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Website directories: More than meets the eye

By Lauri Harpf
Posted Thursday, October 21, 2004

Yahoo, DMOZ and Looksmart are probably familiar names to all of us. Many people attempt to get their sites listed in those directories, because it is a well-known fact that plenty of people visit them when they want to find interesting sites. This in turn translates into a healthy flood of visitors to the sites that are represented in the aforementioned directories.

While it is true that the directories themselves can produce quite a bit of traffic, there are additional benefits that come with a directory listing. Unfortunately, these advantages are not often mentioned and that is why they are unknown to most siteowners. Many are well aware that you can influence the directories by submitting to different search engines; for example, you can submit to Google and if you're lucky and the keyword you're aiming at is rare enough, your site will appear in searches that are performed at Yahoo. But did you know that directory listings can have a massive impact on how your site performs in different search engines?

Some of the large search engines, for example MSN and AOL, draw their search results almost entirely from different directories. MSN relies heavily on Looksmart and AOL is affiliated with DMOZ. If your site is not listed in these two directories, it will not appear in searches at MSN and AOL. Since they both are very big sites, receiving together around 100 million visitors each month, it is very important to have your site well represented in them.

So, we know that it is important to be listed in the major directories in order to get into some of the search engines. Is that all? Nope. The thing is, many search engines also rank sites based on whether they are listed in certain directories or not. Let's take an example: One of my sites wasn't ranking very well at Google. I had optimized it pretty well in my opinion and had received decent rankings under some keywords, but it still hadn't achieved the success I was looking for. This puzzled me, as I couldn't point out why the site wasn't doing as well as I would have wanted it to.

After working on it for a while, I decided to switch my focus to other promotion methods and get back to optimizing my site later. As I knew that both of them were good traffic providers, I chose to spend the time I had to submitting the site to both Yahoo and DMOZ. Fortunately, my submissions were accepted and the site was added to both directories after a while. A few weeks passed and I begun to see referrals not only from Yahoo and DMOZ, but also from Google in my logs. I went back to check my rankings and noticed that they had vastly improved. And then it dawned on me..

I went back to DMOZ and managed to get another sub-section of the same site listed. I waited for a couple of weeks for Google to reindex and WHAM! This sub-section went from nowhere to be found to a Top 15 ranking on a competitive keyphrase with over half a million returns. The only thing that had changed was that the page was now listed at DMOZ.

This incident inspired me, so I went and looked if the same principle could be applied to other engines as well. I noticed that nearly all of them appeared to give weight to directory listings, but if the search engine happened to be affiliated with a certain directory, it was extremely important to be listed in said directory in order to rank high. With Google, this directory was DMOZ, with Excite it was Looksmart and so on. Sites that were listed in the right directories appeared to have a definite advantage against sites that weren't.

My conclusion would be that the days when search engines and directories could be treated as separate entities are now gone. If you want to achieve high traffic, you're going to have to tackle both at the same time. The traditional search engine optimization methods - a keyword-intensive copy, meta tags, link popularity and so on - are far from being dead, but there definitely is a new major factor in play that you should account for.

About the Author
Lauri Harpf runs the A Promotion Guide website, where he offers free information about search engines, directories and other promotion methods. His site can be found at (http://www.apromotionguide.com/)