I've had a lot of clients asking me recently about online directories. Are they worthwhile? are the free ones as good as the ones you pay for? Does it actually help your search engine ratings? Do you get viable leads? All good questions, and truth be told I'm not an expert. So, I started doing some research.

The idea - popularity

Everyone wants to be popular, and everyone loves the popular person at the party. Same goes for search engines. They look around for the most popular sites and give them top rating. The more places on the internet that link back to your site (technical term: backlinks), the more popular you seem to search engines, and the higher you rate in searches. Google's description of their PageRank system notes that Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. As far as ranking goes, the more votes the better. For a company like Andiamo, we include a link at the bottom of each site we create which leads back to andiamocreative.com. If your business does not come with such possibilities, it's a good idea to find other ways to backlink. Online directories are one way to do that.

Timing - don't be too eager

Ok - so let's go out and get on as many directories as possible, right? No, not that simple. It's not a good idea to sign up for several directories all at once. Search engines have become extremely sophisticated and intelligent, and they are the cool kids who get to decide who's invited to the party.  They take notice if you suddenly show up on several directories in a short time period. You will be labeled a social climber and they will ignore you - you will be the sad kid who is not invited. So, take your time. Choose a few directories that fit your needs and spread out your application process over a few weeks or even months.

Paid directories vs free

If what I've been reading is true, you get what you pay for - (duh). While the lure of a free kegger is hard to resist, an open-invitation party tends to be a bit messy, can get out of control, and you never know what kind of people you may meet there. Same thing with directories. Free directories in general are not as well managed, can be full of spam and may actually be run by spammers just looking to get hold of your email address. Before joining any free directories be sure to carefully review the directory to check for spam and overall professional appearance of the site. Also read carefully through the terms and conditions before signing up.

Paid sites on the other hand can afford to be more selective in their listings. Remember, the cool kids run the party. Since they charge for submissions, they can afford to pay someone to read through and pick and choose appropriate listings. Because they are selective, they have earned the trust of search engines, and can win you higher ratings because of it. Be careful here too, and read the T&C before signing or paying. Many of these pay sites reserve the right not to post you to their directory - ok if they promise a refund - not ok if the fee is nonrefundable.

So many social engagements, so little time...

I found a great article on Your Web Gurus that lists SEO friendly directories. The author lists his tested recommendations for 6 different directories, with a bit of a description about each. All but DMOZ come with some cost - none more than $300/year - but being free DMOZ is the most difficult to get into. (DMOZ seems to be the exception to the rule on free sites). The author asserts that these 6 directories are the best out there for amping your search engine ratings. To quote: "After researching all of these lists and also testing many of these directories on a number of SEO campaigns and websites, I have determined the below 6 directories to be the BEST overall directories available for purposes of website promotion, and in particular for improving organic website rankings from the "backlink juice" you get."

  1. DMOZ
  2. Yahoo Directory
  3. Best of the Web
  4. Go Guides
  5. Business.com
  6. What U Seek

If you can't resist a free kegger, I found some recommendations there too. SEO Lab lists free directories which the author recommends specifically for their value in building SEO. This list includes only sites that have direct linking and that have their content cached by Google.

  1. Wow Directory
  2. Web World Index
  3. World Wide Wub
  4. Zeal
  5. Web Savvy
  6. Directory Archives
  7. Yeandi
  8. Seekon
  9. Turnpike
  10. JoeAnt
  11. Gimpsy
  12. 411
  13. Web World
  14. Buzzle
  15. Genius Find
  16. Qango

Hoping for an invitation

Well, to see where all this may lead, I decided to do a test. I shined up my party shoes and signed Andiamo Creative up on one free list directory which requires a reciprocal link (Andiamo Creative Profile on DesignFirms), one paid (Yahoo), and I also submitted to DMOZ, awaiting approval.

I will be checking our SEO results on Google Analytics and plan to report back any findings - good or bad. Stay tuned - and until then - party on!

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