use the exact anchor text you want for your listing, it’s also a bad sign. Reciprocal links are, unequivocally, a huge red flag. Remember, our job as SEO’s is supposed to be a little difficult. Just feel grateful that this requires some skill and that you can’t just be replaced by a dog in a tuxedo (but how cute would that be?!)

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is, do your research and you’ll be fine. Market with integrity. Don’t use directories for the link; use them for the leads. And don’t give SEO’s a bad reputation by trying to game the system, or I’ll personally come after you. Got it? Good.



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Meg Nanson works on Clarity's marketing team. Her strengths are in copywriting, relationship-building, SEO, and strategic thinking. She loves infusing personality into brands by adapting her writing style to match the needs and philosophy of her audience. She rarely sits in a chair and can often be found sitting on her office floor or lying on the lobby couch while she works, or standing behind one of the web developers while they're trying to work. 



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